A spirited bidding war is now under way for two precious artifacts from recent astronomical history. One is a prototype of the 13-mm Nagler ultrawide-field eyepiece, which transformed deep-sky observing in the 1980s. The other is the Tele Vue Genesis refractor that renowned observer Stephen James O'Meara used over the last decade while preparing the three books in his Deep-Sky Companions series.
Proceeds from the sale will benefit Stellafane, the oldest and most revered star party in North America. The Springfield (Vermont) Telescope Makers have hosted Stellafane on Breezy Hill in midsummer since the mid-1920s; this year's convention begins tomorrow (August 9th).
Here's a link to the auction: eBay.
Tele Vue founder Al Nagler and author O'Meara donated the items for sale to help defray the cost of Stellafane's recently completed Flanders Pavilion. This giant barnlike structure provides a spacious, dry venue for speakers and attendees at the convention, which sometimes goes by the tongue-in-cheek name "Stellarain" thanks to the fickle New England weather. While nobody can guarantee clear skies for observing, the Flanders Pavilion nevertheless guarantees that Stellafane's other activities — including lectures and telescope-making demonstrations — can proceed rain or shine.
Nagler introduced his namesake ocular, with its expansive 82° "spacewalk" field of view, in 1980. Backyard stargazers were immediately bowled over by the eyepiece's ability to produce pinpoint star images across such an unprecedentedly wide, distortion-free field. Three prototypes of the original 13-mm design were manufactured in Peekskill, New York, not far from Tele Vue's current headquarters in Chester, and it's one of these that will be sold at auction.
(Nagler is once again creating a buzz thanks to the recent introduction of Tele Vue's new 13-mm Ethos eyepiece, which features a hyperwide apparent field of 100°. Watch for our review in Sky & Telescope's upcoming October 2007 issue.)
O'Meara's Genesis, a 101-mm (4-inch) f/5 forerunner of Tele Vue's current 101-mm apochromatic refractors, has spent most of its life on the Big Island of Hawaii, where its soon-to-be-former owner observes near his home on the flank of Kilauea volcano. The instrument is being offered for sale with its original case, 2-inch star diagonal (with 1¼-inch adapter), 22-mm Panoptic eyepiece, 7- and 4.8-mm Nagler eyepieces, 1.8x Barlow lens, and Tele Vue Quik-Point finder. O'Meara has autographed the telescope's tube.
As of this writing, the auction page on eBay had recorded more than 300 pageviews and attracted eight bids. But the site reports "Reserve not met," which means that the highest bid so far, just under $5,000, isn't high enough. That's not surprising when you consider that a comparable setup bought new today, one with no historical value, would cost about that much. It'll be interesting to see what the donated items fetch when the dust settles. Here's a fun fact: When I started composing this blog entry, the highest bid was about $3,500. It went up more than 40% while I've been writing!
The auction closes on Friday, August 17th. In the meantime, see you at Stellafane!