Local history on Gumtree

2016-03-29 06:00
The 1930 Table Mountain telescope that is now for sale on Gumtree.

The 1930 Table Mountain telescope that is now for sale on Gumtree.

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A piece of Cape Town’s history has gone up for sale this week as the first public telescope placed on Table Mountain in 1930 was listed on www.gumtree.co.za.

The telescope was purchased in 1991 by UCT employee Julian Meyer, a collector of telescopes, from the chief technical officer for a brass scrap price.

At the time, the telescope had fallen out of use as its objective lens was badly cracked and the prisms were chipped.

However, this does not mean that the telescope has lost any of its historical value.

“This is obviously a very, very rare piece and would be an amazing restoration project or an extremely valuable collectable for display.

“Some very important people looked through this telescope during the years it was on the mountain,” says Meyer.

The telescope was mounted for public viewing next to the upper cable station in 1930, just after the opening of the cable car.

Some of the illustrious visitors who may have peered through its lenses include the British Royal family during their 1947 South African tour – where they were greeted by the then 77-year old Prime Minister, Jan Smuts.

Smuts not only hiked to the top of the mountain to meet them, but arrived back in town in time for a joint sitting of the Houses of Parliament.

Meyer was able to confirm the telescope’s authenticity through the South African Astronomical Observatory. He also unearthed from online archives a picture of it in its place on the mountain.

A former Zeiss employee visiting Cape Town from the United States was able to provide the exact manufacture date and sent Meyer the original token used to test the timing mechanism, which takes the place of the coins that the public used to pay for their view of the city and the ocean.

After trying to get the telescope refurbished by the now defunct SA Navy Optical Workshop and by the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway Company as a possible public exhibit, Meyer reluctantly put it up for sale.

“I hope whoever buys it will have better luck than I did in getting this wonderful telescope back into working condition.”

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