Star Stuff ~ October 2013
Ever find a piece of astro gear that you would call a “diamond in the rough”? In other words, something purchased at a very low price that turned out to be worth more than what you paid for it. Or, it became a collectable or a nice inexpensive observing accessory.
A quarter of a century ago I started visiting visiting garage sales, flea markets and pawn shops looking specifically for a quality 7x50 binocular. I found one in a pawn shop but the price was almost as much as a top of the line NEW binocular. About 14 years ago my wife and I went to the Winter Star Party. We stayed at a house on Big Pine Key. Nearby was a shopping center with a grocery store. As we got out of the car I noticed a very small pawn shop. As my wife was getting groceries I was looking around in the pawn shop. Not seeing anything of interest I asked the shop operator if she had any binoculars. “Only two and they are over there near the window.”
One looked fairly new. They were zoom binoculars and terribly out of collimation. I shuddered, put them down and looked at the other one. The case was leather and falling apart. There was no strap. The “pebble grain” surface of the binocular body was mostly gone and the rest was trying to flake off. A long look through the eyepieces and I could tell these 7x50s were in great collimation but there was a haze inside where all the lens coatings had turned to dust. Mechanically they were fine and there were no dings on the body. This binocular looked to be pretty old.
I asked the price and she said $15. “Well,” I said, “this binocular will have to be disassembled and the optics re-coated. That alone will cost over $100. Would you take $12.50 to get rid of them?” “ OK” was the response. Back at the rental house I took the binoculars completely apart, cleaned all the optical components with distilled water and re-assembled it. They threw up a nice, sharp view but the lack of coatings made them less bright than they could have been. Still, I was very happy with my rough diamond find. The binoculars were the Meibo brand, now known as Fujinon. Also they were marked”Made in Occupied Japan” so they were built in the late 1940s or early 50s. This is the binocular on the left in the pic.
The binocular on the right is also old but only half the age of the Meibo. I found this 7x35 Tasco at a local flea market five of summers ago. It was made when Tasco really had some quality stuff. Both the binocular and case are in excellent condition. It is well worth the $15 I spent on it that day.
About six weeks ago we were at the same flea market. We go there with some frequency to buy produce and inexpensive toys and books for the grandkids. I am always on the lookout for astro stuff but about the only things there in that category are small and cheap telescopes that are usually missing some critical parts. At one vendor's booth I saw some 7x35 binoculars that caught my eye. The lady said “Those were made in occupied Japan.” That grabbed my attention but I didn't bite as I have too many 7x35s already.
We left the flea market and drove a couple of miles when I said to Cathy, “You know, I'll never forgive myself if I don't go back and get those binoculars”. A quick turnaround, some negotiating and I bought the binos for $15. After getting home I gave them a good cleaning and boy did they need it! There was a brownish residue on the eyepieces, probably from cigarette smoke. The binoculars were heavy for their size. Very solidly built. Individual focusing eyepieces. The field of view was nicely wide, about 10°. Images in the binoculars were sharp in the center but soft towards the edge. Still, very useable. They were marked “Japan”, not “made in”. The only identifying name on them was “Research Optical Company”. I have never heard of that company but the binocular is eerily similar to a Celestron Nova 7x35 I had 25 years ago. I started a thread on the Cloudy Nights binocular forum to see if anyone could tell me more about them. No definite answers but one “expert” said they could not be Japanese made unless they had a JB number on the frame. There is no such number. At least I could not find this mark using a jeweler's loop under a strong light. I guess the “Japan” stamped on the bino and case are there just to fool the purchaser. Whoever made this binocular made a quality product that was not inexpensive when new. A mystery flea market find.
I doubt seriously I will ever find an Alvan Clark refractor at a flea market or garage sale but I plan to keep looking. Maybe you will? Who knows what more diamonds in the rough will turn up?
ps: A few weeks later a fellow club member did some more research and found out that the "Research Optical Company" made both 7x35 and 7x50s and they are/were a Japanese company.
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About the Author:
Terry Alford has been an avid amateur astronomer since 1979. He is currently a member of two astro clubs: Bays Mountain Astronomy Club (founding member) and Bristol Astronomy Club. Since 2001 Terry has taught Astronomy Labs at East TN State University. His first ATM project was in 1979 and was an equatorial pipe mount for an 8-in reflector. His woodworking shop also turns out toys for grandkids.