George Washington’s Telescope Available at Auction. Historic Dolland Brass Spyglass Inscribed "G. Washington, Mt. Vernon". Estimated Price: $15,000 - $25,000

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A simple-looking brass telescope in Illinois is actually a significant piece of American history. The spyglass once belonged to President George Washington and has been passed down for generations.

Dolland Brass Spyglass Inscribed "G. Washington, Mt. Vernon"

Historic Dolland Brass Spyglass Inscribed "G. Washington, Mt. Vernon" with Notarized Letter of Family Provenance from William Lanier Washington with Case

A simple-looking brass telescope in Illinois is actually a significant piece of American history. The spyglass once belonged to President George Washington and has been passed down for generations, until it was eventually sold at a New York auction in 1920 by his great-great-great-great grandnephew, William Lanier Washington. Accompanying the telescope is a signed affidavit from W. L. Washington, along with a five page letter he wrote for the original 1920 sales catalog detailing the incredible provenance of the telescope. The letter cites the various Last Wills of the Washington family members as they pass the treasured artifact to following generations. The telescope will be sold by Rock Island Auction Company in their upcoming Premiere Firearms Auction, to be held Dec. 4-6. Washington’s field telescope is one of several historic items in the sale, in addition to an original, authenticated tintype photograph of notorious outlaw John Wesley Hardin and a sword surrendered in the War of 1812 which experts state is “unequaled in value.”

View Item and description Lot 3084

It is a humble looking treasure of Americana. While its brass bears a pleasant patina, dings and scratches fleck its surface, the optics themselves need work, and several parts bear over 200 years of honest age. However, this field telescope is the product of one of the finest optics manufacturers of the era. It was made by The Dollond (later spelled Dolland) family, who built their superior instruments from the mid-1700s until the last decade when they have become the subject of several corporate acquisitions. Named as "Optician to the King" in 1761, the Dolland family also made several important contributions to the telescope. For these reasons and others, early Dolland telescopes remain in high demand by collectors. Examples are currently housed at Monticello as well as a model at the National Museum of American History that was used by Washington during the American Revolution. Telescopes have been highly valued historically - the wealthy and social elite of Washington's day drove their popularity and, in turn, their technological development. Both a invaluable tool to the military man and a hobby of the wealthy, Washington fit squarely into both groups and unavoidably found himself in possession of a telescope. In fact, Washington's will lists "11 Spye glasses" (sic) in his estate's inventory at the time of his death. The social and mechanical significance of the telescope are sure to entice some, but the historic importance of this telescope cannot be overstated.

This artifact of President Washington's had been passed down through family generations for over 120 years. We know this because the spyglass was previously sold by the first auction house in the United States, the now defunct American Art Association (AAA), in February, 1920. The sale was billed as "William Lanier Washington's Collection of Relics and memorabilia of George Washington."

Accompanying this spyglass is a notarized 1920 affidavit from William L. Washington, the great-great-great grandson of George Washington's brother Colonel John Augustine Washington. It states that the spyglass was given by George Washington to his nephew Col. William Augustine Washington (son of the aforementioned Col. John Augustine Washington) while George was still alive. This nephew must have held a place of importance in Washington's life as he is also listed in George's will as the Executor of his estate after his wife, Martha.

From there it was passed on to the nephew's son, Colonel George Corbin Washington (William's great grandfather), who in turn passed it to his son, Colonel Lewis William Washington. The affidavit then states that "His widow gave it to their son, William d'Hertburn Washington, who, during his lifetime, sold it to my younger brother, Lewis William Washington... from whom I inherited it."

Furthermore, in the investigation of this article, I was able to track down a digital copy of the original auction catalog with some assistance from the helpful Chief of Archives and Records Management at the Frick Art Reference Library, an institution that houses the records of the former AAA. Beginning this catalog is a lengthy and detailed five page letter written by William Lanier Washington describing special items in the collection and listing "several direct family sources" that at one time point inherited or bequeathed many of the items in the sale. It is strikingly thorough. The section discussing the Washington heritage reads nearly like the first verses in the Gospel of Matthew, giving detailed lineage all the way back to George Washington. Thankfully, William also takes the time, at nearly every level of the family tree, to quote extracts from that person's last Will & Testament detailing to whom these historic artifacts should go, and specifically mentioning many of the items. It is astounding that the provenance of these items should be detailed so thoroughly and even more so that such information is available to collectors and investors today!

Rock Island Auction Online Catalog

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Judy Voss
Rock Island Auction Company
since: 09/2012
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