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James Short, telescope maker


James Short was born in Edinburgh in 1710 and received a good education, progressing to Edinburgh University in 1726. He attended lectures by Colin Maclaurin, Professor of Mathematics, and became interested in science. He mastered the craft of making mirrors for reflecting telescopes and had a good understanding of optical theory.

During his working life of over 35 years, Short made about 1,360 instruments - not only for customers in Britain but also for export: one is still preserved in Leningrad, another at Uppsala and several in America. Short was principal British collator and computer of the Transit of Venus observations made throughout the world on 6th June 1761. His instruments travelled on Endeavour with Captain Cook to observe the next Transit of Venus on 3rd June 1769, but Short died before this event took place.

The instrument shown on the vignette is his first 24-inch reflecting telescope made in Edinburgh in 1736 for the University of St. Andrews. It was the largest instrument he had made at that time and it cost 25 guineas. To the right is shown a detail of his signature on the telescope.

This sheet of four "astronomy" vignettes was produced in 1976 by the Scottish Philatelic Secretariat, a non-political organisation based in Glasgow, which from time to time issues vignettes commemorating Scottish personalities, etc., not catered for by the British Post Office. There is an error in the marginal inscription - "birth" for "death".

Margaret Morris

Vignette sheet (36k)

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 329, volume 8, number 1 (1985).

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You should consider amending the narrative accompanying the stamp of James Short's first reflecting telescope, which is described as a '24 inch reflecting telescope'. This is misleading as it would normally be taken to indicate the aperture rather than the length of the instrument. A proper description would be '2-foot Gregorian reflector of 4 inches aperture'.
By T.P.T. Williams M.A. on 10/31/2013 9:51:47 PM Like:2 DisLike:0

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