For sale, a William IV period three draw telescope by Cox of Devenport from the collection of Reginald J Cheetham.
Comprised of brass with a wonderfully figured mahogany barrel, the telescope measures 25cms retracted, 76cms at its full extent with a one and three quarter inch objective lens retained under its original brass end cap. The telescope also includes a sliding sunshade, dust shield to the flat ended eyepiece and is engraved on the first draw with the maker “Cox of Devonport” and “Optician to the RWYC” with the script reading towards the eyepiece. This example has the weight of quality and has a fine balance in the hand, a super example of this company’s output.
The Cox family were certainly trading as opticians and scientific instrument makers from the beginnings of the nineteenth century, having an establishment date of 1806. Records suggest that a William Cox was trading at this period and later in 1822, a William Charles Cox (who may be one in the same or a son) had premises across Fore Street and Southside Street until 1857. His advertisements from this period, announce him as an “optical and nautical instrument maker”.
Taking advantage of the necessary requirements of a naval station and its inhabitants, Cox was an agent to Robert Brettell Bate for admiralty charts and agent to both John Roger Arnold and Edward John Dent (EJ Dent) as a supplier of their “admiralty chronometers”. In addition, this instrument’s inscription provides evidence that the Cox firm was a supplier to The Royal Western Yacht Club. Founded in 1827 as The Port of Plymouth Royal Clarence Regatta Club it had taken on its current name by 1833. The club has its own prestigious history but the date of its name change provides firm dating criteria for the telescope’s manufacture taking place after this point in time. His position as “optician to the RWYC” must have brought Cox into contact with some wealthy patrons.
A partnership of Cox & Coombes is considered to have been formed in 1845 and although some sources suggest an end to the partnership in 1865, it is clear from previous pieces I have owned that the partnership was certainly trading in 1884. Advertisements by a J. Coombes in Fore Street from 1890 indicate that the partnership with Cox had then been severed by either death or dissolution and I have seen later Admiralty presentation barometers (1894) which are solely marked to J. Coombes. It is interesting to note that Coombes was advertising his business as having been established since 1806 but he was certainly using the Cox family’s earlier trading dates prior to the partnership to promote the longevity of his business. Early records of the Coombes business are noticeably absent.
Given the available evidence, it is more sensible to question the establishment dates for the partnership of Cox & Coombes as Cox has established working dates as a sole trader up until 1857. Unless further evidence comes to light, my view is that the partnership is more likely to have existed from circa 1860 – 1890.
Records for the business activities of the Coombes business (Cox’s successor) prove that the business was still active in the 1930’s and was at some point between 1930 and 1950 formed into the partnership of Coombes and Jarvis. It is suggested that this firm was finally bought out by Dollond & Aitchison in the 1970’s which itself was finally amalgamated into the Boots Optician brand.
With the culmination of evidence for Cox’s trading dates, the dates for the Royal Western Yacht Club it is certain that this telescope was manufactured between 1833 and 1857. Stylistically we can be further assured that it would have dated to the earlier point in this twenty four year period.
Reginald J Cheetham was a well-known and distinguished collector of antique telescopes and the author of “Old Telescopes”, a long out of print and now extremely rare study on the subject.