Jason Clarke Antiques

Napoleonic Five Draw Telescope by George Willson Engraved to George Stark


For sale, a late eighteenth century five draw achromatic telescope in leather case by George Willson of London and engraved to the owner George Stark.

The telescope measures 24cms closed and 110cms fully extended and has a two inch objective with lens cap and dust slide to the eyepiece. It is engraved to the maker G. Willson, London on the first draw and further engraved to the barrel to a George Stark which was presumably done by the owner.

It comes complete with its beautifully patinated original two piece leather case.

The maker, George Willson is listed as trading from 1798 to 1802 firstly at Sermon Lane and then at Wardrobe Place on Doctor’s Common, London. He is perhaps most famous though for his early involvement with the Dixey family of new Bond Street. Around 1802, Willson entered into a short lived partnership with Charles Wastell Dixey’s Father, Edward Dixey.

Edward Dixey’s history is somewhat difficult to unravel, he was born in 1772 and according to various records, he is considered to have been apprenticed to George Willson, George Linnell or George Black but more recent research by Anita McConnell shows Edward Dixey to have been apprenticed on the 4th September 1787 for seven years to the top instrument maker Jesse Ramsden at a cost of £21. A Christie’s sale record for a Wilson & Dixey telescope is also marked, “late apprentice to Jesse Ramsden” so the corroboration of these two facts seems to prove undeniably that his training was of the highest quality.

By the 1790’s (presumably after his apprenticeship in 1794) Dixey is listed as working independently at Vine Street in Piccadilly and at the start of the 1800’s business addresses on Oxford Street and at Wardrobe Place are also listed, the latter being the business address of George Willson.

This short-lived partnership seems to have failed quite rapidly and in 1803 both of the partners are listed under bankruptcy proceedings records with a dividend of £10 associated to the business. Despite their issues with debt, the company was able to maintain trading until 1809 but their increasing debt continues to be recorded throughout.

There is a tantalising record for an 1817 legal case, Wilson vs Dixey (C13/2509/33) which suggests that the parternship did not end on amicable terms and continued to be fought out for many years after.

Willson himself is considered to have continued working until at least 1812 and the evidence of the legal case suggests that the failed partnership may have been Willson’s ruin. Sadly, there is far more detail relating to the Dixey family owing to the huge success that they achieved during the Victorian period. The telescope however, reflects the skill of manufacture that Willson possessed.

The simple additional etching to the wooden barrel to George Stark makes any further attribution difficult but there is a Royal Navy Surgeon whose service record meets the same dates as Willson’s trading dates. George Stark is listed as being in service from 1796 until his untimely death on the Royal Navy Bomb Ship, HMS Terror in December of 1808.  A period that covers almost all of the historic naval encounters of the Napoleonic wars.

Circa 1798

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