Jefferson's Hand Telescope

Artist/Maker: Jesse Ramsden (1735-1800)

Created: c. 1768-1800

Origin/Purchase: London

Materials: mahogany, silver plate

Dimensions: L: 19.1 (7 1/2 in.); 52.1 (20 1/2 in.) extended

Location: Library (Book Room)

Provenance: Thomas Jefferson; by descent to Thomas Jefferson Randolph; by descent to Jefferson Randolph Kean II; by gift to the Thomas Jefferson Foundation in 1986

Accession Number: 1955-72

Historical Notes: Although "perspective" glasses and "pocket telescopes" make scattered appearances in Jefferson's records, no certain reference to this fine portable instrument can be found. The upper silver band bears the inscription "Thomas Jefferson." Several family stories describe Jefferson with spyglass in hand; the one accompanying this telescope relates that Jefferson used it to see British soldiers swarming in the streets of Charlottesville in 1781, when he barely escaped capture by Tarleton's dragoons.[1] It would also be a likely instrument for his walks on the North Terrace of Monticello to view the progress of the building of the University of Virginia.

- Text from Stein, Worlds, 352


  1. ^ Randall, Life1:337.