Friday, 11 May 2018

Hans Lippershey - Sales Genius


The Dutchman Han Lippershey is generally accepted as the inventor of the telescope although other names have been put forward as possible inventors including Juan Roget, Jacob Metius and Zacharius Jansen (ibid 28 December 2017).  However, the paper trail points conclusively to Lippershey and the very successful presentation he made in September 1608. Lippershey managed to demonstrate his Kijker (looker) to a group of important dignitaries including Ambrogio de Spinola, (later the Marquis of Los Balbases) and the commander-in-chief of the Dutch army, Count Maurits of Nassau, (later the Prince of Orange after 1618), showing them firstly distant objects that they knew and then secondly stars that could not be seen with the naked eye. Finally a account of the presentation was written into a pamphlet by an unknown journalist and circulated. The pamphlet reads:
Atop the tower of The Hague one can see clearly by means of the said glasses the clock of Delft and the windows of the Leyden church, even though these towns are distant, the one an hour and a half, the other three hours and a half from The Hague”, and then goes on to state that “… and even the stars, which normally we cannot see by reason of the feebleness and smallness of our vision, one can see by means of this instrument”.
From Lippershey's vantage point in The Hague the clock of Delft was 7 Km away and the church in Leyden about 10 Km away. The clock in Delft could have been either the clock on the old church or the new church but both are very near to each other. They can both be seen in the famous painting by Vermeer from 1659/60.




The main outcome of Lippershey's presentation on September 25th 1608 is that he is nowadays widely regarded as the inventor of the telescope. After his presentation his application for a Dutch patent was declined but he did financially rather well from his ongoing business of making and supplying telescopes after getting such a good commendation.
In contrast the presentation made by Thomas Digges,  and possibly John Dee, to William Bourne  on behalf of Lord Burghley, sometime in 1580 did not go nearly so well. Digges and Dee did not get to demonstrate their device to a in erson member of the nobility and although William Bourne could view distant objects through the perspective glass he concluded that:
"Wherefore it is to be supposed, and allso, I am of that opinyon, that having divers and sundry sortes of these concave Looking Glasses, made of great largeness......yt ys lykely yt ys true to see a smalle tinge, of very greate distance, ffor that the one Glasse dothe rayse and inlarge, the beame of the other so wonderfully. So that those things that Mr Thomas Digges hathe written that his father hathe done, may bee accomplisshed very well, withowte any dowbte of the matter: But that the greatest impediment ys, that yow cannot beholde, and see, but the smaller quantity at a tyme".
William Bourne correctly identified the problems with the Digges perspective glass, it does work, but its difficult to use and it has a small field of view. If Leonard Digges, Thomas Digges or John Dee had thought to include a second convex mirror into their perspective glass the history of astronomy might have been very different. However, they did not and in fact no one thought about doing this until Anton Kutter did in 1953. 

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