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The Porter Garden Telescope

Dartmouth Engineering Professor Completes Labor of Love Project:

Resurrects Classic Smithsonian Telescope and Redesigns for Functionality

Telescopes of Vermont has engineered the rebirth of an exquisite gem of design housed in the Smithsonian: The Porter Garden Telescope. A marriage of art and science, it is a piece for the discriminating collector. A limited heirloom, its story is one of passion, creativity, collaboration and very clever engineering on the part of several accomplished gentlemen, each highly skilled in his particular area of expertise, from optics to pattern making to computer modeling, metallurgy and precision machining.

Designed in 1923 by Russell W. Porter of MIT, the Garden Telescope was conceived as a fine art sculpture in bronze, a superb optical instrument, and working sundial, all in one. It was a model for the 200 inch Hale Telescope in San Diego, which Porter rendered in spectacular cutaway drawings. A renaissance man, Porter was skilled in optics, architecture, Arctic navigation, painting and drawing. He was the founder of the Springfield Telescope Makers organization, and is recognized as the father of amateur astronomy in America. Craters on the moon and Mars bear his name.

Fifty years after Porter created the Garden Telescope, Vermonter Fred Schleipman, an instructor at the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth College, organized a talented dream team for the express purpose of resurrecting Porter’s singular instrument, adding superb modern optics and considerably enhanced functionality. Schleipman’s quest was driven by a deep passion: he had seen the Garden Telescope in 1972, and was smitten. Thirty years later he convinced curators at the Springfield Telescope Maker’s museum in Springfield, Vermont that his skills would ensure a worthy resurrection of their treasured original. After years spent engineering design improvements, that promise has been fulfilled.

Though it is a reflecting telescope, the familiar tube is absent. Instead, a bronze leaf holds the optics. They lift out in seconds, leaving a graceful sculpture and working sundial which can be permanently installed outdoors as a distinctive fine art centerpiece. It often becomes a favorite destination on a property, serving up a deeply memorable experience and instilling wonder across generations. It becomes an intimate "room," promising mystery and surprise. To reveal it to friends slowly, first as art, then as a sundial, and finally as a superb telescope, is a delightful episode of entertainment. To see the planets is often a first for viewers, particularly at the kind of power the telescope delivers. Jaws drop and smiles widen at the experience.

Serial numbered and limited to two hundred, the Garden Telescope is an heirloom with the cachet of rarity. Four hundred hours of work are dedicated to each one. A milestone acquisition for art collectors, gardeners, astronomy buffs and lovers of fine craftsmanship and design, it will spark conversations and captivate those who encounter it. A six inch mirror and eyepieces of 50 and 75 power deliver the moon, Jupiter and its moons, and Saturn with great detail. Currently there are thirty nine in the world. The telescope, pedestal and optics case (made by a maker of cases for fine London and Belgian shotguns) sell for $75,000 US, plus delivery.

The story of the genesis of the Garden Telescope and a link to a CBS Sunday Morning segment can be seen at


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