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Non-"Department Store" classic refractors

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#1 wrvond

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Posted 12 October 2017 - 02:03 PM

There is a lot of discussion on CN about "department store" refractors such as the 60/900 Sears, Wards, and Penneys telescopes. I am wondering, what was the source for non-"department store" telescopes, and were they the same size(s)?

In other words, if I am looking for a quality refractor from the 60's to mid 70's that is higher on the scale than department store stock but not observatory grade, where should I be looking, what should I be looking for, and how much should I expect to pay?



#2 DAVIDG

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Posted 12 October 2017 - 02:09 PM

Unitron. Between $250 to $2000 depending on condition and aperture. The iconic Model 114 sells for $250 to $500.

 

          - Dave  


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#3 Astrojensen

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Posted 12 October 2017 - 02:26 PM

There are quite a few. Unitron has already been mentioned. They were sold under the Polarex brand in some countries (mainly Europe). To that you can add Nikon, Zeiss, Lichtenknecker, Kosmos, Vixen, Wachter, Swift, Takahashi, Royal Astro and a lot of others that I've forgotten at the moment. 

 

 

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#4 Chuck Hards

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Posted 12 October 2017 - 02:33 PM

Just remember that brand alone is not a guarantee of high quality.  I've tested some Unitrons that aren't that good, and a Zeiss that was definitely "department store" grade.  But some brands will give you better odds of getting really good optics.  Swift, Takahashi, Unitron, Royal Astro, Asahi, Goto, for example.   These are the companies that will get you into the 80% + chance of getting a really nice objective, instead of the 15%-20% chance that the department-store Towas give you.


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#5 JakeJ

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Posted 12 October 2017 - 02:52 PM

Add Pentax to the list.  The J-60 I owned was better than any department store scope I owned.


Edited by JakeJ, 12 October 2017 - 02:52 PM.

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#6 Bomber Bob

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Posted 12 October 2017 - 02:52 PM

The brand on these import scopes is less important than the maker -- which is why we ask about Maker's Marks (a symbol usually on the focuser label).

 

how much should I expect to pay?

 

For a decent 60mm F15 Equatorial kit (scope + mount + tripod) -->  $150 or below for Makers like APL, BOL, Royal, or SYW.  Swifts (made by Takahashi) will run higher, as will Unitron and the other top-tier makers.

 

For a decent 75mm F15 Equatorial kit (scope + mount + tripod) -->  about $250.  I paid about $275 for a 1960s Royal 76/910 + mount & tripod, but it's an uncommon refractor.

 

For a decent 100mm F15 Equatorial kit (scope + mount + tripod) -->  about $1000.  There are fewer kits at this aperture.  I paid just $600 for my 1950s Edmund 4" F15 rig, but it's uglier than the Carton, Unitron, and other 100% Japan imports.

 

The condition, completeness, & rarity of the particular scope also factor in to the final price.


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#7 Garyth64

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Posted 12 October 2017 - 04:29 PM

I think there is a misunderstanding.  A "department" store telescope does not mean that it is not good.

 

Sears, Tasco, Swift, Mayflower, Manon, were sold in department stores, and those companies had their name on many scopes that were very good. 

Unitrons are good telescopes, and the telescopes made my RAO in department stores are, IMO, just as good if not better optically.

 

Sears, 6339a, 6445; Tasco 7TE, 10TE, 20TE; Swift 814, etc.  are very good scope optically.  I will admit, that some of the mounts are not that good.

 

Is there something specific you're looking for?


Edited by Garyth64, 12 October 2017 - 07:41 PM.

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#8 wrvond

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Posted 12 October 2017 - 05:11 PM

I think there is a misunderstanding.  A "department" store telescope does not mean that it is not good.

 

<snip>

 

Is there something specific you're looking for?

Just knowledge.

Since purchasing my Sears 6333a all of 4 weeks ago, I have been digging my way through the Classics forum. I've made it back to 2004 so far.

So, in all that reading I came across the term "department store telescope" several times, and the feeling I got was that this particular species was somewhat looked down upon and the 60mm variety was particularly vilified.

 

This led me to wonder what scopes (besides Unitron of course) are considered a step up without getting into the stratosphere.


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#9 starman876

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Posted 12 October 2017 - 06:19 PM

i think post #3 listed a good selection of scopes to choose from.



#10 Don W

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Posted 12 October 2017 - 06:27 PM

Towa is another one.



#11 roscoe

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Posted 12 October 2017 - 08:06 PM

The ones to watch out for are those that came in a cardboard box, offering 256x magnification, and festooned with Hubble-grade photos.

 

I've found, for the most part, that yoke-mounted scopes - particularly those that have that altitude-adjuster thumbwheel-thingie - are not so special, and also those that come with plastic focuser bodies usually aren't the finest scopes.

 

I guess this is more a suggestion about what to pass over than what to watch for....

 

If you find something interesting, post it (but not where you saw it) and see what the collective wisdom has to say.


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#12 Chuck Hards

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Posted 12 October 2017 - 08:59 PM

 

Sears, Tasco, Swift, Mayflower, Manon, were sold in department stores, and those companies had their name on many scopes that were very good. 

Unitrons are good telescopes, and the telescopes made my RAO in department stores are, IMO, just as good if not better optically.

 

 

 

I don't recall ever seeing Swift in a department store, but I didn't get around the country much in the 60's.  I remember them in camera stores though.



#13 starman876

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Posted 12 October 2017 - 09:17 PM

in the end all scopes were sold coming from sort of department within some company.  From Unitron it was the telescope department like I am sure it was with most companies.   So I  guess we could say that all scopes were from some department store within some company.



#14 roscoe

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Posted 12 October 2017 - 10:29 PM

I think the 'department stores' referred to when one describes a telescope as a 'department store telescope, mean more the precursers to wal-mart or whatever than the independently-owned department stores of the 40's and 50's.  There were two of them in the big city we used to go to when I was a kid, that were both 4 or 5 floors, One had a very serious camera and photography supply department, I remember my dad buying paper and chemicals for his darkroom there.  I don't remember scopes there, but I'm betting if they sold them, they were a high-end brand.

I also remember a store we called the five and dime, which was also sort of a department store, but the prices and quality of the stuff there were both a step down.....closer to the strip-mall discount 'department' stores of the 60's, which took price and quality even a step lower.  THEY would have sold the scopes with the plastic objectives and the amazing box art.


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#15 Chuck Hards

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Posted 13 October 2017 - 07:04 AM

"Department Store" as a descriptor isn't definitive at all, it's just a phrase and a moving target.  I know people who consider all small refractors to be "department store" telescopes.

 

I wouldn't get my shorts in a knot about it, or even try to further define it.  

 

Lots of folks here have picked up an old scope that was just like something they had in their youth, and derive great pleasure from it.  It's probably a "department store" type scope to half the people on this forum, but what they think doesn't count.  If you enjoy it, it's a worthwhile purchase.

 

I got my start with 60mm Towa refractors and 3-inch reflectors, those scopes showed a six-year-old kid some amazing sights back in the 60s.  I'm pretty sure my mom and dad got them in a department store.  Didn't care where they came from then, don't care now.  It was fun and educational.


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#16 wrvond

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Posted 13 October 2017 - 07:22 AM

At 60 years old, I'm trying to catch up to all you guys that started in the 60's. That's a lot of ground to cover! bow.gif


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#17 Garyth64

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Posted 13 October 2017 - 07:47 AM

"Department Store" as a descriptor isn't definitive at all, it's just a phrase and a moving target.  I know people who consider all small refractors to be "department store" telescopes.

 

I wouldn't get my shorts in a knot about it, or even try to further define it.  

 

Lots of folks here have picked up an old scope that was just like something they had in their youth, and derive great pleasure from it.  It's probably a "department store" type scope to half the people on this forum, but what they think doesn't count.  If you enjoy it, it's a worthwhile purchase.

 

I got my start with 60mm Towa refractors and 3-inch reflectors, those scopes showed a six-year-old kid some amazing sights back in the 60s.  I'm pretty sure my mom and dad got them in a department store.  Didn't care where they came from then, don't care now.  It was fun and educational.

 . . . and some of those scope are still showing some amazing sights today.


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#18 Chuck Hards

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Posted 13 October 2017 - 07:49 AM

 

"Department Store" as a descriptor isn't definitive at all, it's just a phrase and a moving target.  I know people who consider all small refractors to be "department store" telescopes.

 

I wouldn't get my shorts in a knot about it, or even try to further define it.  

 

Lots of folks here have picked up an old scope that was just like something they had in their youth, and derive great pleasure from it.  It's probably a "department store" type scope to half the people on this forum, but what they think doesn't count.  If you enjoy it, it's a worthwhile purchase.

 

I got my start with 60mm Towa refractors and 3-inch reflectors, those scopes showed a six-year-old kid some amazing sights back in the 60s.  I'm pretty sure my mom and dad got them in a department store.  Didn't care where they came from then, don't care now.  It was fun and educational.

 . . . and some of those scope are still showing some amazing sights today.

 

 

And I still have dozens of them, that should tell you something.  ;)


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#19 starman876

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Posted 13 October 2017 - 07:53 AM

 

 

"Department Store" as a descriptor isn't definitive at all, it's just a phrase and a moving target.  I know people who consider all small refractors to be "department store" telescopes.

 

I wouldn't get my shorts in a knot about it, or even try to further define it.  

 

Lots of folks here have picked up an old scope that was just like something they had in their youth, and derive great pleasure from it.  It's probably a "department store" type scope to half the people on this forum, but what they think doesn't count.  If you enjoy it, it's a worthwhile purchase.

 

I got my start with 60mm Towa refractors and 3-inch reflectors, those scopes showed a six-year-old kid some amazing sights back in the 60s.  I'm pretty sure my mom and dad got them in a department store.  Didn't care where they came from then, don't care now.  It was fun and educational.

 . . . and some of those scope are still showing some amazing sights today.

 

 

And I still have dozens of them, that should tell you something.  wink.gif

 

Tells me you are a hoarder just like me.lol.gif


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#20 Tenacious

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Posted 13 October 2017 - 08:17 AM

 

 

 

"Department Store" as a descriptor isn't definitive at all, it's just a phrase and a moving target.  I know people who consider all small refractors to be "department store" telescopes.

 

I wouldn't get my shorts in a knot about it, or even try to further define it.  

 

Lots of folks here have picked up an old scope that was just like something they had in their youth, and derive great pleasure from it.  It's probably a "department store" type scope to half the people on this forum, but what they think doesn't count.  If you enjoy it, it's a worthwhile purchase.

 

I got my start with 60mm Towa refractors and 3-inch reflectors, those scopes showed a six-year-old kid some amazing sights back in the 60s.  I'm pretty sure my mom and dad got them in a department store.  Didn't care where they came from then, don't care now.  It was fun and educational.

 . . . and some of those scope are still showing some amazing sights today.

 

 

And I still have dozens of them, that should tell you something.  wink.gif

 

Tells me you are a hoarder just like me.lol.gif

 

The word hoarder has a selfish Midas-like definition for me.  We rescuers are much more noble, wiser and mindful of future generations.  grin.gif


Edited by Tenacious, 13 October 2017 - 08:27 AM.

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#21 rolo

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Posted 13 October 2017 - 08:27 AM

In other words, if I am looking for a quality refractor from the 60's to mid 70's that is higher on the scale than department store stock but not observatory grade, where should I be looking, what should I be looking for, and how much should I expect to pay?

 

They're everywhere , CN, Astromart, eBay, Goodwill auctions, Craigslist. Study the classics and see what our classic geniuses recommend then look for or place a want ad. Price will be based on brand and size.


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#22 terraclarke

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Posted 13 October 2017 - 09:52 AM

The old school Edmund 3" and 4" refractors rock! You can't go wrong optically and they were never sold in dept. stores.


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#23 terraclarke

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Posted 13 October 2017 - 09:58 AM

The Akron in LA in the 1950s sold some very high end imported Japanese telescopes (up to 6" refractors including Goto if I remember correctly).

 

https://en.m.wikiped.../wiki/The_Akron


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#24 actionhac

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Posted 13 October 2017 - 10:11 AM

Strangely, we have the largest Sears west of the Mississippi here when it was built around 1969

and I don't remember seeing any telescopes in the store.

I would have remembered because at that time astronomy and space was all I thought about, and

I knew the telescopes were in the catalog. Binoculars were with the cameras.

Us kids spent lots of time in that store, a huge place, dropped right there within a bicycle ride from

our neighborhood. It had both elevators and escalators.

I remember the live manikins, how fun they were! I remember one winked at me!

The candy counter was fabulous, you could buy a little of this and a little of that, you didn't need to

ring a bell, there was always someone there!

 

Robert


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#25 Bomber Bob

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Posted 13 October 2017 - 02:08 PM

The Akron in LA in the 1950s sold some very high end imported Japanese telescopes (up to 6" refractors including Goto if I remember correctly).

 

https://en.m.wikiped.../wiki/The_Akron

My (former) Space Scope 151 was purchased from The Akron -- and shipped to Sweet Home Alabama.

 

IIRC, Service Merchandise (catalog store with local brick & mortar sites) sold Monolux astro-scopes for a short while -- until Tasco swamped the market.


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