Francis Watkins and the Dollond Telescope Patent Controversy: 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Francis Watkins and the Dollond Telescope Patent Controversy

1st Edition

By Brian Gee, edited by Anita McConnell


424 pages

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Francis Watkins was an eminent figure in his field of mathematical and optical instrument making in mid-eighteenth century London. Working from original documents, Brian Gee has uncovered the life and times of an optical instrument maker, who - at first glance - was not among the most prominent in his field. In fact, because Francis Watkins came from a landed background, the diversification of his assets enabled him to weather particular business storms - discussed in this book - where colleagues without such an economic cushion, were pushed into bankruptcy or forced to emigrate. He played an important role in one of the most significant legal cases to touch this profession, namely the patenting of the achromatic lens in telescopes. The book explains Watkins's origins, and how and why he was drawn into partnership with the famous Dollond firm, who at that point were Huguenot incomers. The patent for the achromatic telescope has never been satisfactorily explained in the literature, and the author has gone back to the original legal documents, never before consulted. He teases out the problems, lays out the evidence, and comes to some interesting new conclusions, showing the Dollonds as hard-headed and ruthless businessmen, ultimately extremely successful. The latter part of the book accounts for the successors of Francis Watkins, and their decline after over a century of successful business in central London.


Recipient of the Paul Bunge Prize 2015, awarded for outstanding research in the study of scientific instruments by the Gesellschaft Deutscher Chemiker (GDCh) and the Deutschen Bunsen-Gesellschaft Physikalische Chemie (DBG).

'… impressive and engaging … this book is an impressively readable and useful source on the subjects which it addresses.' Journal for the History of Astronomy

'The book’s editors, Anita McConnell and Alison Morrison-Low, should be commended for their hard work in making this a comprehensible and valuable addition to the scholarly analysis of a crucial period in the history of invention, as should the Scientific Instrument Society for facilitating the publication.' Richard Dunn, Royal Museums Greenwich

About the Authors

Brian Gee was a member of the Scientific Instrument Society from its foundation in 1983. He published numerous key works on scientific instruments and had almost completed this monograph on the Dollond patent controversy before he died in 2009. Anita McConnell is an independent historian of science, living near Cambridge. A.D. Morrison-Low won the 2008 Paul Bunge Prize for her bookMaking Scientific Instruments in the Industrial Revolution (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007). She is Principal Curator, Science, at National Museums Scotland. The completion of the book was made possible by the generous funding of the Scientific Instrument Society.

About the Series

Science, Technology and Culture, 1700-1945

Science, Technology and Culture, 1700-1945 focuses on the social, cultural, industrial and economic contexts of science and technology from the ‘scientific revolution’ up to the Second World War. Publishing lively, original, innovative research across a broad spectrum of subjects and genres by an international list of authors, the series has a global compass that concerns the development of modern science in all regions of the world. Subjects may range from close studies of particular sciences and problems to cultural and social histories of science, technology and biomedicine; accounts of scientific travel and exploration; transnational histories of scientific and technological change; monographs examining instruments, their makers and users; the material and visual cultures of science; contextual studies of institutions and of individual scientists, engineers and popularizers of science; and well-edited volumes of essays on themes in the field.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
HISTORY / Modern / 19th Century
SCIENCE / History