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The Unitron telescopes illustration here and the literature hosted are from Company Sevens archives and showroom exhibit of telescopes.
These articles are among the ways by which we say “Thank You” to those who have helped keep Company Seven in business, and contributed to our exhibits;
as far as others who find these articles...mooch on.
These telescopes and most of their accessories were manufactured by Nihon Seiko Kenkyusho, Ltd. based in Tokyo, and its subcontracted vendors in Japan. The company was established at least as far back as the the mid 1930s, then furnishing fine achromatic refracting telescopes, based on the Carl Zeiss type E air-spaced doublet achromat lens design, of at least up to 125mm aperture under the POLAREX or SEIKO SCOPE trade names. By 1951 the company had emerged from the ashes of the war and offered their initial assortment of what was to become an extraordinarily well integrated and comprehensively accessorized line of telescopes and mounts. The Nihon Seiko telescopes were marketed in most major markets and under several trade names until the discontinuation of routine telescope production in 1992.
Distribution History: the distribution of these products overseas was managed by independent distributors selected by Nihon Seiko. In the Fall of 1951 the United Trading Company (hence UNITRON) based in Massachusetts commenced marketing the telescopes in the USA. For most other countries they were marketed under the trade marks POLAREX or POLAREX. Harrison Scientific on rue Sainte-Catherine in Montreal also marketed these in Canada as POLAREX. The same trade name applied for the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxemburg (the Benelux countries) where they were sold by retailers including Bhillen Foto of Arnhem, and Polaris in Amstelveen and Antwerpen for example. The telescopes were marketed similarly in France and several other countries in Europe.
Right: focusers of the same basic model 75mm telescope but branded Polarex, Unitron, and Weltblick. The focuser at left is the Deluxe Focuser (not to be confused with the 2 inch Super Focuser) made to support a camera or other heavier attachments and featuring the drawtube lock. In Company Seven archives (68,308 bytes)
In Germany these were marketed from the early 1960s through the Spring of 1985 as UNITRON by Manfred Wachter Präzisionsmechanik und Optik of Bodelshausen at Tübingen (near Stuttgart), whose well illustrated literature remains a good source of information about these products even today. In the mid 1980s these were distributed by Neckermann AG based in Frankfurt, Germany that sold these bearing the trade name WELTBLICK (World View).
From the mid 1960s to 1971 Eric Nordquist, owner of Astroniks, marketed these telescopes in Sweden trademarked SEIKO SCOPE or POLAREX. Bjorn Hedvall operated Meridianrefraktorerna in Göteborg Sweden selling these telescopes between 1972 well into the 1980s trademarked MERIDIAN. Hedvall remains particularly well regarded in Sweden for his work to promote the public interest in space and the Slottskogsobservatoriet (Castle Forest Observatory). You may also find some of the smaller Nihon Seiko telescopes such as the Model 114 bearing the trade name Beli (Beli) and these may have some components (Lens Cover, etc.) labeled Seiko Scope or stamped with the letters N.S..
In Australia these telescopes were distributed as POLAREX by E. Esdaile and Sons Pty. Ltd. in Glebe, a suburb of Sydney, until 1962. From the mid 1960s until the demise of the product line these were marketed as UNITRON by Eric Witcombes Amateur Telescope Supply Company (in 1973 changed to Astro Optical Supplies) in Crows Nest, also a suburb of Sydney.
Left: Mercurius logo of a 60mm telescope focuser (22,404 bytes)
While the smaller aperture telescope models in particular were marketed under the less well known trade names, including MERCURIUS in parts of northern Europe, eventually UNITRON became the most well-known of the trade names. This was due in no small measure owing to the proliferation of marketing advertisements in numerous astronomy publications by Unitron USA companies, and the prevalence of Americans visiting and residing for their work in many first world countries where there was interest in astronomy and the sciences and where these could be successfully marketed. The name became well enough recognized that by the early 1970s telescopes bearing UNITRON were being sold even in Japan.
One cannot rely on the presence or absence of a trade name, particularly POLAREX or UNITRON, to determine where the instrument was originally sold. Particularly in times of high demand or of dwindling stock, Nihon Seiko could send whatever they may have had readily available to a distributor in need regardless of the trade name or possibly even the lack of any trade name at all.
To add to the confusion for historians, the instrument optical tubes and mounts too bear no model designation. So it is difficult to know not only where it was originally sold, but also how it was originally configured. For example consider the Model 132 4.0" Equatorial Telescope, this is shown in the oldest Nihon Seiko catalogs. The Model 132 was marketed in Asia and Europe as well as in many other countries, typically under either the UNITRON or POLAREX trade names. The Model 132 was not marketed in the U.S.A. however, a similarly configured version was marketed there, and in Australia, even later in Japan, and in some other countries too as the
Even the present configurations cannot be relied upon to determine the history. Consider the range of latitude adjustment of an equatorial mount head does give away something about where it may have been most recently used, but this cannot be relied upon to prove where it was originally sold. In the years following the original sale the owner could have changed out any of the components that might have pointed to the instruments origin. The owner of telescope mount being relocated from the U.S.A. to Germany would have had the Latitude Adjustment nut exchanged to facilitate Pole Alignment at the higher latitude, so you may find an originally configured Model 152 telescope in Germany where the similar Model 132 was being marketed. The optical tube assembly of a Model 150 4.0" (with the Deluxe Focuser and sold with the Alt-Az mount) might have later been mated to the German Mount, in effect ending up with a Model 132 for example; so finding this telescope in someones basement here would not prove the Model 132 per se was ever marketed by UNITRON USA. So we at Company Seven reconstructed the history of these product lines by the study of instruments that remain in custody of their original owner, or that are accompanied with their original sales invoice or some other documentation.
Locating the Trademark: the telescopes bear their trade name on the front ring of the Lens Cell and on the right side of the Focuser body, and on some of the accessories too. This is engraved and this filled in with white paint. But there are instances too where focusers and many accessories too (motors for example) simply bear a stick-on trade name label. The telescope mounts bear no trade name though some of their accessories, the motor housing for example, will bear the trade name and/or a N.S. mark. Unfortunately the mounts as well as most optical tube assemblies bear no visible serial number, this makes it difficult to research the history of or verify individual telescopes.
Right: Unitron and Polarex 4 inch telescope objective lenses and cells (69,784 bytes). In Company Seven archives (68,308 bytes).
Polarex and Unitron telescope optical tubes were painted a traditional white with black front and rear cells, black mounting collar and accessory mounting brackets. While Meridian and Weltblick telescope optical tubes were painted white or a shade of distinctive blue, with the other components black. Hence the identical telescope models might be found bearing the UNITRON logo, while another bears POLAREX for example.
Weltblick branded telescopes typically had their trade name engraved on the lens cell as do the Unitron and Polarex models. The Welblick telescopes may bear the letters N.S. (made by Nihon Seiko) engraved on the side of the focuser opposite the WELTBLICK trademark. The focusers of smaller telescopes will have a Weltblick branded stylized eye sticker and model designation sticker below that on the right side, with a N.S. sticker at the bottom of the focuser body. Some of the Weltblick accessories too, including the finder telescope and the provided eyepieces, were similarly engraved or may only bear an N.S. sticker.
Above left: Weltblick 'Eye' logo sticker, as found on their telescopes focusers. From Company Seven archives and exhibits (51,188 bytes).
To add to the complications of determining the origin of a telescope, Nihon Seiko and many other makers of telescopes components in Japan at times sold components (focusers, finderscopes, lenses, optical tubes, mounting hardware, etc.) to each other, or even to telescope parts integrators overseas. So a Nikon Seiko focuser might have been furnished on a Brandon telescope, or to another brand that you may never have heard of. Or what was sold new as a Unitron telescope may have later been retrofitted by the owner with a new or used Polarex objective lens and cell. The stick-on label of a focuser, or the entire focuser could have been exchanged for convenience by a collector who wanted an all-Unitron or all-Polarex instrument for example.
Accessory components including eyepieces and finderscopes whether labeled UNITRON or UNITRON, or POLAREX, simply N.S. or nothing at all, may have been manufactured by some other company in Japan for distribution by Nihon Seiko. This was not uncommon since no one maker could manufacture from scratch every component needed to assemble a complete telescope, accessories, and case set in their shop. In addition to having been distributed to complement a Nihon Seiko telescope, accessory components were sold by Nihon Seiko to other makers too for sale with their telescopes. A finderscope labeled CELESTRON may have been made by Nihon Seiko, and so on. Nihon Seiko made eyepieces for sale by and engraved PARKS, UNIVERISTY OPTICS, and for other retailers too. For smaller production lots, the items may bear simpler adhesive adhesive backed labeling, some for example bear both stickers N.S. and University Optics. Eyepieces bearing both stickers N.S. and FULLERSCOPES were sold by the Fullerscope telescope company in the United Kingdom. The adhesive backed labels are similar to those made by Nihon Seiko for their products; all appear to share the same type of thin backing material while their lettering style and color of silver with black backgrounds are similar, so we conclude these were applied at the factory and not by the retailer.
These elegant telescopes came to epitomize all that was great about traditional achromatic refractors - and all their shortcomings too. But these remained the class of well made telescopes that many purists, who could afford them, aspired to own and use. These remained in production and with very few changes from 1952 through 1992, by then these optical dinosaurs had been displaced from the marketplace by the more recently developed superior and more versatile apochromatic telescopes.
These telescope inspired awe and the imagination among those of “The Greatest Generation” and of their “Baby Boomers” and as such these rightfully deserve our respect, and their place on public display in Company Sevens collection preserved here (hopefully) for generations to come.
For more information about the history of Nihon Seiko and these products, details of their marketing, construction and specifications refer to the following articles.
COMPANY SEVENS ON-LINE MUSEUM ITEMSBelow are some of the items on exhibit in our showroom or on line in our archives. We will gradually add more on line for the enjoyment of customers who support Company Seven
Note the originally provided Sun Projection Screen set was not unwrapped and installed for this photo, it remains packaged in its original wrapper within the OTA storage case.
Documents related to the Unitron Model 114 telescope in our collection:
Click here to download it free from Adobes web site.
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