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Galileo's Telescope

2.1 - News about Early Spyglasses

Portrait of H. Lipperhey (P. Borel, De vero telescopii inventore, 1655) Portrait of S. Janssen (P. Borel, De vero telescopii inventore, 1655)

The first certain news of the invention of an instrument able to enlarge distant images dates from September 25, 1608, when a spectacles-maker in Middelburg, Hans Lipperhey, applied to Estates General of the Netherlands for a patent to produce them with exclusive rights. In October, when the Estates General began to evaluate his request, the news arrived that a certain Sacharias Janssen had invented an entirely similar instrument. Then still another spectacles-maker in Alkmar, Jacob Metius, presented a patent application similar to that of Lipperhey.

The Estates General showed vivid interest in the new instrument, especially for its obvious military applications, and requested both Lipperhey and Metius to prepare for them perfected versions, preferably of the binocular type. However, in December 1608, after having recompensed Lipperhey and Metius for their efforts, the Estates General decided not to grant any exclusive patent rights. The new instrument, consisting of a metal tube, a lens for correcting presbyopia as objective and a lens for correcting myopia as eyepiece, was too easy to fabricate. In fact, during those few months, the secret of constructing "spyglasses" had now spread over half Europe.

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