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Review: Celestron, the Early Years

Posted by Rod Mollise   10/23/2004 12:00AM

Review:  Celestron, the Early Years
The Early Years

Rod Mollise

Maybe you've been puzzled by the old timers on Astromart Forums and the Yahoo groups and at your local club who prattle on about “Classic Celestron Pacifics,” “White and Blue tubes SCTs” and those aforementioned C10s, C16s and C22s.

If the above rings a bell or at least piques your interest, man, do I have a read for you. Robert Piekiel has put together a book, an electronic “E book,” that does more than just explain the above mysteries. What Bob does is document in minute detail the early years of one of the amateur’s favorite telescope companies, Celestron.

What’s a White Tube? Before Celestron began mass-producing Schmidt Cassegrains in the 1970s, they had been making near-custom SCTs in a distinctly unfamiliar aperture range if you’re used to the modern litany of C5, C8, C11 and C14. These telescopes, in apertures of 6, 8, 10, 12, 16 and 22 inches, were attractively finished in white and blue, and, while obviously not as sophisticated electronically as today’s computerized marvels, they had quite a lot going for them. They were very well made, being aimed at the professional/educational market rather than at amateur astronomers--though quite a few wealthy amateurs did spring for the C10.

Even those of us who couldn’t dream of spending the many 1960s dollars a C10 or C12 commanded drooled over the Celestron ads. And some of us never forgot those gleaming white SCTs surrounded by serious men in white coats—this was long before the lovely “Celestron Girls” began to grace the company’s advertisements. Until now, though, the only information on the early history of Celestron and these marvelous telescopes has been word of mouth and a handful of articles in yellowing back issues of Sky and Telescope.

It’s curious, really, that the SCT, undeniably the most popular commercial telescope of all time, has had so little written about it. Oh, there’s my book, Choosing and Using a Schmidt Cassegrain Telescope, and Bob Manly’s The 20cm Schimdt Cassegrain Telescope, but that’s been it so far.

Until now, that is. There’s a new “bible” for SCT lovers, Bob Piekiel’s Celestron: The Early Years. Unlike my book and the Manly book, Piekiel has chosen to focus on the historic side of Celestron rather than on buying and using the current models from Celestron and Meade. Early Years gives a detailed overview of the rise of Celestron from Tom Johnson’s initial interest in building a telescope for himself and his family to his conversion of his company, Valor Electronics, from a tiny vendor of power supplies and other electronic gadgets to arguably the most famous telescope company of all time.

The meat of this book, though, is the chapters on the White Tubes. Each of these scopes is examined in excruciating detail from its design to its use to its maintenance and restoration. While I’ve examined and used quite a few of these telescopes over the years--they don’t call me “Mr. SCT” for nothing—I learned a lot, and I do mean a lot from Bob’s book. Not only things I’d forgotten over the years, but much—much--I never knew.

As mentioned above, this is an “E book.” It is self-published and is not offered in print form (though the user can print it out if desired), but instead in one of two electronic formats. Normally, it’s delivered in Microsoft Word format on a DVD. Being aware that many users do not yet have DVD drives on their computers, Mr. Piekiel has also made an edition available on CD. The CD contains the book in Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) format rather than Word. While the .pdf version is much smaller megabyte-wise, it contains exactly the same material as the DVD. The (many) pictures in the book are considerably clearer and better looking in the Word DVD version, however.

Any nits to pick? A few. While it is advertised as containing 1300 pages, much of the book is formatted in large fonts, so the “actual” length is considerably less than that—a good deal less than half, I suspect, if the book were reformatted in 12 point type. Also, while the author’s prose is usually very clear and workmanlike, it is sometimes not quite of professional caliber. All that means is that the book could stand a good going-over by an Editor and a Copy Editor, something I hope happens. I’d like to see Celestron the Early Years published professionally. It’s good enough that it deserves much wider exposure and distribution than it’s likely going to get as DVDs and CDs.

How do you get it? At this time, it’s only sold directly by its author. Respond to his Astromart advertisements (just search the classifieds, Bob advertises the book regularly) or email him at

How mucho? A few people have complained about the book’s not inconsequential price of 49.95 US$ plus 3.00 US$ for shipping. Yes, it’s a trifle high for a CD or DVD. But you’ve paid this much for computer games or PC planetarium programs you never use. This book is worth every penny—in spades. If you are an SCT fan, this is something you will want—no—something you must have.