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H10259 Speculum mirror, for reflecting telescope, copper / tin / glass / wood, Sir William Herschel, England, 1773-1822. Click to enlarge.

Speculum mirror for reflecting telescope made by Sir William Herschel

Made by Herschel, William (Friedrich Wilhelm) in England, 1773-1822.
There are two main types of telescopes. One uses a curved reflecting mirror to capture an image of the astral bodies the other uses a refracting lens to magnify its image. This metal speculum mirror was made for use in an early reflecting telescope and were usually made from composition of two parts copper to one part tin.

These early mirrors were made before the invention of technologies which could place a silvered mirror surface on glass and were instead made entirely from metals, mainly copper. The molten metal was cast and then slowly cooled before being carefully ground and polished, a process that required a high level of patience and expertise. However in these early years it was easier to make large speculum mirrors than large lenses made from imperfect glass. While they could reflect around 65 % of the available light they could also get very heavy, for example the speculum mirror and box for the 'Great Melbourne Telescope' weighed 3500 lbs.

This speculum mirror is said to have been made by the famous English astronomer Sir William Herschel for use in a reflecting telescope. At the age of 35, Herschel embarked on what would become an astonishingly successful investigation of the stars. Initially he used cheap homemade lens telescopes but he quickly moved to reflecting mirrors and made his first speculum mirror in 1773. In 1782 he moved to Datchet near Windsor Castle where he began to make astronomical equipment commercially and this mirror was probably made sometime after this.

These mirrors were extremely labour intensive to produce and in a Memoir published by Herchel's sister Caroline in 1876 she describes her brother polishing a mirror continuously for sixteen hours. The mirror's association with this pioneer astronomer and its early date define the international significance of this object.

Glass, I. S., Victorian Telescope Makers; the Lives and Letters of Thomas and Howard Grubb, Institute of Physics Publishing, Bristol and Philadelphia, 1997
Gascoigne, S.C.B, 'The Great Melbourne Telescope', in Historical Records of Australian Science, Volume 10, Number 3, Panther Publishing, Canberra, Australia, 1995
King, H., C., The History of the Telescope, Dover Publications, New York, 1955

Geoff Barker, March, 2007


Object No.


Object Statement

Speculum mirror, for reflecting telescope, copper / tin / glass / wood, Sir William Herschel, England, 1773-1822

Physical Description

Astronomical equipment, speculum mirror for reflecting telescope, copper / tin / glass / wood, made by Sir William Herschel, England, 1773-1822

A large and heavy circular mirror, brass bound and fixed into a wooden box which is tapered to the front. It includes clear glass cover held in place by screws. Observatory stock number 356.


No marks



150 mm


290 mm


320 mm


80 kg



Said to have been made & used by Sir William Herschel and given to his friend, the father of Dr Brissenden. Then passed to W.G. Rendall whose daughter V. Rendall donated it to the Sydney Observatory.


Credit Line

Ex-Sydney Observatory stock, 1984

Acquisition Date

25 June 1984

Cite this Object


Speculum mirror for reflecting telescope made by Sir William Herschel 2020, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 5 July 2020, <>


{{cite web |url= |title=Speculum mirror for reflecting telescope made by Sir William Herschel |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=5 July 2020 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}

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