Solid Brass Antique French Binoculars

Proof that it always pays to hunt around.

I’ve seen many pairs of antique binoculars at flea markets and antiques shops over the years, but while most were pretty reasonably priced, they were often in horrible condition. Covered in scratches, dents, cracked, scratched or chipped lenses, and jammed or faulty focusing mechanisms which left them impossible to operate.

But not these:

These are typical of binoculars produced in the late Victorian era, around 1870-1900. They were spectacular, and in fully functioning condition. I found them in a little antiques shop a few blocks from my house and I just had to have them. I know the shopkeeper fairly well and he let me have them for a discount to boot. I think they’re the most amazing and beautiful set of antique binoculars I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen quite a few! The brass body shines in the sun and the lenses are just amazingly perfect – not something that you often get with antique binoculars.

The sliding glare-shields had to be disassembled and cleaned and the felt linings inside had to be replaced (which was an easy fix), but other than that, they were in almost perfect condition.

They were made in Paris by Mohrson. That’s literally all I know about them. At one time they would’ve come with a strap, and most likely a case as well, but they’re long gone. Straps for binoculars like these are pretty simple, so getting a new one is unlikely to be a problem. I think they’re fantastic, and just had to share them.

They fold up pretty compact. Fully extended, they’re about six inches long, and they’re not so bulky that they’re difficult to operate, hold or use. All in all, a lovely pair of Victorian-era field glasses.

They also make a great photography prop! See?


18th Century Dutch Brass Mortar and Pestle

Some things are just too cool to pass up. Like this doovelackey…

I picked this honey up online about a week ago, and the moment I saw it, I knew I had to add it to my collection. I just can’t resist antique brassware. Such variety, such beauty…I had to have it!

Mortars and pestles made of bronze (and later, brass) were very common in the period from the later-Renaissance period, up to the 1800s. They were relatively easy to make, extremely tough, long-lasting, and could be made into attractive shapes.

This particular mortar and pestle was made in the Netherlands in the early 1700s and while it’s only a medium-sized one, I just had to have it the moment I saw it online. I ummed-and-aahed over it for months, but when nobody else stepped forward, I finally plucked up the courage and decided to buy it. It took a week before it arrived, and it was the most anxious and frustrating week of my life. But, it’s here!

The base of the mortar, which was probably spun on a lathe, has two sets of concentric rings for decoration, and a ‘5’ for size. You might notice that the small hole drilled into the base of the mortar is slightly off-center (no, that’s not the angle of the dangle, that’s how it really looks).

Brass mortars and pestles were made by either being cast (usually sand-cast) or by being spun on a lathe, and the brazier using a chisel or tool to carve away the excess metal, leaving us with beautifully finished brasswork like this.

Here’s a few more shots of my latest toy:

Both pieces are in wonderful condition, considering their ages. No dents or cracks or damage anywhere.

The interior of the mortar is slightly concave, and full of dents and dings from the thousands of times that the pestle has been smashed into it or ground against it, in the course of hundreds of years of use.

I’ve often wondered why these mortars have those round, ball or knob-handles on the sides. For a period, they seemed to have been very common.

Someone I spoke to suggested that they might serve a more practical function than just a way to pick up the mortar, and that perhaps the handles held the mortar in a cradle or stand.

I’d never heard of such a thing, but it did seem to make sense. After searching online, I did find one photographic reference to wooden mortar and pestle stands for sets like the one shown here. I was so intrigued by it, I’m thinking of making my own.

With any luck, my next post in this blog will be about making that stand, and showing it off online!