Cost of quality binoculars in 1912


Arun Vajpey

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At the outset I'd like to say that this is not a loaded question and not meant to restart the old debate of whether a pair of binoculars in the Titanic's crow's nest would have made a difference.

But what I am interested in knowing is how much a pair of high quality binoculars would have cost back in 1912. Someone mentioned a while ago that British optics at the time were rather basic; I assume that Germany was the leading manufacturer of quality optical instruments at the time. Since lens grinding and coating in those days was more time-consuming, I assume that things like binoculars were proportionately expensive.
 

Bob Godfrey

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In 1912 the British army issued its officers with binoculars costing around £7($35 US). That would be around 3 weeks' wages for a junior officer on an ocean liner, and £400 in today's money. So these must have been of pretty good quality.
 
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Arun Vajpey

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Thanks. Assuming then that something like Zeiss Binoculars with a large exit pupil (Perhaps 7x50) to help night vision would have cost around £15 to £18 in 1912. Or, around a month's pay of a ship's senior officer by your calculations? Not a lot of people would be ready to lay out a month's pay just for a pair of binoculars and so they must have been uncommon among ordinary middle class people.

PS: Correction! I found an old advertisement for "Prism Binoculars" in 1912 (It is on E-bay as proof of an item being sold and so it might not be legal for me to copy it here) and a Bosch & Lomb - Zeiss "Night Vision or Marine" Binoculars was priced then at U$D158 !!!
 
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If binocular were this expensive, that's too bad for my story. I wanted my main character (a fictitious second class passenger who knows what will happen) to disembark the ship in Queenstown and get back on board with a pair of binoculars, which he then brings to the crow's nest, knowing that the ship will sink anyway.
 

Arun Vajpey

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If binocular were this expensive, that's too bad for my story. I wanted my main character (a fictitious second class passenger who knows what will happen) to disembark the ship in Queenstown and get back on board with a pair of binoculars, which he then brings to the crow's nest, knowing that the ship will sink anyway.

While optical instruments were proportionately more expensive those days (compared with average wages), there must have been cheaper binoculars too. But I would have thought that the binoculars that were issued on a luxurious liner like the Titanic including the one that was missing from the crow's nest (it might have been David Blair's personal property) would have been high quality ones. In any case, I wanted to know how much quality binoculars made and sold for Marine use and good night vision would cost in 1912. Zeiss glasses were certainly high quality and they reportedly cost around £30 (or $150) for such specifications. By Mr Godfrey's calculations, that would be around £1700 or $2800 in today's money. Not a small amount.

PS: By the way Mr Puttemans, sorry about Monday night ;)
 

Bob Godfrey

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Those prices do seem ludicrously high, but I've seen that 1912 catalogue myself and they are authentic. Those instruments, mind you, were the very best prismatic binoculars and very unlikely to be in the kit of the average deck officer. I've seen a set of 'bridge glasses' used on WSL's Megantic in 1910 and they were simple field glasses with two inch objectives. Probably cost about the same as the army binoculars I mentioned earlier.
 

Bob Godfrey

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Non-prismatic opera and field glasses of reasonable quality could be bought new in 1912 for as little as £1 10s . Zeiss prismatic glasses started at around £10 - presumably at that level you'd get only a pair of low-magnification opera glasses, but of very high quality.

Here's a pic of typical (non-prismatic and relatively cheap) bridge glasses from around 1912.
bridgeglasses.jpg


And these are costly Zeiss prismatics from the same period.
zeiss 1912.jpg
 

Arun Vajpey

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Those prices do seem ludicrously high, but I've seen that 1912 catalogue myself and they are authentic. Those instruments, mind you, were the very best prismatic binoculars and very unlikely to be in the kit of the average deck officer.
Thanks for that.

Once again not a loaded question, but were the binoculars that were originally in the Titanic's crow's nest but were missing in the maiden voyage, irrespective of the make, usefulness or otherwise, David Blair's personal property or White Star issue?
 

Bob Godfrey

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Fred Fleet has this to say at the British Inquiry in answer to questions from Mr Scanlan:

I understand you had glasses in the crow's-nest during the journey from Belfast to Southampton?
- Yes.
Were those glasses marked in any special way?
- It had on one side of it, "Second Officer," and on the other, SS "Titanic."

So clearly they were White Star issue and nobody's personal property.
 

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