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How Well Do Optics Sell at Auction?

Hannah Widdop

As decorative and functional pieces, all kinds of optical items can be of interest to collectors – but what kinds are sought-after, and how well do optics sell at auction?

To start with, vintage binoculars can be a popular collector’s item – especially ones of high quality, including vintage military iterations. In addition to the interest as a piece of history, military binoculars tended to be of better quality for their period and even hold up well today, as clarity, field-of-view and light-gathering capacity would have all been important aspects when in service.

A good example of vintage binoculars, this pair of Carl Zeiss Jena rubber coated Dodecarem 12x50b Binoculars sold in our 2022 March Fine Art auction for £160.

In a similar vein, vintage telescopes can draw just as much interest – be they nautical or military in nature, or in the form of spotter scopes. Commonly manufactured in brass and cased in leather, these instruments evoke connotations of adventure and the age of sail. Again, quality and condition go hand-in-hand with price, and value can increase further if a known maker’s name is present.

This WWII military issue sniper spotting scope sold in our July Fine Art auction for £260!

Modern telescopes appear at auction too, again including spotting scopes, as well as astronomy pieces. Modern astronomy telescopes can look impressive to the untrained eye, but quality and consequently value varies greatly. Of high importance in astronomy scopes is the ability to gather as much light as possible, while also being able to resolve a clear image. This leads to optical elements which are not straightforward to produce, increasing the value in turn.

A fine example of a superlative quality modern telescope is this ORION Skyquest XX16G GO2 Dobsonian. Complete with all necessary accoutrements, this example sold with Adam Partridge Auctioneers in October 2022 for £920. (Image credit: / Adam Partridge Auctioneers)

Microscopes are another sought-after precision optical instrument. Antique brass versions are attractively-made, making them highly collectible as a decorative object. One notable example is the Fram microscope made by W. Watson & Sons Ltd. First marketed in 1898, it was well-received and was produced for around 15 years with a range of accessories.

This Watson Fram microscope was offered in our July 2021 Fine Art auction and sold for a hammer price of £100.

Essentially a form of very compact telescope, the monocular can be thought of as half a pair of binoculars. Modern day examples are used for birding and hunting, but there are older and rarer types that are particularly desirable. One such piece was made by Wedgwood and features a jasperware cover. This highly decorative and attractive item can achieve fantastic prices at auction. Owing to their rarity, one such piece sold online for £1,134 in 2014.

This Wedgwood Jasperware monocular was offered in our July 2021 Fine Art auction. Despite missing the optical components and bearing a hairline crack to the body, it was nevertheless hotly contested by bidders and achieved a hammer price of £460!

Selling Optics at Auction

Do you have optical items you wish to sell? Our team of experts can value your items and give advice on their saleability and which of our auctions would be best to consign to. Simply book an appointment for one of our Tuesday valuation days via the form here. You can also book via email at or by calling us on 01782 638100. We even provide valuations via WhatsApp – send good quality images via your phone to 07864 667940.