In faint praise of the Nickel Supra telescope

My first telescope was a Nickel Supra. It was draw-pull, had a zoom magnification between 15-60x and came in a tube-shaped leather carrying case. In 1977, when I handed over my £100 to the sales assistant at Vic Oddens (London Bridge) and was handed the optic, I couldn't have been prouder.

It was shit.

That might be a bit unfair, as all scopes back then suffer in comparison to what we are spoilt with today. When I purchased the Nickel Supra it seemed to be a choice between that and a Hertel and Reuss. Both were of a similar standard and same price bracket, but the Nickel Supra just shaded it for me as it looked sleeker and sounded modern. Scope ownership amongst the majority of birders boiled down to either possessing a Nickel/Hertel or an older, more ancient brass draw-pull, as likely to have been a relic from the 1939-45 war.

All of these scopes necessitated having to pull out the tubes (normally a collapsable set of three) and rest the unwieldy contraption on a wall, fence or mate's shoulder, so as to steady the thing to have enough chance of looking through it with any confidence of it being worth the while doing so. Nobody owned tripods. The image was not bright. The image was also not that sharp. They fogged up and seized up in the rain and cold. And still we thought we were the bee's-knee's in owning them.

Another hardship that was endured was having to - if there were no walls, fences or mates nearby - lie down on the grass/in the mud, and try to balance said scope on a folded knee. This induced arthritis, the onset of piles and resulted in getting your clothing wet and dirty. Crusty old sea watchers were known to have taken this position and never get up again. The ensuing shake and wobble was enough to render the exercise pointless. At x15 the light was just about workable. At 60x it was akin to looking through a milk bottle that had been held over a naked flame for an hour.

My friend Dave had purchased a cheaper telescope from a local camera shop. It was enormous, one of the budget astronomy scopes. We christened it 'The Cormorant' as it approached that species in size, shape and colour. In all honesty it was as good as the Nickel. His wife made him a carrying case from the leg of an old pair of denim jeans.

Yes kids, this is how we used to bird and look in the late 1970s.

There's more of this stuff to come...


Arjun Dutta said…
The birding was better though haha...
Paul James said…
My first scope too Steve. Wasn't it nicknamed the Nickel 'Bullworker' on account of the fact that you needed a muscular physique just to pull the draw tubes out!
Steve Gale said…
Higher numbers, certainly Arjun
Steve Gale said…
On a cold, damp day they did size up. I'd hate to use one now Paul!
Russell Leavett said…
I bought my first telescope, a Nikel Supra, around 1963 and don’t quote me but i think it cost about £40 - a parental loan was necessary!
Prior to that I had occasionally looked through the long brass jobs that the relatively few birders used at that time. Most struggled to keep them steady, dragging in friends to use their shoulders as a ‘tripod’ etc

In 1972 I spent some time in the Highlands of Scotland with the celebrated naturalist and raptor specialist Seton Gordon - he used a splendid brass scope given to him as a wedding present by Edward 7th. He often used the scope standing normally, using it rather as a monocular as we would today. He would stride up a steep hill at speed, perch on the steep slope, using it resting on his boots.

No Nikel Supra’s don’t compare in any way with modern scopes but if you were desperate to have a scope in the early 1960s they were a revelation. People who write critical comments are not 80 years old and have been spoilt for choice. I took my Nikel to the Calf of Man B.O and used it for some years. After 40 years as a professional ornithologist with RSPB and others I hold the Nikel dear! Russell Leavett
Ecothusiast. said…

I bought myself a Nickel Supra in 1075, a 21st birthday present, and because I'd seen you, and other Garten staff & volunteers using one. How I relate to your thoughts! That field of view! I continued to use it until the now-ex gave me a far better one in 1997.

I was prompted to search for you when reviewing my year, a low point being RSPB's e-mail announcing that "Operation Osprey" is to close. I first went in your year there and it was an annual highlight. After work precluded going back I was there 2 week after I resigned!

I now live in Blair Athol. Should you ever be passing, I hope you'll call. We make the best coffee on A9.

Lindsay Easton.

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