PATH 003 – Photos Around The House: Grandfather’s Binoculars

Grandfather's Binoculars

Some years ago my mother gave me one of her father’s binoculars.  They look old, beat up, do not have a diopter adjustment, and the angle between the lenses is fixed.  But they work, and they work well.

The eye-pieces and compass

Even the compass still works, and turning the wheel will raise and lower the tubes to focus to the desired distance.

By the way, I would strongly suggest reading the post and then visiting the SmugMug gallery . . . the full size pictures are much nicer.

As much as anything can look well-used, this does.

My grandfather’s name was Giovanni Nicolich.  He married Maria Badurina, and they had four children.  The picture below shows them on their wedding day, October 1924.  

My grandmother is wearing the black scarf and costume from the town of Neresine.  They lived in Lussinpiccolo, and both towns are part of the Cherso-Lussino archipelago.  These days those places go by the names of Nerezine, Mali Losinj, Cres-Losinj, and the area is today part of Croatia.  

The Wikipedia entry for Cres-Losinj gives the history of the place, but for those not wanting to click on the link here is a brief summary:

1797 – fall of Venice; island becomes part of the Austrian province of Istria.

1919 – island becomes part of Italy (the population was already primarily Italian)

1943 – German and Croatian troops occupy it as part of Operation Zone Adriatic Coast

1945 – island and rest of Croatia become part of Yugoslavia

(Note: over the next few years much of the Italian population emigrated, legally or by escaping, and are spread throughout the world.  They keep in touch and obtain updates through this publication.  It is in Italian, and documents the accomplishments of Lussignani, and their passing.  This particular one I linked contains the notice for the passing of Marino Nicolich.)

1953 – yours truly is born in a part of Yugoslavia that is now Slovenia

1955 – the family leaves Lussinpiccolo (Mali Losinj) and settles in Friuli-Venezia Giulia

1991 – Croatia declares independence from Youguslav rule (same year as Slovenia) 

Boring to all who are not from there, it becomes interesting when someone asks me of my nationality.  Ostensibly, prior to becoming a U.S. citizen, I was Italian . . . emigrated from what now is Croatia, but born in Yugoslavia, in what is now Slovenia, from parents who were born Italian, and whose parents were born under Austrian rule. Usually I just say “Italian”. 

It is a beautiful area, and a popular tourist destination dating back to Roman times.  For those who want to take a look at the area and look up the names of the towns I mentioned, this map of the archipelago has the current Croatian names, and each is a link to a short description and history of the town. 

Better yet, this site has an interactive exploration applet that is one of the best I have ever seen, letting you fly to any of the ports, town, and landmarks.  I am surprised by the quality of this site, but then the area is world-known for sport fishing, and tourism appears to be a vibrant part of the local economy.

But back to the story . . . by 1939 Giovanni and Maria had four children.


The names make it a bit confusing, even more so because there are also nicknames and dialect names associated with each (not germane to this post).  The daughter on the right died of meningitis in 1941, and they had another son, Marino,  in 1944.   My mother is the only survivor; my uncle Giovanni died last year, and my uncle Marino in 2007.  My grandfather died in 1970, at the age of 77, and my grandmother died in 1987, at the age of 85.

My grandfather was a sailor.  He operated a small merchant boat, the Santa Maria, traveling between the ports, moving both merchandise and people.

The Santa Maria with the family on board

I mention all this because it’s tied to the story of the binoculars.  Might as well add a picture here to remind people of them.

From where the family lived in Lussinpiccolo (Mali Losinj), they could see when the Santa Maria would leave Punta Croce (Punta Kriza), and these binoculars were the favorite to do so because of their quality and magnification.  

They had a few different binoculars, and a telescope, but my mother speaks of using these to track the comings and goings of her father’s boat.  

It is difficult to know just how old these are.  They were in the family before my mother was born, so they are at least 80 years old.  

I would venture a guess they are older.  On each of the sliding tube there are inscriptions.  One is in French,

Jumelle Militaire Perfectionnel

and the other is in German,

Verbesserter Militar Feldstecher

Both loosely translate to something like “Improved Military Binoculars”.  The fact they are in those languages points to sometime before 1919, when the area was under the Austrian empire.

Except for the compass between the eye pieces, these French Galilean binocular 6 x 45 “Colmont” Paris 1910 look a lot like them.  The power seems about right.  Of course, the ones shown on that site are in much better shape.  

The hard knocks of constant use

These also have dust inside the lens, and strange flaws which resemble stars.  

Stars and comets

Stars and star dust

Subsequent to me taking the pictures, I took these apart.  As the name Galilean implies, they are not prism binoculars, so I did not have to worry about realigning them when putting them back together again.  

They use refracting optics. They use an objective lens and an eye piece, and focus is controlled by sliding the two relative to each other.  Essentially they are two telescope attached at eye-width.    I cleaned the lenses of the accumulated dust.   The dust probably comes in through the clearance around the telescoping tubes.  

The star-like flaws are actually inside the lens itself, and appear to be a crystallization of some type, although a quick search of the Internet does not reveal any similar examples.  Perhaps someone reading this can shed some light on what those are and why they form.

So, here we are, nearly at the end.  It’s funny; this post was primarily to showcase these next two pictures, and got derailed by me wanting to know more.  The old pictures shown above I got by contacting my sister; the details about the binoculars from my mother, along with the stuff about the place where they lived.  My curiosity about the relationship between where they lived and the waters my grandfather sailed led me to finding the history and maps I link above.

And now we are back to what I wanted to show in the first place.  Honest, not for the first one, but for the second of these next two pictures I suggest clicking on the picture to see the high resolution version in the SmugMug album.  The first picture is a regular single photograph showing the binoculars; a decent picture with a shallow depth of field.  

But the second photograph blew me away when I first saw it.  I’s a composite of six photos merged using the Blended Layers technique I mentioned before.  The details are stunning, and looks almost three dimensional to me.  Go to SmugMug and click on it to see it in it’s original size (choose the “O” option, or at least the “X3” option).   

First the single shot photo.  As an aside, this view immediately reminded me of Wall-E.

Single shot photo (reminds me of Wall-E)

And here is the Blended Layers photo (six layers).  

Blended Layers Composite (best viewed in SmugMug - click on picture)

Thanks for reading this post.  I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.