Louwman Historic Telescopes – The Hague, Netherlands - Atlas Obscura
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The Hague, Netherlands

Louwman Historic Telescopes

The world's largest private telescope collection hides in a secret wing of a Dutch auto museum. 

Hidden away in a corner of the Louwman Museum is an almost secret wing that, unlike the rest of the museum, has nothing to do with vintage cars. Instead, it houses the world’s largest private telescope collection, an eclectic array of over 400 astronomical telescopes, military spyglasses, opera binoculars, and even a lens made by the famous Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens.

The collection is not displayed in any chronological order but rather groups similar objects together. Binoculars are displayed with binoculars; Italian paper telescopes have their own shelf; and so on. It creates a unique aesthetic that brilliantly conveys the scope of the collection.

There is also a large library with many books and pamphlets about telescopes, some extremely rare. The most notable is a pamphlet describing the demonstration of the world’s first telescope to the King of Holland. The telescope was invented in 1608 by the Dutch optician Hans Lippershey, and became instantly controversial across Europe after Lippershey demonstrated its military power to the Dutch King during a large international conference.

The telescope was described as a terrible weapon that gave an unfair advantage to the side that owned it, as they could see an army coming much sooner than by eye. All men present at the conference promised not to incorporate the telescope into their armies, but every single one commissioned the building of telescopes when they returned to their home country. The number of telescopes around the world exploded, and many different types were invented. Oddly enough, it wasn’t until almost two years later that the first astronomical observations were made with a telescope, by Galileo. 

Know Before You Go

The existence of this collection is not well known since it is not part of the official museum and purely a passion project of the owner. The telescope display is only open to the public on the first Friday of the month from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (with a ticket to the museum). Usually you will be welcomed by Peter Louwman himself, who will enthusiastically tell you about his collection. Visiting on other days is possible if the owner agrees, so send him an email if you can't make it on the first Friday of the month.