Dedicated to Thomas Cave Telescopes


Part One - History

1971 10 " F/6 Custom Super Deluxe
by Jon Miles

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The amateur astronomy bug bit me as a teenager in the late ‘60s-early 70’s. I was soon devouring issues of Sky & Telescope magazine and drooling over the advertisements for Unitron and Cave. With earnings from a paper route, I would have to be content with a 76mm Sears 6344 refractor. A beautiful Cave Newtonian would have to wait for some day in the future. One ad that really caught my eye was in the February 1972 issue – a beautiful Cave 10” f/6 model called a Custom Super Deluxe (could they possible apply any more superlatives?).

The Custom Super Deluxe (more about that name shortly) came with all the steel parts chrome plated and many of the other parts, normally painted equipment grey or the new for 1972 pewter and black paint scheme, were polished aluminum. A real show stopper! The price was $995, more than I could ever hope to save up.

Someday, someday.

Reproduced with permission. Copyright Sky Publishing, all rights reserved.

Fast forward almost 40 years and a recent move to rural North Carolina would get me away from city lights for the first time in many years. After seeing the Milky Way again under dark skies I knew I had to get back into the hobby. But I felt I could only do it using now classic scopes that I had wished for so long ago. The first new old scope to come along was another Sears 6344. With history repeating itself a Cave had to be next.

I started keeping an eye out on AstroMart and Cloudy Nights. I was surprised to find a 1971 10” f/6 Custom Super Deluxe that had been for sale for several months with no takers. I was concerned the price may be too high, even though it had recently been reduced. A message to another Cloudy Nights member, who was a noted Cave expert, produced the reassuring answer that it was a good price especially considering it came with three Cave Orthostar eyepieces, of which I was unfamiliar with.

After contacting the seller, Bob Midiri, who was the second owner of this Cave, I decided I had to have it. Soon I was making the 17 hour, 1000 mile journey from NC to Pennsylvania. Bob actually still had the original crate for the OTA. It all pretty much filled the floor of a minivan.

Bob had been using the mirror in a Dobsonian. So once the scope was reassembled in my garage it was probably the first time in years that it was fully complete again.

This Cave was originally ordered back on April 29th, 1971 by a gentleman from Tallahassee, FL. It was fortunate that the original owner kept all of his correspondence with Cave Optical Co. and that he passed them all on to Bob, who passed them on to me. And the original owner even made copies of his letters to Cave, so I had both sides of the conversation. He put down $500 with his order, with the balance due on delivery.

In the order it was specified that the instrument was to be f/6 and come with 4mm, 6mm, 12mm and 26mm orthoscopic eyepieces. It was also specified that the new owner had an 80mm Selsi refractor he wanted to add as a guide scope. The standard specifications for a Custom Super Deluxe advertised that it came standard with a 2.4” (60mm) guide scope. A reply from Cave suggests replacing the 12mm eyepiece with a 10mm (there was no 12mm) but the owner decides to go with a 16mm instead.

Many delays in shipment would ensue. A letter dated May 22, 1971 mentions shipping in three weeks. Another letter in June mentions that shipment is very close and to please send the balance of $525. Cave must have decided to charge another $30 to accommodate the new owner’s 80mm guide scope! A letter in late July follows, blaming a delay in parts and notes the telescope should ship in another week.

More delays follow. An August letter says final testing is underway and that the scope should ship in another week. Next an October (!) letter explains that certain parts had to be rebuffed and chromed as they were not done properly to begin with. They also explain that a heat wave has delayed the star testing as much dust has been carried by the winds. An early November letter details a further delay while the telescope is being photographed for use in advertisements and the 1972 Cave catalog.

By November 22, 1971 the Cave must have been delivered as the new owner writes a letter to Cave on the 26th, detailing a phone call on November 22
nd about missing parts. All of the following are missing:

4mm, 6mm, 16mm and 26mm eyepieces
50mm Finder
2.4: Guide scope
Mounting rings for the owners 80mm Guide scope
Counter weights for balancing the tube
Mechanical diagram of the equatorial mount.

The owner wanted the last item as the cradle for the OTA arrived cracked. He wanted to understand how to remove it so he could have a local shop weld it. This picture shows the saddle after welding.

The new owner clearly wasn’t happy (and I wouldn’t have been either!). After many delays he receives an incomplete telescope, after having paid air freight shipping to get it. Subsequent letters from Cave blame the missing items on a dockworkers strike, causing many ships from overseas to be delayed in unloading. The owner did end up later receiving the 50mm finder along with the 6mm, 16mm and 26mm eyepieces. Cave never sent the 4mm eyepiece, guide scope or tube weight kit and the owner apparently gave up trying to get them nor did he receive a refund. In addition to the OTA saddle being cracked in shipping the hand control box for the declination drive had also been bent.

The owner subsequently moved from Florida to Pennsylvania which is where it changed hands to Bob. Now it is in North Carolina so it has been well travelled in its life to date (with a further trip to New York in its future). The only additional history I have on it is that the original owner had the mirror recoated in 1997 by QSP with their 97% enhanced coatings. It still looks excellent and I have not had to have it recoated.

As with most Cave mirrors, this one is engraved on the edge (earlier mirrors are engraved on the back). This one is dated Oct. 28, 1971 and is serial number M716851.

So in an amazing stroke of luck and coincidence I am now the proud owner of that exact same Cave I admired in the February 1972 advertisement in Sky & Telescope. A slightly different photograph from the same photo session graces the cover of all of the Cave Optical Co. catalogs from 1972 until the closure of the company in 1979. The model pictured with the scope is Davina Cave, Tom Cave’s daughter. The finder scope pictured is not correct for a Custom Super Deluxe so, since Cave didn’t have any of the 8x50mm finders that were supposed to come with the scope, they just added something that was on hand. The telescope is also not pictured with the guide scope and tube counterweight it should have come with.

As to the name of this model, I call it a Custom Super Deluxe as this is what it is called in the 1970’s Cave catalogs and also in a letter from Cave to the original owner. The ads that ran in Sky & Telescope refer to it as Super Deluxe without the word Custom.

The model originally appears in a Sky & Telescope advertisement from December 1963. In this ad it is called a Super Custom. When it came to advertising I don’t think Cave was too precise. This earlier model version was different from mine and other later examples I’ve seen in that it is all fully chrome and polished aluminum. On the later models the inner tube rings, tube ring spacer rods, webbing of the OTA saddle and webbing of the pier legs were all painted black.

Reproduced with permission. Copyright Sky Publishing, all rights reserved.

A small side note about signed letters from Cave Optical Co. I have numerous letters about my Cave along with many others from other transactions with Cave. All are signed Thomas R. Cave. But in probably every case Mr. Cave did not actually sign these letters. They are in a number of different handwritings and the handwritings match the initials of the various secretaries who wrote the letters. As was the custom, the secretaries had signed all of these letters for Mr. Cave.