New Promotional Literature
In 1978, Questar published two new brochures entitled “The Unique Questar” and “When You Choose Questar.” With identical copy between the two of them, the brochures made what had become the familiar case for owning a Questar. They highlighted its versatility as a solar observing instrument, a telescope for watching nature objects, a long-distance microscope, and a nighttime astronomical telescope; its portability as a completely self-contained “portable observatory.” The flyers also sang the praises of Questar’s ability to deliver a comfortable and convenient observing experience, its status as a symbol of optical innovation and groundbreaking twentieth-century design, its fine optical quality and mechanical construction, and its sheer beauty.
In 1981, the company printed around 500 to 1000 copies of “The Questar Moon,” an oversized booklet measuring 11" x 15" with 47 numbered pages. It mostly highlighted the lunar photography of Dorothy and Ralph Davis in addition to Hubert Entrop’s work from more recent times. Questar distributed copies of “The Questar Moon” until it exhausted its supply around 1990.
At the end of both 1980 and 1981, the company promoted its Questar Almanac for 1981 and 1982. The small booklet featured a month-by-month summary of lunar and planetary positions and notable astronomical events, and its final pages were left blank for the reader to take notes.
And in a short-lived attempt to engage its clients on a regular basis, the company published a series of brief newsletters entitled Questar Observations. At the beginning of the first edition, which it published in the spring of 1976, the company noted its publication of “Questar News” advertisements in Sky and Telescope during the late 1950s and early 1960s. “And ever since then we have from time to time received a letter from someone saying, why don’t you do it again? We got to thinking about this recently and decided that a separate little bulletin might be something people would enjoy receiving, so this is the way it came out.” But much of the content in that first edition of Questar Observations was simply a reiteration of copy in earlier magazine advertisements and Questar booklets.
Two other editions of Questar Observations appeared, one in the spring of 1978 featuring the astrophotography of Hubert Entrop and another in the autumn of 1980 with a potpourri of marketing content.
The late 1970s and the 1980s witnessed an evolution of Questar’s marketing presence in a number of magazines.
Since the November 1958 issue of Natural History, Questar had published a largely unbroken chain of advertisements in that magazine. After 1976, however, Questar’s presence there became more sporadic. Out of the ten annual issues that appeared annually—Natural History typically published a single issue for both June and July and another for both August and September—a Questar advertisement appeared in five issues in 1977, no issues in both 1978 and 1979, one issue in 1980, and three issues in 1981. In a departure from its typical one-third-page format that the company had adopted for that magazine beginning in June 1972, Questar’s last four advertisements in Natural History covered only one-sixth of a page. The last one appeared in the July 1981 issue, and the amount of copy it included represented a mere abbreviation of the extended case Questar made in favor of its telescopes in prior years.
A month earlier, the company also ended its longtime presence in Modern Photography. After Questar’s final advertisement ran there in June 1981, the magazine itself ended publication in 1989.
Meanwhile, the late 1970s and early 1980s saw a brief series of Questar promotions appearing in other publications. Beginning in February 1977, the company began placing partial-page advertisements in the relatively new Smithsonian magazine, which had begun publishing in 1970. Sharing page space with competitors including Celestron, Questar marketed itself in Smithsonian only until the September 1982 issue. Two years before, Questar advertisements also appeared in a handful of Science magazine issues.
Beginning in September 1979, the company briefly shifted some of its marketing resources to the relatively new Astronomy magazine, whose inaugural issue appeared in 1973. Questar at first maintained a regular presence in that publication until late 1982. After a two-year break, it ran a trio of advertisements in the last three months of 1984 before disappearing from Astronomy for the rest of the 1980s.
In spite of its transitory appearance in other magazines—perhaps it became clear after a while that those publications had become less effective as a tool for turning prospective customers into actual buyers—Questar maintained its strong presence in Sky and Telescope and Scientific American. Given the core of the company’s business—manufacturing equipment for amateur astronomers and more specialized instruments for industrial clients and government agencies—the readership of those two magazines represented important segments for Questar’s marketing.
After reaching their high-water mark in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Questar booklets of the late 1970s and the 1980s saw a reduction in page count and a reuse of content that had appeared elsewhere. Conspicuously missing was the large sample of nature and terrestrial photography that the company had featured in earlier editions of its signature booklets.
In 1977, Questar printed a diminished booklet with 24 pages in a horizontal format. Compared to the 40-page booklet of 1968 and the 32-page booklet of 1972, the newer edition almost appeared to be an abridgement. In 1979, the company printed a nearly identical revision of the 1977 booklet.
In the 1980s, Questar digested the content of its booklets still further, and it moved toward printing much of it in black and white. In 1983, the company published an eight-page edition, in 1987 a 12-page one with a fold-out section for photographs, and in 1989 a 16-page booklet with another fold-out collection of images.
In its August 1991 advertisement in Astronomy magazine, Questar made its last invitation to its readers to send for a Questar booklet, an invitation the company had consistently made since its very first magazine advertisement in July 1954. In future years, Questar suggested that potential customers send for, at most, a brochure, leaflet, or newsletter, if anything at all. The era of high-quality printed marketing literature was undoubtedly on the wane for the company.
Perhaps in an effort to keep up with the frequent need to raise prices during an era of high inflation, Questar published fresh versions of its Instruments and Accessories price catalog every year or every other year throughout the late 1970s and the 1980s. The format was remarkably consistent: a descriptive overview of most of Questar’s products was followed by a few pages of price listings at the back of a small booklet that never had more than ten pages.
In 1989, Questar adopted a briefer Instruments and Accessories catalog format that still included a price list. But in July of that year, it distributed a typewritten set of price updates. Rather than reprint the catalog, however, the company simply sliced off the price list on the back cover and distributed what few copies it had left of that edition.
The 1989 Instruments and Accessories catalog proved to be the last one that Questar printed. In April 1990, the company adopted a word processor-written “Questar Instruments and Accessories Price List,” and it continued to indicate prices in this format moving forward.
By the end of the 1980s, Questar had shrunk its magazine advertising presence and had altogether eliminated the production of literature the company had invited prospective buyers to send for since its earliest days in the mid-1950s. What drove the company to make these reductions? Did it seek cost reductions for its promotional efforts? Did it find these pieces of literature were becoming less effective for turning prospective customers into actual buyers? Did Questar aim to focus its marketing resources on more lucrative markets?
In spite of its pullback from some marketing channels, Questar nonetheless maintained a strong presence in front of amateur astronomers in Sky and Telescope, and it sharpened its advertising pitch to readers of Scientific American.
Optical and Machine Quality
With the appearance of telescopes that cost less and that offered more aperture, the task of selling a 3.5-inch instrument that appeared on the market in the mid-1950s became more of a challenge for Questar. Now more than ever, the company leaned heavily on those characteristics that had always distinguished it from the competition: the quality and performance of its products. At the end of 1977, for instance, Questar wrote that “advanced thinking in every part of the mechanical design and precise care in its manufacture, combined with the superb optics that test to the perfection that theory prescribes, are the reasons why Questar is called the world’s finest, most versatile telescope.”
In particular, the company made sure to emphasize that, unlike cheaper alternatives, Questar’s telescopes were built using parts that were made of the best available materials. In recounting Lawrence Braymer’s early design process, the company wrote of the virtues of its extensive use of high-grade 356-T6 aluminum. “Plastics we avoided like the plague, knowing that plastic parts were not temperature stable and that they would respond to heat and cold, to dryness and dampness, with swelling and shrinking that would bind or cause backlash. You will find no plastics in Questar, only carefully selected precision-crafted metals.”
The payoff for its approach became obvious in the field. In the spring of 1982, the company highlighted a letter it received from Will Russell, who led travel groups on safaris to remote destinations. He recalled how his group had regularly used its five Questar telescopes around the world and in all manner of weather conditions. “We’ve dropped them, kicked them over, watched them blow over, had them partially dismantled by foreign security guards, run over by airlines luggage conveyors and temporarily confiscated.” With Russell’s account in mind, the company assured readers that Questar telescopes could take whatever abuse one could dole out to it. “Even Questars that have fallen down a flight of stairs or were dropped out second story windows, have turned up here to be put back together for a whole new useful life.”
Versatility and Convenience
Questar continued to use two other themes it had long employed in its advertising: the versatility and convenience of its telescopes.
In light of the rapid proliferation of Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes on the market, the company offered a new twist: a merging of Questar’s compact and convenient form with its ease of maintenance. In contrast with fumbling with awkward equipment, as the company argued in October 1983, “a Questar glides out of its case, ready to use, and is in permanent collimation. So why not start thinking about a Questar’s easy portability and versatility as a sensible alternative? And let the unique optical quality and mechanical precision built into every instrument become an unending satisfaction for you? Why not make all your observing time count with a Questar?”
The 3 1/2-inch Questar, the company added in December 1983, “is the telescope with amazing versatility that can take you to the far reach of the universe or let you explore from your comfortable armchair the astonishing detail of rock, tree or bird.” But its usefulness did not end there.
In contrast to the generalized sense of versatility and convenience it conveyed elsewhere, Questar conspicuously shifted much of its magazine advertising to focus attention on its growing line of instruments it had developed and produced for special applications. From the mid-1970s to the early 1990s, the company used its presence in Sky and Telescope, Astronomy, and especially Scientific American and Industrial Research to mark its new approach.
On top of its aggressive magazine advertising campaign, Questar also produced specialized pieces of literature to put into the hands of prospective industrial and government agency buyers. In 1972, the company printed a brief four-page summary that explained the features of the Questar Autocollimator. Between 1975 and 1983, Questar published three editions of its “Optical Systems for Special Applications,” which included far more extensive descriptions of the company’s growing line of instruments it geared toward surveillance, long-distance microscopy, and remote measurement.
Astronomical Observing and Imaging
Although the company put new emphasis on the usefulness of its instruments for special applications, astronomical observing and imaging had always been at the heart of the Questar telescope. During the late 1970s and the 1980s, the company continued this theme in its magazine advertising.
In particular, Questar highlighted the astrophotography of its longtime contributor Hubert Entrop. One advertisement in June 1981 featured an image of globular cluster Omega Centauri that Entrop took with his Questar Seven. At the end of the decade, Questar ran another advertisement that included Entrop’s lunar and planetary imaging work, which he carried out even in windy conditions.
The company also tied its products to a number of solar eclipses that occurred during this period. In February 1977, Questar highlighted the portability and usefulness of its new 700mm telephoto lens to observe and photograph the total solar eclipse that occurred over Australia on October 23, 1976.
In anticipation of the annular eclipse over Mexico and the eastern United States on May 30, 1984, the company reproduced a series of six photographs that Mike Clark produced with his Questar on July 10, 1972. “It was a remarkable performance for a telescope of 3 1/2 inches aperture; one so easily portable that it could be carried to the site in a piece of hand luggage.” The advertisement concluded with a suggestion: “Why not take a Questar to the eclipse?”
Having taken Questar up on this proposition, Mike Hood wrote a letter to the company to express how he had read Questar advertisements in Sky and Telescope over a span of twenty-five years. Although he did not doubt its quality, Hood was not convinced at first of the performance capabilities of its 89mm of aperture. But after having acquired a Questar, he wrote, “I am now convinced!” Not only did he succeed with capturing high-contrast images of Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, but he also took a photograph of the annular eclipse that Questar included in its advertising the next year.
But the event that was perhaps most anticipated was the appearance of Halley’s Comet, which reached perihelion on February 9, 1986. To meet the insatiable demand for telescopes, manufacturers like Celestron and Meade rushed a huge number of optically inferior instruments to market. As a result, Schmidt-Cassegrains earned a bad reputation that persisted for years.
Meanwhile, Questar took full advantage of the situation by underscoring how its optical production standards never slipped. “We really hate to see you spend your money for an inferior spy glass,” the company wrote in August 1985, “just to look at a comet that cloudy weather might even render invisible, when you could have a fine instrument to start you on a lifetime of great observing. Enjoy Halley’s with a Questar, if the comet cooperates, but continue to enjoy a Questar for the rest of your life.”
Nature and Terrestrial Observing and Imaging
On the ground, the Questar telescope continued to be useful for observing nature and terrestrial objects.
Although the company pulled back somewhat from tailoring magazine advertisements specifically to naturalists, it did highlight the usefulness of the Questar 700 to photograph such things as Mount Rushmore, a “pussycat” from three hundred feet away, and a variety of other photographic targets.
In its 1977 booklet, Questar reminded readers that its telescopes were useful in one’s garden for observing nature at close range, too.
Questar and the Family
During the late 1970s and the 1980s, the company added a new twist to its marketing: whether it was used in daylight hours or at night, a Questar telescope could function as a source of enjoyment for the whole family.
At home, the company pointed out in its 1977 booklet, “a child has time to enjoy the rare experience of seeing the universe through a fine telescope. She will have time to answer her own questions with first-hand investigation. It will be your privilege to open to such a young mind that vast store of knowledge to which she may one day make her own contribution.”
A year earlier, the company began running a series of advertisements whose headlines encouraged well-heeled parents to put a Questar into the hands of their children. “Let him grow with a Questar,” one read. Another beckoned readers to do the same for a young girl who appeared with a Questar under the night sky: “Put stars in her eyes.” In the December 1980 issue of Natural History magazine, Questar summarized its case:
Children with intense curiosity about the nature of things will learn to master many tools, and the telescope, that prime tool of science, should be the first. Only the finest telescope, combining mechanical and optical perfection, can become a true extension of the mind and hand. Such an instrument is the Questar, and its lovely versatility adds an extra dimension to many fields: astronomy, terrestrial studies, or perhaps simply to the pure enjoyment of wildlife. What else could you buy a child that would enchant, amuse and continue to serve for a lifetime?
And what better time was there to offer such a thing to a young child than the holidays? “The greatest gift—at Christmas or any time—is one that stimulates the mind and lifts the heart,” the company wrote in the November 1989 issue of Sky and Telescope and Scientific American magazines. Whether a child’s wonder leads to a career in science or a simple and enduring love for nature, “a Questar is the perfect gift.” It will help cultivate a love for learning that no child will ever outgrow.
Questar continued its practice of featuring testimonial accounts about the performance of its instruments that it received from its many owners.
After including thoughts from Stanley Sprei of Fort Myers, Florida, in its advertisement in the November 1984 issues of Sky and Telescope and Scientific American magazines, Questar dedicated an entire advertisement in July 1985 to presenting more of his comments. He wrote about his favorable experience observing galaxy M104, globular clusters M56 and Omega Centauri, Jupiter and Saturn, and double stars like Epsilon Lyrae.
In October 1987, Questar reproduced a letter from Ronald Ravneberg, who had owned a Questar since 1978. After writing that his Questar “is capable of bringing me more astronomy than I can absorb,” he offered a point-by-point commentary on its performance. Ravneberg claimed to be able to observe faint deep space objects like galaxies, globular clusters, and the Veil Nebula. His Questar resolved tight double stars along with fine planetary and lunar detail. And it was highly portable: Ravneberg wrote about using his Questar to observe from a variety of locations across the United States. In sum, he said flatly that his Questar “is simply more fun to use” than his other telescopes.
Before his death in January 2009, Ronald Ravneberg found time away from his busy career in behavioral health to engage his interest in astronomy, which he had cultivated since the age of nine. As a member of the Columbus Astronomy Society in Ohio, Ravneberg engaged the public during frequent outreach events, and he developed friendships with astronomers around the world.
Pricing and Sales
“Some people say a Questar telescope is expensive,” the company admitted in the November 1984 issue of Sky and Telescope, but “others say it is a priceless possession. We say that its price is a fair one, based on our manufacturing costs, with only a modest profit added.” Using the same argument that it made on numerous other occasions, Questar added that the price of automobiles had increased six times since the company began production in 1954, but the price of Questar had only roughly doubled in that time. Considering what it delivered to its owner, “a Questar is not only a priceless telescope, it is a unique experience.”
So went the justification that the company articulated on behalf of its high-dollar equipment. Between 1976 and 1989, the price of a fully-mounted Standard Questar increased from $1415 to $2840. But that cost represented a somewhat decreasing yet still imposing share of the median U.S. household’s income, from 11.2% in 1976 to 9.8% in 1989. Likewise, the price for a Questar Seven barrel with standard options rose from $2950 in 1976 to $5950 in 1989. Its cost burdened an average household far more: those costs would have consumed 23.3% of its income in 1976 and 20.6% in 1989.
During that same time period, as an analysis of serial numbers reveals, production of Standard and Duplex Questars began to decline. From 1976 to 1982, the company produced roughly 340 units on average per year. But from 1983 to 1989, average annual production fell by 50% to 170 units.
Any number of factors could have contributed to this decline. The effect of two recessions—one that began in late 1973 and another in the early 1980s—surely put a drag on Questar’s sales. Increased competition from Celestron and other manufacturers cut into the company’s sales, too. By the end of the 1980s, Questar was by no means the only major seller of catadioptric telescopes on the market. Whatever sales bump that Questar might have benefited from during the Apollo era would have dried up after Eugene Cernan imprinted the last human footprint on the Moon in December 1972.
But sales of telescopes to amateurs represented only part of the picture. With the advances it made in cultivating highly profitable industrial and government clients in the special applications market, Questar became far less dependent upon sales to amateur astronomers and naturalists for consumer optics including the Standard Questar, the Duplex, the Field Model, and the Questar Seven. Whatever declines in producing these models may have been offset by increased sales of more specialized equipment to organizations with deep pockets.
Even in spite of declines in production of what had been core products for the company, the Questar brand still held enough cachet to drive high-profile buyers to acquire one.
← Return to Table of Contents
1 Charles Shaw, “Larry Braymer: ‘In Quest of the Stars,’” New Hope Gazette, March 14, 1985, 32, https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/Questar/files/FAQ/, accessed October 15, 2019.
2 Jim Perkins, email message to author, September 28, 2020.
3 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Sky and Telescope, September 1980, inside front cover.
4 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Sky and Telescope, December 1983, inside front cover; Questar Corporation, advertisement, Scientific American, December 1983, 168.
5 Questar Corporation, “The Unique Questar,” 1978; Questar Corporation, “When You Choose a Questar,” 1978.
6 Ralph Foss, “Questar Timeline” (unpublished manuscript, September 22, 2007, revised September 19, 2009), typescript.
7 Questar Corporation, “The Questar Moon,” 1981.
8 Alt-Telescopes-Questar Majordomo list message, May 30, 1998, digest 192, https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/Questar/files/Alt-Telescopes-Questar%20Digests/, accessed October 14, 2019.
9 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Sky and Telescope, November 1980, 451; Questar Corporation, advertisement, Astronomy, November 1980, 79; Questar Corporation, advertisement, Sky and Telescope, November 1981, 509.
10 Questar Corporation, Quarter Almanac, 1981; Questar Corporation, Quarter Almanac, 1982.
11 Questar Corporation, Questar Observations (Spring 1976).
12 Questar Corporation, Questar Observations (Spring 1978); Questar Corporation, Questar Observations (Autumn 1980).
13 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Astronomy, August 1991, 101.
14 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Sky and Telescope, December 1977, inside front cover.
15 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Sky and Telescope, February 1978, inside front cover.
16 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Scientific American, April 1982, 160.
17 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Sky and Telescope, October 1983, inside front cover.
18 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Sky and Telescope, December 1983, inside front cover; Questar Corporation, advertisement, Scientific American, December 1983, 168.
19 Questar Corporation, “Questar-Autocollimator,” 1972.
20 Questar Corporation, “Optical Systems for Special Applications,” 1975; Questar Corporation, “Optical Systems for Special Applications,” 1980; Questar Corporation, “Optical Systems for Special Applications,” 1983.
21 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Sky and Telescope, June 1981, inside front cover; Questar Corporation, advertisement, Scientific American, June 1981, 48.
22 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Sky and Telescope, February 1989, inside front cover.
23 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Sky and Telescope, February 1977, inside front cover.
24 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Sky and Telescope, March 1984, inside front cover.
25 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Sky and Telescope, April 1985, inside front cover.
26 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Scientific American, August 1985, 118.
27 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Scientific American, May 1979, 86.
28 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Scientific American, May 1980, 118.
29 Questar Corporation, Questar booklet, 1977, 6.
30 Questar Corporation, Questar booklet, 1977, 22.
31 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Scientific American, January 1976, 17.
32 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Scientific American, August 1978, 146
33 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Natural History, December 1980, 79.
34 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Sky and Telescope, November 1989, inside front cover; Questar Corporation, advertisement, Scientific American, November 1989, 10.
35 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Sky and Telescope, November 1984, inside front cover; Questar Corporation, advertisement, Scientific American, November 1984, 169.
36 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Sky and Telescope, July 1985, inside front cover.
37 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Sky and Telescope, October 1987, inside front cover.
38 “Ronald L. Ravneberg,” Legacy, n.d., https://www.legacy.com/obituaries/dispatch/obituary.aspx?n=ronald-l-ravneberg&pid=123550204, accessed February 4, 2021.
39 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Sky and Telescope, November 1984, inside front cover; Questar Corporation, advertisement, Scientific American, November 1984, 169.
40 Questar Corporation, Instruments and Accessories catalog, 1976; Questar Corporation, Instruments and Accessories catalog, 1989; “US Median Income by Year,” multpl.com, n.d., https://www.multpl.com/us-median-income/table/by-year, accessed August 14, 2020; “Median Household Income in the United States,” Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, n.d., https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/MEHOINUSA646N, accessed January 14, 2021.