A Community of Questar Enthusiasts Coalesces Online
Just as commerce slowly migrated to the internet, so too did communities of enthusiasts for niche interest areas.
During the early days of the internet, the World Wide Web and the software to browse it had not yet gained widespread adoption. But comparatively widespread access to email paved the way for individuals who shared common interests and who were eager to communicate with each other about them. Soon, group email lists arose and became increasingly sophisticated. In 1984, LISTSERV software automated the increasingly complex task of maintaining mailing lists. Later, Brent Chapman developed Majordomo, whose name derived from the Latin “major domus,” a reference to the chief servant of a large house—the “master of the house.” Gaining widespread use by 1992, Majordomo enabled users to subscribe or unsubscribe to mailing lists simply by sending email messages with certain keywords.
Towards the end of 1996, a tight-knit Questar Users Group emerged on sci.astro, an email-based newsgroup generally devoted to wide-ranging topics in astronomy. Users could interact with the “Alt-Telescopes-Questar” group, which was the creation of Stewart Squires, a dealer for Questar and other amateur astronomy equipment who operated under his business, Palantir Astronomy. New members could subscribe to the group simply by writing “subscribe alt-telescopes-questar” in body of an email message and sending it to an administrative account.
After fewer than 100 messages had been exchanged by the end of 1996, the group quickly became active in later years. Between 1997 and 2000, around 130 distinct senders exchanged an average of around 4300 messages annually with peak activity—over 6700 messages—occurring in 1998. Participants included Questar owners of all walks of life, writers like Gary Seronik of Sky and Telescope, and even a handful of Questar employees including Jim Perkins.
But the lifespan of small-scale mailing lists proved to be short. Commercial hosting providers began offering stipends of $100 or more to some mailing list owners to move to their mailing list services. At the same time Yahoo! was buying out hosting providers and merging their services into its new Yahoo! Groups service.
Eventually, the Questar Users Group followed suit. In February 2001, the Alt-Telescopes-Questar Majordomo mailing list moved to Yahoo! Groups, where a Questar Users Group had become active at the end of September 2000.
The Questar Users Group enjoyed a long tenure on Yahoo! Groups until December 14, 2019, when Yahoo! abruptly shut down all Yahoo! Groups and removed their content. But before the Questar community lost a substantial part of its collective memory forever, a handful of dedicated users migrated the Questar Users Group to Groups.io in October 2019. It continued to function there.
Meanwhile, another active community of enthusiasts began participating in the Questar discussion forum on Cloudy Nights. On April 24, 2003, the first discussion thread appeared. While the Questar Users Group on Yahoo! required a membership for participation, the content on the Questar forum on Cloudy Nights was publicly available on the wide-open internet. Many visitors who casually browsed the various discussion topics found themselves developing an interest in Questar telescopes, and a number of them eventually became owners themselves.
The 50th Anniversary Questar
By the end of the 1990s, Questar had been in continuous operation for almost 50 years. Through the good times and the bad times, the company never compromised on its commitment to producing a small number of instruments that represented the ultimate in optical and machined precision. To mark the upcoming milestone of Lawrence Braymer’s founding of Questar Corporation on April 3, 1950, the company began planning a limited-production Standard Questar with premium features in 1999.
Questar slowly worked its way to making an announcement. After running a simple quarter-page advertisement in the April 2000 issue of Sky and Telescope in which it noted its golden anniversary, the company announced its 50th Anniversary Questar telescope in that magazine’s August 2000 issue. It featured silvered quartz tenth-wavefront optics, a full-aperture solar filter, a Powerguide II controller, and 24 and 16mm Brandon eyepieces.
After making its announcement, other details about the limited-production telescope emerged. Its moon map telescope barrel skin, star chart dew shield, and right ascension setting circle were etched and silk screened, mimicking the finish of the first Questar telescope to appear in 1954. Its side arm logo badges and corrector lens cover featured a special 50th anniversary logo. The instrument would be stored in the premium leather carrying case that the company had begun offering in the early 1990s. The documentation that would be packed with it included certificates signed by the company’s management and staff. And its serial numbering would follow a special convention indicating its limited production run. Only 250 units would be built over the coming years.
On September 28, 2000, members of the Questar enthusiast community gathered in New Hope for Q-Fest. There, Stewart Squires, one of the company’s dealers who also helped organize the event, delivered the first 50th Anniversary Questar to a collector who already owned fourteen or fifteen Questar telescopes. Squires reserved the second one for himself.
In his review of the 50th Anniversary Questar that appeared in the November 2002 issue of Sky and Telescope, Gary Seronik pondered how many things had changed since the first 3.5-inch Questar appeared on the market in 1954. So many modern resources that amateur astronomers took for granted simply did not exist when Lawrence Braymer introduced his creation to the market. Yet “the Questar is still around. Clearly there is an appeal to the instrument that has withstood the test of time and the ever-changing fancies of telescope buyers.” With regard to the 50th Anniversary Questar, however, Seronik cast a critical eye on it. Using a borrowed sample from the manufacturer, he set out “to see how much of the Questar aura was based on performance and how much was purely the stuff of legend.”
The first thing Seronik noted after several nights out with his test sample were “two words: features and performance.” He described the typical evening with the Questar: everything he needed to observe the night sky—dew shield, finder system, Barlow lens, a motor drive for tracking, and so forth—was contained in its compact carrying case. “‘Now this is fun!’ I think to myself. This is the experience Lawrence Braymer had in mind when he conceived of the Questar design nearly 60 years ago.”
Seronik did identify some drawbacks to that design. When a solid surface is not available to support the telescope, a heavy-duty tripod is necessary. The Questar’s small finder system, whose objective lens was only 15mm wide, produced a dim view that led him to use the telescope’s setting circles quite often. Most non-Brandon eyepieces with standard 1.25-inch barrels failed to come to focus with the telescope’s finder system. When he used the supplied Questar Brandon eyepieces, he found their threads to be a nuisance.
Setting his quibbles aside, however, Seronik paraphrased words that Alan Dyer had used in one of his telescope reviews: “the optics showed no aberration—end of review!” Indeed, upon careful star testing, Seronik saw that “the optics were of extraordinary quality. I personally have never seen a commercial telescope star-test so well.” And as far as making the most of whatever photons its 89mm of aperture gathered, the 50th Anniversary Questar he tested confirmed the company’s claim of 92% light throughput or better.
“From the standpoint of ergonomics, using the Questar is pure pleasure,” Seronik continued to write. Its slow-motion controls operated silky-smooth and without backlash. The focuser required only a light touch and allowed him to achieve focus precisely with minimal image shift.
Was the 50th Anniversary Questar worth its asking price of $6800? Seronik waxed impartially upon returning to this question at the conclusion of his review. At bottom, purchase decisions, especially luxury ones, “are seldom purely rational. Let’s face it—we sometimes buy things just because we think they’re cool or because they confer an inexpressible feeling that we enjoy. Certainly, the Questar is a cool thing.” But was it for you? “That’s for you to decide. If the attributes of the Questar (both tangible and intangible) are really what you’re after, then there really is nothing else on the market to match it at any price.”
Decades later, enthusiasts would continue to covet the 50th Anniversary Questar. When they appeared on the second-hand market, they usually sold for a premium in days if not hours. Especially when they were well priced, other standard production models sold almost as quickly. It was telling proof that a small but intensely loyal group of amateurs still held the Questar telescope and the company that produced it in high regard.
← Return to Table of Contents
1 “Majordomo (software),” Wikipedia, n.d., https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Majordomo_(software), accessed April 4, 2021.
2 Stewart Squires, email message to author, November 10, 2020; “AstroWeb: Astronomy-related Newsgroups,” AstroWeb Consortium, December 7, 2007, http://cdsweb.u-strasbg.fr/astroWeb/astroweb/newsgroup.html, accessed April 4, 2021; “Astronomy-related Mailing Lists,” Sky and Telescope, July 17, 2006, https://skyandtelescope.org/astronomy-resources/astronomy-related-mailing-lists/, accessed April 4, 2021.
3 Alt-Telescopes-Questar Majordomo list message digests, https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/Questar/files/Alt-Telescopes-Questar%20Digests/, accessed October 14, 2019.
4 “Majordomo (software),” Wikipedia, n.d., https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Majordomo_(software), accessed April 4, 2021.
5 Online forum posting, Questar Users Group, September 24, 2000, https://groups.io/g/Questar/topic/saturn_edgewise_photo/48845160, accessed April 6, 2021; Stewart Squires, email message to author, November 10, 2020.
6 Online forum posting, Cloudy Nights, April 24, 2003, https://www.cloudynights.com/topic/530-eyepieces-that-come-to-focus-with-finder/, accessed April 4, 2021.
7 “Questar 50th Anniversary 3-½ Telescope,” Company Seven, n.d., http://www.company7.com/questar/telescopes/que50thanniversary.html, accessed July 27, 2019.
8 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Sky and Telescope, April 2000, 72.
9 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Sky and Telescope, August 2000, 71.
10 “Questar 50th Anniversary 3-½ Telescope,” Company Seven, n.d., http://www.company7.com/questar/telescopes/que50thanniversary.html, accessed July 27, 2019.
11 “Questar 50th Anniversary 3-½ Telescope,” Company Seven, n.d., http://www.company7.com/questar/telescopes/que50thanniversary.html, accessed July 27, 2019; Stewart Squires, online forum posting, Cloudy Nights, June 22, 2018, https://www.cloudynights.com/topic/622519-time-machine/?p=8657961, accessed April 7, 2021.
12 Gary Seronik, “The Questar 50th Anniversary Edition Telescope,” Sky and Telescope, November 2002, 49-50.
13 Gary Seronik, “The Questar 50th Anniversary Edition Telescope,” Sky and Telescope, November 2002, 51-52.
14 Gary Seronik, “The Questar 50th Anniversary Edition Telescope,” Sky and Telescope, November 2002, 52.
15 Gary Seronik, “The Questar 50th Anniversary Edition Telescope,” Sky and Telescope, November 2002, 52-53.
16 Gary Seronik, “The Questar 50th Anniversary Edition Telescope,” Sky and Telescope, November 2002, 53-54.
17 Gary Seronik, “The Questar 50th Anniversary Edition Telescope,” Sky and Telescope, November 2002, 54.