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Peter Abrahams ’77

March 4, 2018, in Los Angeles, California, of cardiac arrest.

An avid astronomer and independent scholar, Peter devoted much of his life to researching and writing about the history of telescopes and binoculars.

At Reed, he majored in English and wrote his thesis, “Till We Have Built Jerusalem: The Vision of William Blake,” with Prof. Robert Knapp [English 1974–] advising. After graduating, Peter made a life in Portland as an independent scholar. He lectured and published locally, nationally, and internationally on the history of optics, with a particular interest in telescopes and astronomy.

Considering himself lucky to have discovered a field of study where there were few publications, he wrote: “It is wonderful for a writer to receive appreciative feedback, rather than fighting to get published or lost in a larger arena.”

Peter was president of the Antique Telescope Society and served on its board for eight years. He was a founding member and president of the Rose City Astronomers and began the tradition of the monthly Night Sky Report, where he gave short reviews of the latest in astronomical news informed by his deep scholarship and dry wit. With a passion for the history of scientific instruments, he was a collector—and sometimes dealer—in historical books, telescopes, microscopes, and binoculars. Peter wrote for and spoke before a variety of global scientific organizations, including the Historical Astronomy Division of the American Astronomical Society, Amateur Telescope Making Journal, and the Antique Telescope Society. He spoke at conferences in Europe and the U.S.

Known for wearing socks with sandals whatever the weather, Peter enjoyed a good artisanal beer and possessed a very dry sense of humor. A man of far-ranging curiosities and interests, he was a skilled woodworker who showcased his wares at reunions. He collected antique telescopes and other optical devices; had an interest in choral music and early jazz; practiced calligraphy and origami; gardened; studied ballet, gymnastics, and religion; and was an accomplished photographer and amateur astronomer. Particularly fitting for living in Portland, he loved roses.

He is survived by his daughter Katie; mother and stepfather, Rosalie and Stanley Minsk; siblings Mike and Barbara. Toni DeVito ’77 was his companion since reunions 2017, where they connected in MacNaughton III, and was with him when he died. Peter’s website,, contains links to his research.

Appeared in Reed magazine: September 2018

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