John Bleuler, ca. 1756 - 1829
by Brian Stevenson
last updated February, 2017
Bleuler was a well-respected London maker of optical and mathematical instruments, from the opening of his own shop, ca. 1790, until his death is 1829. Bleuler apprenticed with Henry Raynes Shuttleworth (ca. 1732 - 1798), who had learned the trade from John Cuff (1708 - 1792). Clay and Court credited Bleuler with an innovative substage condenser that contributed to the evolution from Benjamin Martin’s “Universal” to the Jones’ “Most Improved” models of microscopes.
Examples of John Bleuler’s microscopes and other instruments follow his biography. Readers are encouraged to contribute additional pictures and information.
Bleuler began his apprenticeship with Shuttleworth on February 1, 1871. Since an apprenticeship would usually begin in the mid-teens, this places John’s birthdate in the vicinity of 1756.
Records from Bleuler’s guild, the Worshipful Company of Spectaclemakers, indicate that his father’s name was Jacob Bleuler, of the Saint Andrew’s, Holborn area of London.
Bleuler became free of his apprenticeship on October 7, 1779. He evidently worked with his former master for the next decade. On March 18, 1787, Bleuler married his employer’s daughter, Elizabeth Shuttleworth.
An opportunity for independence opened up in late 1789. The Shuttleworth shop was located at 23 Ludgate Street. Neighbor Samuel Whitford, who operated an optical shop at 27 Ludgate, died on September 26, 1789. Samuel’s father, Thomas, appears to have inherited the business. Thomas Whitford had a business as silversmith and optician in Kings Head Court, Westminster, and evidently did not want a second shop. Tax receipts indicate that Bleuler acquired Whitford’s house by 1790, so it is reasonable to assume that he moved in as soon as the house was cleared. Guild records indicate that Bleuler was working from Whitford’s shop by 1791. As did Whitford, Bleuler lived at 48 Ludgate but had his shop at 27 Ludgate. Similarly, Shuttleworth lived at 42 Ludgate but operated his business from 23 Ludgate.
John and Elizabeth had at least three children, a girl, then two boys. Elizabeth Bleuler died on August 15, 1794. She was buried alongside her mother at St. Mary Islington. Her father, Henry Shuttleworth, died on June 19, 1798, and was buried in the same place. John and Elizabeth’s elder son, John, died in 1817.
Bleuler married again, on April 8, 1796, to Sarah Davidson, a widow. They may have been the parents of Mary Ann Bleuler, who died at the age of two months in October, 1800. Sarah passed away in 1807, and was buried on March 4.
John Bleuler served as Master of the Spectaclemakers’ guild, in 1792, 1795, and 1811.
Both Bleuler and Shuttleworth manufactured corrective eyeglasses. The author of an essay in the 1842 Complete Book of Trades wrote of seeking guidance on eye care from George Adams in 1796. Although Adams gave advice, he was not in the “guinea trade” of manufacturing eyeglasses. The author instead bought eyeglasses from “Shuttleworth’s, near St. Paul’s, or at Bleuler's, next door”, of which Adams “pronounced these to be all that could be desired”.
At an unknown date, he reprinted Benjamin Martin’s Description and Use of a Case of Mathematical Instruments. Bleuler made and sold engineering/drafting tools such as those described by Martin, so the book would have been good for business.
Insights on Bleuler’s day-to-day business come from records of the Old Bailey courts. In 1822, two men were indicted for stealing instruments with a value of 20 shillings from his shop. Bleuler’s testimony: “I am an optician, and live on Ludgate-street. On the 24th of October, twelve box scales, and twelve sectors were on my counter, between four and five o'clock in the afternoon, wrapped up in paper. Lee came in about five and asked the price of a magic lantern, he looked at some slides - I had occasion to turn my back to get them - he stood alone at the counter, and went away without buying anything. I did not see Russell that I know of; there was a person waiting outside, looking in at the shop. I cannot tell who it was. In the afternoon of the next day, the officer called. I did not miss them till he shewed them me - they were in the same paper as when they laid on my counter. I had not sold them. I saw the prisoners at Bow-street, two or three days after, and am certain of Lee”. The two accused persons, Lee (age 18) and Russell (age 15), were found guilty, and transported for 7 years.
Two years later, in another case of shoplifting, Bleuler testified, “I am an optician, and live in Ludgate-street. On the 16th of September, about ten o'clock, Jessup came into my shop, and asked to see a small telescope, which I reached him from the glass case, where these spectacle hand frames were, and in the mean time Dewell came in, and wanted to see a measuring tape - I turned my back to them both to reach a telescope for Jessup. Dewell said he thought the tape too dear, but would tell his friend, and away he went. Jessup had not enough money to pay for a telescope which he fixed upon, and said he would call again for it, but never did. In about ten minutes I missed two hand frames, and a telescope. The officer produced the frames”. On cross-examination, Bleuler’s age and/or vision seem to have caught up with him. Asked to identify the culprits, he stated, “One has glasses and the other not: there is something about them by which I know them, but which I cannot describe … I certainly will not swear positively to either of them, but have no doubt of them”. Both defendants were found to be not guilty.
John Bleuler died on August 27, 1829. He was still recorded in the 1829 Post Office Directory as operating an optical business.
Figure 1. Some documents of John Bleuler’s life. (A) 1771 record of the beginning of his apprenticeship to Henry Raynes Shuttleworth, “Citizen & Spectaclemaker”. (B) Parish record of his 1878 marriage to Elizabeth Shuttleworth. Note Henry’s signature as a witness. (C) Bleuler’s signature from the 1796 contract that granted him permission to marry Sarah Davidson.
Figure 2. A modified version of Martin’s “Universal” microscope, signed by John Bleuler. Similar instruments are shown in Figure 3, in Clay & Court (Fig. 141, page 198), and in Turner (Fig. 37, page 65). Bleuler was credited with introducing a hinge at the base of the substage condenser, so it can be easily moved out of the light path. The Catalogue of the Billings Collection includes a Bleuler instrument similar to these, but without the substage condenser (Fig. 30, page 17). Images adapted for nonprofit, educational purposes from http://www.arsmachina.com/bleuler1381.htm
Figure 3. Another modified “Universal”, signed by Bleuler. Adapted for nonprofit, educational purposes from an internet auction site.
Figure 4. A simple “Jones’ Most Improved microscope, unsigned, but the case bears a label, “John Bleuler, Optician, Successor to the late Mr. Whitford, No.27 Ludgate St., London”. The wording suggests that Bleuler sold this microscope during the 1790, shortly after he took over Samuel Whitford’s business. Adapted for nonprofit, educational purposes from an internet auction site.
Figure 5. A microscope similar to that shown in Figure 4, but signed by Jesse Ramsden (1735 - 1800) and carrying Bleuler’s trade label inside the case. Bleuler may have acquired stock from Ramsden’s estate. Adapted for nonprofit, educational purposes from an internet auction site.
Figure 6. Probably made ca. 1790, this microscope combines mounting features of the “Cuff”/”Jones’ Improved” microscopes with a focusing mechanism that is also seen on Carpenter’s “New Improved” microscopes. It is not signed, but bears Bleuler’s trade label on the case door. The reference to the late Mr. Whitford suggests that it was sold shortly after Bleuler acquired Whitworth’s premises. Adapted for nonprofit, educational purposes from an internet auction site.
Figure 7. Two additional microscopes like that shown in Figure 6. Neither is signed. The image on the right is adapted for nonprofit, educational purposes from an internet auction site. The image on the left is from the catalogue of the Science Museum, London, inventory number A601292, adapted for nonprofit, educational purposes, http://collection.sciencemuseum.org.uk/objects/co119251
Figure 8. An earlier microscope, signed by Bleuler’s master, Henry Shuttleworth. It is easy to discern how this pattern would evolve into that of the microscopes in Figures 6 and 7. Adapted for nonprofit, educational purposes from the web site of the University of Texas Medical Branch’s Blocker Collection, https://ar.utmb.edu/ar/Library/BlockerCollections/BlockerHistoryofMedicineArtifacts/MicroscopeCollection/MicroscopesMakersandTheirInstruments/MicroscopeShuttleworth/tabid/876/Default.aspx
Figure 9. An all-brass “Culpeper” model microscope, signed on the stage by John Bleuler. Adapted with permission, from the Xavier Garces collection, https://080bcn.wordpress.com/49/
Figure 10. An unsigned “Culpeper”-type microscope, with Bleuler’s label inside the case door. Adapted for nonprofit, educational purposes from an internet auction site.
Figure 11. A trade card from Bleuler’s predecessor at 27 Ludgate, Samuel Whitford. Bleuler acquired the location upon the latter’s death in 1789. Adapted for nonprofit, educational purposes from http://collection.sciencemuseum.org.uk/objects/co65680/samuel-whitford-trade-card
Figure 12. Trade cards from John Bleuler. The top card describes him as “successor to the late Mr. Whitford”, while the others do not, suggesting that this dates from early after Bleuler acquired Whitford’s premises, ca. 1790. Adapted for nonprofit, educational purposes from an internet auction site (top image) or from http://collectionsonline.nmsi.ac.uk
Figure 13. Cover of Benjamin Martin’s 1780 booklet on engineering tools, reprinted by John Bleuler.
Figure 14. A small shagreen-covered case of drafting tools. The ivory rules are signed by Bleuler. Adapted for nonprofit, educational purposes from an internet auction site.
Figure 15. A signed Bleuler refracting telescope, with his trade label inside the case. Adapted for nonprofit, educational purposes from http://www.arsmachina.com/t-bleuler_telescope.htm
Figure 16. A Bleuler-signed monocular/peep scope, made of ivory and brass. Adapted for nonprofit, educational purposes from an internet auction site.
Figure 17. A pocket-sized globe (diameter 3 inches / 7.5 cm), marked as having been produced by John Bleuler in 1824. Adapted for nonprofit, educational purposes from the Natural History Museum, http://collectionsonline.nmsi.ac.uk/detail.php?type=related&kv=56792&t=objects
Figure 18. A Bleuler sextant, made of brass, wood, and ivory. Adapted for nonprofit, educational purposes from an internet auction site.
Figure 19. A barometer by Bleuler. Adapted for nonprofit, educational purposes from an internet auction site.
Figure 20. Ludgate Street in 1795, engraved by William Marlow. The dome of Saint Paul’s Cathedral dominates the background.
My thanks to Xavier Garces for sharing images of his collection, https://080bcn.wordpress.com.
Apprenticeship record of John Bleuler (1771) accessed through ancestry.com
Burial record of Mary Ann Bleuler (1800) Two months old, October 21, Parish records of St Gregory by St Paul, accessed through ancestry.com
Burial record of Sarah Bleuler (1807) Age 49, March 4, Parish records of St Gregory by St Paul, accessed through ancestry.com
Burial record of John Bleuler (1817) Age 26, June 10, Parish records of St Gregory by St Paul, accessed through ancestry.com
Catalogue of the Billings Microscope Collection (1974), page 17, Second edition, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, Washington, D.C.
Clay, Reginald S., and Thomas H. Court (1932), pages 198, 199, and 204
Clifton, Gloria (1995) Directory of British Instrument Makers 1550-1851, Zwemmer, London, pages 32, 251, and 297
England vital records, accessed through ancestry.com
The European Magazine, and London Review (1789) Obituary of Samuel Whitworth, Vol. 16, page 231
Kent's Directory for the Year 1794, Cities of London and Westminster, & Borough of Southwark (1794) “Bleuler John, Optician, 27, Ludgate street”
Marriage record of John Bleuler and Elizabeth Shuttleworth (1787) Parish records of St. James Clerkenwell, accessed through ancestry.com
Marriage record of John Bleuler and Sarah Davidson (1787) Parish records of St Gregory at St Paul’s, accessed through ancestry.com
Martin, Benjamin (1780) The Description and Use of a Case of Mathematical Instruments, published by Martin, London
Martin, Benjamin (undated) The Description and Use of a Case of Mathematical Instruments, published by Bleuler, London
The Monthly Magazine (1798) Obituary of Henry Shuttleworth, Vol. 5, page 462
Nelson, John (1811) The History, Topography, and Antiquities of the Parish of St. Mary Islington, Nelson, London, page 346
Old Bailey Online (accessed February, 2017) https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?id=t18221204-45-victim397&div=t18221204-45#highlight
Old Bailey Online (accessed February, 2017) https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?id=t18241028-17-victim242&div=t18241028-17#highlight
Post Office Directory of London (1829) “Bleuler, John, Optician, 27 Ludgate street”
Transactions of the Optical Society (1928) Bleuler, John, Vol. 30, page 85
Turner, G. l’E. (1989) The Great Age of the Microscope, Adam Hilger, Bristol and New York, page 65
Whittock, N., J. Bennett, J. Badcock, C. Newton and others (1842) The Complete Book of Trades, T. Tegg, London, pages 351-352