Elwin Samuel Coutant, 1852 - 1940

by Brian Stevenson
last updated May, 2021

E.S. Coutant produced high-quality microscope slides, with professional-looking labels and colorful ringing (Figure 1). They were probably all made during a brief, two-year period from 1888 through 1889, and all known slides have his address of Hawk's Park, Florida. He might have sold them commercially.


Figure 1. Microscope slide by Elwin Samuel Coutant, dated March, 1888.

 


Figure 2. Male Mytilaspis gloverii (now Lepidosaphes gloverii), the citrus long scale, prepared in 1888 by E.S. Coutant.

 


Figure 3. Exchange offers and notes about E.S. Coutant that appeared in "The Microscope". The earliest known record of his interest in microscopy was an 1885 exchange request, published while he lived in Des Moines, Iowa. In 1888, the editors of "The Microscope" acknowledged him three times for sending them slides that he had made, which was a common means by which small-time professional microscopists could get their wares put forth to a large audience. In 1889, he offered to exchange his slides of "orange tree insects". No further records are known of Coutant as a microscopist.

 


Figure 4. E.S. Coutant and his wife, Louisa, probably ca. 1905. Adapted for nonprofit, educational purposes from Thurlow and Dring, 2016.

 

Contemporary sources refer to Elwin Samuel Coutant as "Samuel". He was born on May 31, 1852, in Greenwich Ohio, the eldest child of Zepheniah and Rachel Coutant. The 1870 census recorded that father Zepheniah was a "farmer", and that the family then lived in Saint Gilead, Ohio.

Samuel married Louisa Hobson in 1876. They had three children, two girls and then a boy.

After their marriage, Samuel and Louisa moved to Dayton, Iowa, where he took work in a jewelry shop. Within a few years, they moved to Des Moines, with Samuel managing a jeweler's.

While living in Des Moines, Coutant published the earliest known record of his interest in microscopy: an 1885 request to purchase a ringing turntable, microtome (section cutter), and a microscopical dictionary (Figure 3). The following year, he requested a copy of "Saville Kent’s 'Manual of Infusoria', bound or unbound, text with plates".

On August 11, 1886, Samuel Coutant was elected to membership in the American Society of Microscopists. His membership lapsed in 1890.

Reportedly for health reasons, the Coutants moved to Florida in 1887. Samuel published an exchange offer to acquire a book on fish in May, 1887, from Hawk's Park, Florida (this town is now known as Edgewater). Coutant was hired to captain a two-masted schooner, "Corrinne", which ferried passengers along Florida's east coast.

During 1888, Coutant sent at least three microscope slides to the editors of The Microscope, which were then described in the magazine's pages (Figure 3). This was a common method for professional slide-makers to generate interest in their products. Additionally, if Coutant were interested only in exchanging slides, simply writing by hand on an off-the-shelf label would have been sufficient, rather than him buying custom-printed labels. Altogether, these features suggest that Coutant likely sold microscope slides.

In 1890, the owner of "Corrinne", Hiram Shaw, was appointed superintendent of the U.S. Life-Saving Service (a fore runner of the U.S. Coast Guard). In addition to lifeboat stations, that agency operated several "Houses of Refuge" along the Florida coast. These facilities were staffed by single men or families, and lacked resources for sea rescue, but served to help survivors of shipwrecks get to the shore and then return to civilization. Samuel Coutant was appointed Keeper of the Mosquito Lagoon House of Refuge, and he and his family moved in on August 29, 1890.

That position appears to have been the end of E.S. Coutant's foray into serious microscopy. He did not renew his membership in the American Society of Microscopists for 1891. I have not found any records of exchange offers after 1889.

Coutant resigned from the U.S. Life-Saving Service in 1912. He and Louisa moved to Stuart, Florida, where he opened a printing business. He died in October, 1940.

 

Resources

Coutant, E.S. (1889) Letter, The Microscope, Vol. 9, page 159

McKinnon, Jennifer F. (2010) The Archaeology of Florida's US Life-Saving Service Houses of Refuge and Life-Saving Stations, Ph.D. Thesis, Florida State University

The Microscope (1885) Exchange offer from E.S. Coutant, Vol. 5, May issue

The Microscope (1886) Exchange offer from E.S. Coutant, Vol. 6, August issue

The Microscope (1887) Exchange offer from E.S. Coutant, Vol. 7, May issue

The Microscope (1888) Acknowledgements, Vol. 8, pages 62, 90, and 149

The Microscope (1889) Exchange offer from E.S. Coutant, Vol. 9, page 32

Proceedings of the American Society of Microscopists (1886) New members, Vol. 8, page 208

Proceedings of the American Society of Microscopists (1890) Members, "Coutant, E.S., M.A., '86, Hawks Park, Fla.", Vol. 12, pages 253-312

Proceedings of the American Society of Microscopists (1891) E.S. Coutant no longer listed as a member, Vol. 13, page 212

Thurlow, Sandra (1997) Lonely Vigils: Houses of Refuge on Florida's East Coast, 1876-1915, The Florida Historical Quarterly, Vol. 76, pages 152-173

Thurlow, Sandra, and Timothy Dring (2016) US Life-Saving Service: Florida's East Coast, Arcadia Publishing

US census and other records, accessed through ancestry.com