Unidentified Slide-maker: “Palate Man” / “Acari Man”,
by Brian Stevenson
Last updated May 2014
This person produced a large number of microscope slides during the mid-1800s. The vast majority of his (her?) slides are labeled as containing either palates or acari. The abundance of different types of specimens, and minimal known repetition, suggest that Palate Man made these mounts in order to study details, rather than for mass sales to the public. The emphases of his slide contents suggest that Palate Man was a scientist with strong interest in snails and mites. Both topics were of interest to a number of people in the mid-1800s. To date, a strong candidate for Palate Man has not been put forth, and his identity is unknown.
Figure 1. A typical Plate Man slide. A distinctively thick coating of black asphalt was used to seal the specimen. Slides are frequently found that are missing large chips of sealant.
Palate Man was producing slides by the early 1850s, as indicated by the numerous slides which bear handwritten dates between 1851-54 (Figure 4). Most of Palate Man’s preparations do not carry dates, however. The purpose of a dated series and an undated series is not clear. One possibility is that the dates were added by a second person, who acquired a large number of these slides or curated a considerable library of Palate Man’s works.
A large number of Palate Man’s slides were sold by Smith, Beck & Beck and by J. Amadio during 1863-64 (Figures 9 and 10). The known SB&B sales have labels with the address of 31 Cornhill. SB&B moved to 31 Cornhill in mid-1863, and James Smith retired in 1864, whereupon the company changed its name to R. & J. Beck. Amadio’s 1864 catalog advertised a large number of Palate Man’s slides. The numbered slides were disordered and incomplete, and Amadio’s list included a broken slide, implying that this was a one-time offering (Figure 10).
Occasionally, other Palate Man slides are found with labels from other retailers. Those known do not have any dateable information.
The “palate” is the feeding organ of a snail (radula, or “tongue”), an interesting organ with numerous sharp spines used by the snail to scrape food from surfaces. The tissues of radulae often rotate polarized light, and make interesting polariscope objects. Different species of snail have distinctive radulae, and those organs can be useful for identification and classification.
The term “acari” now includes arachnids such as mites and ticks. In Victorian times, it primarily referred to mites. Different species of animals suffer infestations by different types of mites. Palate Man was obviously interested in evaluating those differences. He also had an interest in discriminating males from females, as his slides generally include examples of both sexes. The preponderance of mites came from birds.
In summary, this prolific slide-maker was most likely a scientist with strong interest in snails and acari/mites. Many, but far from all, of his slides carry handwritten dates from the early 1850s. Something happened ca. 1863 that caused a substantial number of Palate Man’s slides to be sold through the microscopy shops of Amadio and Smith, Beck & Beck. Possible explanations include dispersal of his collection following Palate Man’s death, or circumstances that required he raise quick money.
Figure 2. Examples of “palate” mounts. The unsealed slide on the right carries a label with Palate Man’s handwriting. The numbered labels are not common, and are likely additions of owners through the years.
Figure 3. Occasionally, the synonym “tongue” was used on labels.
Figure 4. Slides dated 1852-54. The majority of Palate Man’s slides are not dated. The missing chip of sealant from the leftmost slide is a common blemish. The slide next to it, of “palate of a young Limneus stagnalis”, has a crossed-out inscription “bird’s feather” on the reverse, indicating that the maker re-used this glass.
Figure 5. Three dated Palate Man slides that came from the personal collection of noted diatomist Thomas Brightwell, who died in 1868.
Figure 6. Slides of acari from birds. Such slides are often numbered, the meaning of which is not known. Slides generally included examples of both male and female acari.
Figure 7. Far less common are slides with acari and other parasites of mammals.
Figure 8. Uncommon slides of other objects. The rightmost slide, “rolling stones”, contains small sand grains in fluid, designed to be shaken and the tumbling “stones” observed through crossed polarizing filters. This type of slide was purely for amusement.
Figure 9. Palate Man slides, labeled for sale by Smith, Beck & Beck. That microscope company was located at 31 Cornhill, London, from mid-1863 until James Smith’s retirement in 1864, whereupon the name was changed to R. & J. Beck.
Figure 10. List of Palate Man slides offered by F. and J. Amadio in their 1864 catalog.
Figure 11. Some relabeled Palate Man preparations.
Figure 12. Slides by Palate Man with attached labels from various owners. The leftmost slide was once owned by George Shadbolt (1819-1901). There are no particular reasons to assume that Shadbolt made these slides. The others carry a circular orange label with an embossed rooster/cockerel, the owner of which has yet to be identified.
Many thanks to the numerous colleagues who contributed images to this essay and who have shared thoughts on Palate Man.
Amadio, Francis and Joseph Amadio (1864) A Catalogue of Achromatic Microscopes and other Optical, Philosophical, and Mathematical Instruments, Manufactured and Sold by F. & J. Amadio, Opticians to the Admiralty, 7, Throgmorton Street, London
Stevenson, Brian (accessed May, 2014) Charles Coppock, 1837-1900 (includes details of the Smith, Beck & Beck / R. & J. Beck companies), http://microscopist.net/CoppockC.html
Walker, David (accessed May, 2014) A "palette of palates": exploring a selection of prepared slides of snail radulas - a classic type of Victorian microscope slide, http://www.microscopy-uk.org.uk/mag/artmar10/dw-palate.html