William Rushby, ca. 1745 - ca. 1810

and his association with the manufacture of
“folding-pin” naturalist’s simple microscopes

by Brian Stevenson
last updated September, 2020

Small, folding, hand-held simple microscopes are quite popular among antique collectors (Figures 1-2). When in use, they are 2.5 - 3 inches / 6-7 cm from the top of the lens to the tip of the handle. The handle and lens-holder fold on hinges into a flat shape (Figures 3-4). Many were originally sold with rectangular cardboard boxes (Figures 3-5). Two main types of naturalist’s simple microscopes were produced.

One type has a specimen holder that consists of only a brass pin (Figure 1). For storage, the tip of the pin folds flat (Figures 3-4). One “folding-pin” microscope has a carry case that is dated 1787 (Figure 10). That, plus investigations of historical records, indicate that “folding-pin” microscopes were made during the late 1700s, and that their production likely ended around 1800.

Two major drawbacks of the “folding-pin” type - the brass spike is easily bent or dulled, and specimens must be impaled - were remedied by development of the “forceps” type, which has a specimen holder with a forceps on one end and a sharp steel spike on the other (Figure 2). This form was first illustrated in the 1798 edition of George Adams Jr.’s Essays on the Microscope and was manufactured by W. & S. Jones. For that reason, the “forceps” type is frequently called a “Jones’ naturalist” or “Jones’ botanical” microscope, although it was made by numerous other manufacturers throughout the nineteenth century (Figure 2). These are far more commonly encountered today, reflective of their having been manufactured over a span of roughly 100 years.

Figure 1. A “folding-pin” type of naturalist’s simple microscope. Specimens must be impaled on the brass pin for viewing, with focus by sliding the pin mount toward/away from the simple lens. The two parts of the pin mount are connected by a screw, which can be loosened to move the mount or tightened to hold it in position. For storage, the pin folds down, and the lens and handle fold together (see Figure 3). The handle is made from bone. Images from a private collection.


Figure 2. An improvement on the “folding-pin” microscope, the “forceps” type has a specimen-holder with hardened-steel forceps on one end and a sharp steel spike on the other. The steel specimen holder slides in the brass fitting, can be inverted depending upon use, and is removed for storage. This type of naturalist’s simple microscope was first illustrated in the 1798 edition of George Adams Jr.’s “Essays on the Microscope”, which was published by W. & S. Jones, and is often called the “Jones’ naturalist” or “Jones’ botanical” microscope. The type was also illustrated in catalogues throughout the nineteenth century, including those of Edward Palmer (1840) and James Queen & Co. (1874). Microscope image from a private collection.


Records of museum holdings and past auctions revealed 5 “pin-mounted” simple microscopes with cases that are embossed with “W. Rushby” and “Cherry Tree Hill” (Figure 3). Several others have identically-sized cases that are stamped with only “Cherry Tree Hill” or motifs found on Rushby-signed cases (Figures 4-5). That large number of examples indicate that Rushby was involved with the microscopes’ manufacture or distribution.

William Rushby was a manufacturer of “Sheaths, Paper Inkpots, &c.”, working in Cherry Tree Hill, Yorkshire in the mid-/late-1700s (Figure 6). Cherry Tree Hill was then a village on the outskirts of Sheffield. Even in the 1700s, Sheffield was a major center for production of knives, swords, scythes, scissors, files, and other cutting implements. Rushby and a half dozen other craftsmen produced the sheaths for those instruments. William Rushby served as master to an apprentice sheath-maker in 1776, indicating that he was then established in the craft and thus at least 25-30 years old (Figure 7). Therefore, Rushby was born, at the latest, in 1745-1750. An average lifespan would place his death around 1810. Tax records indicate that a William Rushby lived in the Cherry Tree Hill area until at least 1802.

However, William Rushby was not a worker of brass or glass (indeed, the 1787 directory of Sheffield has a separate listing for makers of brass inkpots). While Sheffield had numerous metalworkers, some of whom worked in brass, the vast majority stamped their works with distinctive hallmarks, and, to the best of my knowledge, no “folding-pin” type microscope has a hallmark. A more probable source would be one of the two opticians who then worked in Sheffield, most likely Proctors & Beilby, who were “telescope, microscope, perspective, reading glass, and spectacle makers” and “cutlers, brass inkstand and powderflask makers”. That firm employed workers who were experienced in lens grinding, brasswork, and, being cutlers, shaping of bone for handles (see below). Also of note, John Priston Cutts (1787-1858), later a well-known manufacturer of microscopes, learned his trade as an apprentice with Proctors & Beilby.

It is reasonable to conclude that many of the “folding-pin” type simple microscopes like those shown in Figures 1, 3, and 4 were manufactured in Sheffield during the late 1700s (and possibly into the very early 1800s). Many of their cases were marked by William Rushby, suggesting that he played a role in their distribution. Other cases were evidently produced by Rushby, but without his name on them, and were presumably distributed by another source(s). Proctors and Beilby were the likely manufacturer.

Figure 3. Three “folding-pin” simple microscopes, each of which has a cardboard carrying case embossed with “W. Rushby” and “Cherry Tree Hill”. The case of example A is also embossed with two ammonites (or snails). Two other “folding-pin” microscopes of the same pattern are known that also have Rushby cases. Images from private collections or adapted for nonprofit, educational purposes from internet sale sites.


Figure 4. The case of this “folding-pin” microscope is embossed with a large ammonite or snail on one side and a pair of simple shapes on the other. The similarities between the microscope and case with those shown in Figures 1 and 3 suggest that they were all produced by the same maker. Images from adapted for nonprofit, educational purposes from an internet sale site.


Figure 5. A similar microscope with a handle of brass, rather than bone, with a case that is marked “Cherry Tree Hill” (twice) and stamped on the other side with a pair of ammonites. Although it currently has a forceps specimen holder, that may not be original: note the length of the specimen holder - if it is inverted so that a specimen can be impaled on the spike, the specimen will not align with the lens, and so the lens must be folded by 45 degrees or so in order to be used. “Forceps” type naturalist’s simple microscopes generally have much longer specimen holders (see Figure 2), which allow easy use of either the spike or the forceps. This example has a short specimen holder so that it will fit into the case. A standard “forceps” type holder is 1/2 inch / 1.5 cm too long to fit into a Rushby-type case. Images from adapted for nonprofit, educational purposes from an internet sale site.


Figure 6. From “A Directory of Sheffield”, 1787.


Figure 7. On May 13, 1776, “Wm. Rushby of Eccleshall Bierly (sic) in Co. York, Sheather” took Robert Wain as his apprentice. This indicates that Rushby was an accomplished master craftsman by this date. Cherry Tree Hill is within the area known as Ecclesall Bierlow.


Figure 8. The only other known record of William Rushby’s life: on August 9, 1779, “William Rushby late of Eccleshill (sic) Bierlow … Sheath Maker” was arraigned for assault on Thomas Hulley, and did “greatly threaten either with the loss of his life or of some bodily hurt and other injuries”. The outcome of his trial was not recorded.


Figure 9. Opticians’ entries from the 1787 Sheffield directory, organized by trade (A) or alphabetically (B). The firm of Proctors & Beilby consisted of brothers Charles and Luke Proctor, and Thomas Beilby, and produced a large number of products, including microscopes. The town’s other optician, Joseph Wilson, appears to have made only eye glasses.


Finally, Reminiscences of Old Sheffield, 1876 contains the following description of the Proctors & Beilby optical business, including their glass and brasswork:

In Market street was the manufactory of Messrs. Proctor and Beilby, opticians, of whom I have compiled the following account from one of the late Mr. John Holland's numerous anonymous papers. The firm had been in Milk street, on the site of part of Messrs. Rodgers and Sons' premises now; but when the old butchers' shops were removed from Market street, the firm established themselves there, on the west side, with workrooms and dwellinghouse in front, and workshops behind. The ‘Cup’ inn is there still, unchanged; but everything else is altered.

The principals in the firm were Luke and Charles Proctor, natives of the town, and originally makers, if not actually grinders, of lancets. Beilby was a Birmingham man, and was a teacher of drawing in Sheffield. ‘Luke Proctor was an agreeable man of fashion, an accomplished violinist, and he soon fiddled himself out of the firm. Charles, a lover of music too, was a quiet, assiduous and successful man of business,’ writes Mr. Holland, ‘and I remember how I used to look for his white wig opposite one of the windows in the old Cutlers' Hall, at the ‘Feast’, where he sat ‘above the salt’. He was a widower when first I knew him. His family consisted of himself, his three sons - Luke, George and William - his daughter, Deborah, and last, but not least, in those days, his sister, ‘Miss Nancy’ - a sharp little consequential woman, who did a great part of the familiar book-keeping of the concern, including especially the entering of the men's work and wages. Of the children, Luke died young; George went to Birmingham, where he married. and died; William, of whom more hereafter, married Miss Deakin, a sister of the founder of the Deakin Institution; Deborah married Thomas, a son of the original Beilby. He ultimately went to Birmingham, entered into the stationery business, and became the leading partner in the well-known firm of Beilby and Knott, publishers of Aris's Gazette. Charles Proctor, the head of the firm, died July 4th, 1808, and was carried by six faithful workmen to his grave in St. Paul's Church, where his wife was also buried. He left behind him, according to the ‘Gossip's Gazette’, property to the amount of £30,000.

The concern in Market street had now reached its culminating period of prosperity; thenceforth its fortunes were downward. This was apparently due to several causes’. At length the late Mr. Holland alone was left on the premises to make, as far as the brass work was concerned, whatever might be wanted in the entire range of the pattern book. ‘And although’, says he, ‘it is long since I laid down, and shall never again take up, the tools of the optical instrument maker, I would not willingly lose the consciousness that I could still alternate the cutting of a fine screw with the using of a bad pen’.

Mr. Holland once gave an account of the more prominent workmen in this establishment. There were his father, also John Holland, and his uncle Amos, who made accurate imitations of the Dollond telescopes. Both lived in the country, and were not only bird fanciers, but bee farmers. The sycamore and mahogany outsides of the telescopes were made at a wheel on the Rivelin by William Chadburn, grandfather of Chadburn Brothers, the well-known opticians, of Nursery street, and it seems probable that his father had been there before him.

Besides optical instruments, there were made tinder-boxes and inkpots in large quantities. Excisemen's inkbottles were made of brass, and were polished by old Daniel Waughan, a Chelsea pensioner, who, after doing duty as a recruiting sergeant in Sheffield, went abroad and fought beside General Wolfe, at Quebec. ‘His extra-workboard forte was telling stories of soldier life, and especially a rehearsal of the loyal speech he used to make in our Market Place, while a handful of spade-ace guineas was kept dancing on the drum-head for the too successful temptation of many a mother's son’. Then there was Ben Wright, another pensioner, who ‘treddled’ his lathe with a wooden leg; and George Hadfield, not less remarkable as a toper than as a turner; old Billy Egginton, somewhat of a birdcatcher, who, living on the banks of the Don, had secured a crested grebe; John Taylor, a member of an old Sheffield musical family, his instrument being the French horn; little Jemmy Johnson, who beat the big drum in the Volunteer band. Then there was Dicky Hobson, a Birmingham man, in some way related to Mrs. Sally Booth, the actress, who used to visit Sheffield with Macready, and whose graceful performance with the skipping rope was so much admired. Another member of the Volunteer band was Johnny Coe, a little knock-kneed man, whose military status was to march before the leader with an open music sheet pinned on his back. He had been with the Proctors from the first, and was early employed by them in making ring dials, which some think to have been Touchstone's dial. From Coe's account, these must have been common and cheap enough during the earlier half of the last century. They consisted of a brass ring, four inches in diameter. On being suspended from the hand by a string, the sun shone through a small hole in the rim, and indicated the time by a dot of light falling on the hour figure and its fractions inside. Two of the workmen, Clarke and Hancock, were members of the Volunteer force. William Padley was the brass caster, and Thomas Stovin the glass caster. Stovin's hobby was to keep cows, and he did it profitably. The chief of the spectacle makers was Thomas Bird, a brother of the well-known Bristol artist of that name. The bead-roll would be incomplete without the names of Ben Sayles and Grayson.

‘I regret’, said Mr. Holland, whose words I have, for the most part, been adopting, ‘to be unable to recollect that religion was ever the subject of work day conversation, or, so far as I know, church-going the Sunday habit of these men. I believe Jonathan Knight, a glass grinder, and Thomas Wilson, a telescope hand, were chapel-goers. They spoke of having seen, and had possibly heard, John Wesley, during one of the latter visits of that remarkable man to this town. Excessive drinking was then, as now, the vice of the artisan.

Proctor's firm erected the first steam-engine in the town, in 1786. Boulton and Watt at that time let out engines by way of bringing them into use ; but whether Beilby and Proctor had theirs on loan, or bought it, I cannot say. Their wheel has just been pulled down, and a wooden circus occupies its site - adjoining Sheaf street. The late Mr. I.P. Cutts served his time with them, and my impression of the issue of the firm is different from Mr. Holland's; for I have understood that he was taken into partnership, and ultimately had the trade in his sole possession.” (my note: Proctor, Beilby & Co. was dissolved in 1812, then continued by William and George Proctor under their own names. Cutts was not part of either of those firms.)

Beilby and Proctor were not the first opticians in the town. That honour is ascribed by the Local Register to Mr. Samuel Froggatt, who died in 1787. His works were at Royd's Mill; and his son had a room at Walk Mills, now the Albion Works, opposite the ‘Twelve o’ Clock’. His grandson still carries on the business in the same neighbourhood.

Figure 10. A very different style of “folding-pin” microscope - compare the hinge joints with the Rushby-associated microscopes in Figures 1, 3, and 4. The lid of its box is inscribed, “The gift of Wm. Chapman Esq. 1789”, evidence that the “folding-pin” form was being produced at least 9 years before the “forceps” type was described in 1798. The date on this box is also consistent with Rushby’s involvement with producing “folding-pin” simple microscopes during the mid/late-1700s. Chapman may have been the noted civil engineer William Chapman (1749-1832). Images from a private collection.


Figure 11. William Rushby frequently used ammonite shapes when decorating microscope cases. This is a 400 million year old Anetoceras sp., from a private collection.



Many thanks to Joe Zeligs and Jeff Silverman for their helpful comments.



A Directory of Sheffield, Published by Gales & Martin in 1787, Reprint (1889) Pawson & Brailsford, Sheffield

England census and other records, accessed through ancestry.com

Gardner-Medwin, David (2003) Bewick Studies: Essays in Celebration of the 250th Anniversary of the Birth of Thomas Bewick, 1753-1828, Bewick Society, page 80

Hudson, William (1874) The Life of John Holland, of Sheffield Park, Longman, Green, and Co., London

Leader, Robert E., ed. (1876) Reminiscences of Old Sheffield: Its Streets and Its People, Second edition, Leader & Sons, Sheffield, pages 94-97

London Gazette (1812) Notice of the dissolution of Proctor, Beilby & Co., page 2332

Walker, William (1864) William Chapman, M.R.I.A., Memoirs of the Distinguished Men of Science of Great Britain Living in the Years 1807-8, W. Davy & Son, London, pages 31-34