D. Bryce Scott, 1843 - 1914

by Brian Stevenson
last updated December, 2014

David Bryce Scott was an amateur microscopist, active during the last quarter of the 19th Century. Many of the microscope slides he produced carry distinctive, attractive labels (Figure 1). I did not locate any information to indicate that Scott sold slides, suggesting that they were produced for exchange with other naturalists. Scott’s primary interest was foraminifera shells, and the majority of surviving slides are of such subjects. Various other subjects were mounted, however (Figure 1). Scott was active in the New York City area through the end of the 1880s, and was a very early member and officer of the New York Microscopical Society. From the early 1890s onward, he lived in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada.

Figure 1. Microscope slides prepared by D. Bryce Scott. The slide on the left, of foraminifera from a chalk deposit, is dated 1895.


David Bryce Scott was born September 25, 1843, in Sherbrooke, Quebec. He was the first child of James and Isabella Black Scott. The 1861 census of Canada lists the young Scott as being a “clerk”, as was also his father. D.B. Scott married Edmere Lynda Hensley in 1866. The young couple and two children lived in Montreal at the time of the 1871 Canadian census, with D. Bryce still working as a “clerk”.

A report of the 1870 Annual of Conversazione of the Natural History Society (Montreal) included descriptions of exhibits by D. Bryce Scott, “The eighth annual conversazione was held at the rooms on the evening of Wednesday, March 9th, 1870. The whole of the ground floor was tastefully decorated with evergreens, under the superintendence of Mr. D. McCord. Fine geological maps and sections were kindly lent for the occasion by the officers of the Geological Survey of Canada. Messrs. Theodore Hart and Hugh Allan also kindly contributed bouquets of choice cut flowers from their respective greenhouses. A number of microscopes, with objects, were placed in the library, this department being under the special superintendence of the Montreal Microscopic Club, Mr. J. M. Young sent one of Powell & Lealand’s large binocular instruments, with all the newest accessories. This is probably the finest microscope ever imported into Canada. Other instruments were contributed by Dr. J. B. Edwards, Messrs. James Ferrier, Jr., A. S. Ritchie, D. B. Scott, R. McLachlan, and J. F. Whiteaves. Mr. Scott shewed the circulation of the blood in the web of the foot of the Shad Frog, also beautiful living examples of Vorticella campanularia, V. nebulifera, Stentor coeruleus, and other infusoria from his own aquarium”.

At the January 30, 1871 monthly meeting of the Montreal Microscopic Club, “Mr. J. F. Whiteaves read a paper on Canadian Foraminifera. The author stated that in his dredging excursion to Gaspe in the summer of 1869 he had preserved large quantities of sand, mud, etc., obtained at various depths from ten different localities. Mr. G. M. Dawson had examined portions of six of these dredgings for Foraminifera; and the writer, with Mr. D. B. Scott, had carefully gone over the rest of the material. The species found by the writer and Mr. Scott agreed very closely with those in Mr. Dawson's published list, but some additional forms were observed, A large series of specimens was exhibited and the subject was copiously illustrated by the members of the Montreal Microscopic Club

According to later census records, the Scott family moved to New York in 1871 or 1872. City directories from 1874 through 1886 gave addresses in Brooklyn. Those directories also gave Scott’s occupation as variously “inspector” and “telegraph operator”. The 1880 US census elaborated by describing his occupation as “chief inspector stock telegraph”, while Reid’s 1886 The Telegraph in America and Morse Memoriam described D. Bryce Scott as the Chief Inspector of the Gold and Stock Telegraph Company, a major telegraph operation in New York.

Scott invented a new form of turntable for ringing slides. The April, 1876 issue of The American Journal of Microscopy included an article on “Recent improvements in the turn-table”, which began, “The invention of the turn-table, by Shadbolt, was one of the most important additions to our means of mounting microscopic objects. For a long time it has retained the form which it received shortly after its invention, and even now the turn-table of twenty-five years ago is equal to almost all the wants of the microscopist. Attempts have been made to produce a table which will automatically centre the slide – not a very difficult task, in view of the immense amount of ingenuity that has been expended in this direction in the kindred subject of the turning lathe. For ourselves, however, we still prefer to centre our slides by hand. Those who have a true eye can do it accurately and expeditiously, and when necessity requires the slide to be out of centre, for the purpose of bringing an already made cell to the centre, the common table allows full variation in this respect. The ordinary table is rotated by the action of the finger on a small, milled collar, and when once set in motion, its momentum serves to maintain the movement until the cell has been finished. Under ordinary circumstances this answers every purpose, but when a cell more elaborate than usual is to be made, the varying velocity of the table— a velocity which steadily and rapidly decreases—is a serious objection. Mr. D. Bryce Scott, of this city, has remedied this difficulty by attaching an old clock work to his table. The gearing is large and strong, and is moved by a heavy weight. Such a table has an equable motion, which can easily be regulated by a brake, and the power applied is sufficient to allow of a deep cell being turned off by means of a cutting tool, so as to improve its shape and make it absolutely true. This improvement we regard as quite valuable”. It was probably not a coincidence that many of Scott’s neighbors were clock makers, and that a boarder at the Scott house was listed in the 1880 census as “works in clock factory”.

The first meeting of what was to become the New York Microscopical Society was held November 14, 1877. Election of Officers was held on December 11. D. Bryce Scott was elected Librarian, Temporary Curator and Member of Permanent Committees on Admissions and Papers & Publications. During the Society’s first year, Scott donated numerous slides, including foraminifera from chalk, polycystina from Barbadoes, spicules of gorgonia and potato starch, plus raw specimen material including diatomaceous deposit from Port Hope, Canada, Echinus spines and calabar bean starch.

At the September 20, 1878 meeting of the NYMS, “the President announced that Mr. Scott would be at the room on Monday and Wednesday evenings, to meet such members as desired instruction in mounting and preparing objects”. This was broadcast across New York in the October, 1878 American Journal of Microscopy and Popular Science, “It is an old saying, ‘C'est le premier pas qui coute,’ - which may be freely translated to mean that the first step is always the most difficult. This is true in business and study, and nowhere more so than in microscopy. After the beginner has learned a few elementary methods and manipulations, it is not difficult for him to get along himself. The difficulty has hitherto been that most of those who have a liking for microscopy have had no opportunity to get the first start. Mr. D. Bryce Scott, the curator of the New York Microscopical Society, has undertaken to supply this want, and those who desire to learn the practical use of the microscope are invited to meet him at the rooms of the society, 1,207 Broadway, on Monday and Wednesday evenings. Mr. Scott is well known as one of our most skilful manipulators, so far as the preparing and mounting of objects are concerned, and the opportunity thus offered is one which does not often present itself. The instruction is free.”

On a professional note, D. Bryce Scott was awarded a US Patent on October 5, 1886, for improvements that reduced the noise of telegraph typing machines (Figure 2). He evidently sold the rights to the Western Union Telegraph Company. Note that he had retained his Canadian citizenship while living in the USA.

Figure 2. Technical drawing and part of the description for D. Bryce Scott’s improved telegraph printer, patented October 5, 1886. The drawing was evidently prepared by Scott.


Exactly what happened in D. Bryce Scott’s life between 1886 and 1894 is not clear.

The 1886 Brooklyn city directory listed D. Bryce Scott as living at 340 Pearl Street. The issue date of Scott’s patent does not imply that he still lived in Brooklyn at that time. He appears to have spent at least part of the summer of 1886 in Moncton, New Brunswick, demonstrating microscopy at The Summer School of Science of the Atlantic Provinces. An 1887 report of that informal school implied that Scott had by then taken up residence in Moncton, “The programme of evening meetings was an excellent one this year, and embraced lectures, concerts, 'round table talks, and an " Evening with the Microscope." The latter was superintended by D. Bryce Scott, of Moncton, and his fine microscopes and views afforded a pleasure long to be remembered by the members of the school.”

Scott married a Laura Willet in Moncton, ca. 1895. He reported on the marriage record that he was divorced. It is not known what happened to his first wife, Edmere. No record of her has been found after the 1880 US census. Genealogical records of the Scott’s two eldest children indicate that they remained in the USA.

The 1894 Johnston’s Electrical and Street Railway Directory reported that D.B. Scott was then electrician for the Intercolonial Railway of Canada, located in Moncton, New Brunswick. Scott was head electrician with that railway until his retirement in 1912. The 1905 Auditor General’s Report, 1903-1904 listed D. Bryce Scott at the top of the list of employees of the Intercolonial Railway’s Electrical Department. With an annual salary of $1500 per year, he was by far the highest paid employee in the department. In addition, Scott designed the electrical system operating the locks on the Sault Ste. Marie Ship Canal, which opened on September 9, 1895, and were the first electrically-operated canal locks in the world.

In 1894, he published a short message in The American Monthly Microscopical Journal, “D. Bryce Scott is interested in the Polycistina of which there are but few students in America. He sometimes has earth for distribution”. Over the next decade or so, Scott wrote letters and sent material and slides to various societies and journals on both sides of the Atlantic. Moncton is very isolated from any large city, so his actions were probably appeals for correspondence with other microscopists.

The June, 1894 issue of The Microscopical Bulletin included this note, “Mr. D. Bryce Scott, of Moncton, N.B., has very kindly sent us a quantity of Barbadoes earth (from the Springfield estate), containing Polycystina, for distribution among our subscribers. If any of them ‘wants the earth’, or a portion thereof, he can have it by sending four cents (in stamps) to cover expense. Mr. Scott's method of cleaning this material is given on page 21”. Scott’s method was published in that issue as a report by F.W. Richards, with two figures (illustrated here as Figure 3 A and B):

This method of cleaning the sandstone deposit known as Barbadoes earth is used by Mr. D. Bryce Scott, of Moncton, New Brunswick. He says, ‘I think the quickest way to clean the deposit is as follows:

'Break it up into half-inch lumps and put in a new seamless tin pan, pour in sufficient liquor potassse, and allow it to boil a few moments, or until it becomes very soft and muddy. Then pour it into a glass jar partly filled with water and allow it to settle; do this several times until the very fine particles are washed out. Then boil it for several hours in a strong solution of common washing soda, then put in glass jars with water and wash several times and allow it to settle.

After you have dried the settlings you can then sift them to the different grades through muslin of varying textures. In the coarser grade you will find the beautiful Astromma. Be very careful while you are washing the earth to gather all the scum which forms around the top of the glass jar; you can take it off with a spoon, and place it in a separate jar of water and strain through fine muslin. This scum contains very perfect forms.

Another way is to break up the earth, as before, into half-inch lumps, and place in a new tin pan, wide and flat, with a strong solution of soda and water, and allow it to boil until all the earth is disintegrated and while boiling collect all the scum as it rises and put in a separate jar of water. After drying and sifting they should be put into a test-tube and boiled in nitric or sulphuric acid, and thus thoroughly cleansed; afterwards wash repeatedly to get rid of all trace of acid.

If you wish to make the Polycystina perfectly white place them upon a piece of very thin platinum plate and bring them to a white heat by means of a spirit lamp and blow pipe; they will then be beautifully white and will look well mounted dry or in balsam. Please remember one thing, never in any case throw away the scum which rises on any of your washings, as it contains the finest and most perfect forms - the broken ones allow the air to escape and go more quickly to the bottom.’

A simple and very ingenious method, is used by Mr. Scott to separate the beautiful Astromma from the washings. Take a small oblong box, and in it insert, in an inclined position, a piece of glass as wide as, but somewhat shorter than the box. The arrangement will be easily understood on reference to the illustration (Shown below as Figure 3A).

The glass is painted black on the under side. Place some coarse Polycystina on the glass; stand the box at an angle, and rap on the upper end. The Astromma, being flat in form, will crawl up to the upper end, and the round forms will roll down to the bottom and are caught in any suitable receptacle. A little practice will speedily give you an idea of how much to incline the box in regard to giving the best result. Mount dry or in balsam.

One of the greatest drawbacks to successful mounting, especially when arranging Polycystina in symmetrical groups, is dust. Some writers recommend having a separate room for mounting, the floor to be covered with oil cloth. Ordinarily this would be impossible, but here again Mr. D. Bryce Scott's ingenuity removes the difficulty, which is a real one, as most who have tried mounting will readily admit. A good idea of the construction of this simple device may be obtained from the illustration (shown below as Figure 3B).

The two sides are of wood and the top and back end of glass, thus allowing an uninterrupted view of your work, and the use of the bull’s eye condenser. It is admirably adapted for the purpose intended. Its greatest height is 3 inches running down to 1 ¾ inches at the back; the length of the shed is 4 inches. You can easily arrange your mount at the inner end. The floor is 9 inches in length, thus enabling you to steady the whole by the weight of your hand when at work. I think I am right in saying that this is the first time that this little contrivance has been exhibited in public.

Figure 3. The two figures referred to in the 1894 report on Scott’s methods for cleaning polycystina.


The December, 1894 Microscopical Bulletin reported, “Through the kindness of Mr. D. Bryce Scott, of Moncton, N. B., we have for immediate distribution, three unmounted objects: Yucca starch, Equisetum spores, and Spicules of Gorgonia; all of which are remarkably free from extraneous matter and well worth mounting. As long as this material lasts we will send some of it to any one who will write for it on a sheet separate from other matters, inclosing two stamps for expenses. Mr. Scott will please accept our thanks on behalf of our subscribers”.

The June, 1895 Observer thanked “Mr. D. Bryce Scott, of Moncton, N. B., very kindly sends three slides of high grade of preparation and mounting, - one an opaque mount of chalk foraminifera, one astrommas transparent, and one astrommas opaque. The opaque astrommas are the ordinary polycystina brought to a white heat on platinum foil, which leaves them white but very brittle”.

Scott also donated “ten slides for mounting Foraminifera” to the Royal Microscopical Society in 1895. That description suggests that the slides were empty, and were likely examples of the “slides for opaque objects with removable cover”, with photographic grids, which he described to the Quekett Microscopical Club in 1899.

D. Bryce Scott joined the Quekett Microscopical Club on February 18, 1898. He remained on the club membership rolls through 1909. There are no indications that Scott ever travelled to London for a Quekett Club meeting.

The Journal of the Royal Microscopical Society reported in 1898, “Dr. Hebb said a letter had been received from Mr. D. Bryce Scott, in which he remarked that he had seen Mr. Durrand's paper on the Foraminifera of the Malay Archipelago, and said that if any Fellow of the Society was interested in the subject and would like to have some West India dredgings, he should be very pleased to supply them”.

Probably as a result of that letter, Arthur Earland was able to present “On Orbiculina adunca” to the Quekett Microscopical Club in June, 1898. He began his report, “A few months ago Mr. Karop very kindly placed me in communication with Mr. D. Bryce Scott, a member of this Club residing abroad, from whom I subsequently received a quantity of dredged sand from a West Indian locality, of the exact particular of which I am at present in ignorance. The material proved upon examination to be a very typical Coral Sand, presenting no special feature in its fauna, but of great interest, owing to the abundance of one species: viz., Orbiculina adunca of Fichtel and Moll. This foram occurs in great numbers, and I do not think I should be far out in estimating that quite one-quarter of the entire bulk of the material is made up of this species in a more or less perfect condition. Orbiculina is notoriously subject to great variation in shape and size; indeed, since the species was first described by Fichtel and Moll, in the year 1803, the numerous varieties have been figured and described by various authors under about fifteen synonyms. I have succeeded in obtaining a very complete series of the varieties from Mr. Scott's material, and with your permission I will now attempt to give you a short account of the life history of this foram, so far as it can be gathered from the study of the dead shells, and to illustrate by means of rough diagrams the method in which these protean shapes arise”.

Earland returned the favor in 1899, presenting detailed directions from Scott on how to make opaque slides with sliding, removable covers and containing photographed grids for mounting type slides.

There are few records of D. Bryce Scott after the turn of the 20th Century. As noted above, his membership in the Quekett Microscopical Club lapsed after 1909. In 1904, Scott wrote a letter to Country Life in regards to their Nature Library, which was incorporated as a testimonial in an advertisement, “D. Bryce Scott, Electrician, Intercolonial Railway of Canada, Moncton, N.B. ‘The volumes of the Nature Library, with Country Life, came safely to hand and are very satisfactory. They are much better than I expected for the money’."

Scott’s second wife, Laura, died June 24, 1902 of “carcinoma”. She was then only 31 years old.

Scott married a third time some time after that. The 1911 Canadian census reported that the 68 year-old railway electrician was married to 57 year-old Cordelia Scott.

D. Bryce Scott died in Moncton on May 26, 1914. An obituary notice in the Canadian Railway and Marine World reported that Scott had retired as Chief Electrician of the Intercolonial Railway only two years earlier.



The American Journal of Microscopy (1876) Recent improvements in the turn-table, Vol. 1, page 59

The American Journal of Microscopy and Popular Science (1878) Instruction in microscopy, Vol. 3, pages 235-236

The American Monthly Microscopical Journal (1894) Personal from D. Bryce Scott, Vol. 15, page 359

The American Monthly Microscopical Journal (1901) Quekett Microscopical Club Vol. 22, pages 148-149

Auditor General’s Report, 1903-1904 (1905) Intercolonial Railway, Wages: Electrical Department, page W-312

Baptism record of David Bryce Scott (1844) Accessed through Ancestry.ca

Bracegirdle, Brian (1998) Microscopical Mounts and Mounters, Quekett Microscopical Club, London, pages 18, 82, and 170, and plate 33, slides A and B (note: slide 33-A contains an additional green label, which is that of a former owner. The motto reads “Advance”, and is the crest of the Ferrier family)

Brooklyn city directory (1874) D. Brice Scott, h 137 11th

Brooklyn city directory (1878) D. Brice Scott, h 394 6th Ave, Tel. Oper. (probably a typographical error, actual address was more likely 354 11th Ave.)

Brooklyn city directory (1881) D. Brice Scott, h 354 6th Ave, Tel. Oper.

Brooklyn/New York city directory (1882) D. Bryce Scott, h 61 Broadway, Insp.

Brooklyn/New York city directory (1884) D. Bryce Scott, h 16 Broad, Insp.

Brooklyn city directory (1886) D. Bryce Scott, h 340 Pearl, Tel.

Canadian census, birth, marriage and death records, accessed through ancestry.ca

The Canadian Naturalist and Quarterly Journal of Science (1870) Natural History Society – Annual Conversazione, Vol. 5, pages 80-81

The Canadian Naturalist and Quarterly Journal of Science (1871) Montreal Microscopic Club monthly meeting, Vol. 5, page 445

Canadian Railway and Marine World (1914) Note on the death of D.B. Scott, page 327

Country Life (1905) Advertisement, Vol. 6, page 123

Death record of Mrs. D.B. Scott [i.e. Laura] (1902) accessed through ancestry.ca

Death record of D. Bryce Scott (1914) accessed through ancestry.ca

Earland, Arthur (1898) On Orbicula adunca (Fichel and Moll) and its varieties, Journal of the Quekett Microscopical Club, Series 2, Vol. 7, pages 88-92

Educational Review (1887) The Summer School of Science, Vol. 13, pages 10 and 37

Electrical Engineer (1895) The Canadian ship canal lock at Sault St. Marie and its electrical operation, Vol. 20, pages 380-381

Johnston’s Electrical and Street Railway Directory (1894) Moncton, W.J. Johnston, New York, page 112

Journal of the Quekett Microscopical Club (1898) D. Bryce Scott elected to membership, Series 2, Vol. 7, page 48

Journal of the Quekett Microscopical Club (1909) Membership list, Series 2, Vol. 10

Journal of the Quekett Microscopical Club (1911) Membership list, Series 2, Vol. 11

Journal of the Royal Microscopical Society (1895) Donation from D. Bryce Scott, Vol. 15, page 709

Journal of the Royal Microscopical Society (1898) Note on letter from D. Bryce Scott, page 353

Marriage record of David Bryce Scott and Edmere Lydia Hensley (1866) Accessed through Ancestry.ca

Marriage record of David Bryce Scott and Laura Wallit (undated, records range 1888-1919) Accessed through Ancestry.ca

The Microscopical Bulletin (1894) Notes of microscopical material provided by D. Bryce Scott, Vol. 11, pages 18 and 48

New York Microscopical Society web site, http://www.nyms.org

The Observer (1895) Acknowledgment of donation of slides from D. Bryce Scott, Vol. 6, page 92

Reid, James D. (1886) The Telegraph in America and Morse Memorial, self-published, page 842

Richards, F.W. (1894) Polycystina: methods of cleaning and mounting, Vol. 11, pages 20-22

Scott, D. Bryce (1895) Letter on increasing the price of the magazine, The Observer, Vol. 6, page 709

Scott, D. Bryce (1899) A method of making type slides for opaque objects with removable cover, Journal of the Quekett Microscopical Club, Series 2, Vol. 7, pages 167-170

Specifications and Drawings of Patents Relating to Electricity Issued by the United States (1886) Patent 350469 issued to D. Bryce Scott, U.S. Patent Office, Washington, Vol. 56

Transactions of the New York Microscopical Society (1878) Vol. 1, pages 1-7 and 16

United States Federal census (1880)