Charles Henry Vance Smith, 1845 - 1885
"C.V.S."

by Brian Stevenson
last updated March, 2021

Charles Vance Smith had a brief, impactful career as a professional microscope slide-maker (Figures 1-4). He produced highly-regarded preparations of botanical specimens from around 1879 until his death at the age of 39, in 1885. A colleague noted that Smith had been "paralysed for many years", which may have contributed to his early death.

A memoriam noted that Smith "had attained a high position amongst microscopists through his delineation of the microscopical structure of plants". The editor of Hardwicke's Science-Gossip stated that "Much time is saved the student by such beautiful stained preparations as those sent by Mr. C.V. Smith". Smith made technological advances in mounting techniques, including development of a mounting medium for desmids, which tend to fade in color with time, such that another colleague reported, "The very successful mounts of Mr. C. Vance Smith now enable us to possess the Desmids in our cabinets in their almost natural state, and with colour preserved". In a clever business move, Smith produced series of slides mounted with specimens that were illustrated in two popular, important botanical works, thereby creating a market with people who read the books and wanted to study preserved specimens (Figures 2-4).


Figure 1. Examples of microscope slides that were prepared by Charles Vance Smith, bearing his "C.V.S" label. Note that he used labels with typeset printing, handwriting, and combinations of the two. The secondary label of W.F. Stanley is probably original, from retail by that London optical retailer. The green device with 6 holes on the rightmost slide holds specimens of six different types of starches, and was noted in 1879 advertisements (see Figure 5).

 


Figure 2. A microscope slide by C.V. Smith of "collenchyma in section of petiole of Begonia", as illustrated and described in Figure 24B of Julius Sachs' "Text-Book of Botany" / "Lehrbuch der Botanik" (see Figure 9). Photomicrograph taken with a 10x objective lens and C-mounted digital SLR camera.

 


Figure 3. A C.V. Smith slide of "Annular vessels from stem of Arundo donax", as illustrated and described in Figure 32 of Otto Thomé's "Text-Book of Structural and Physiological Botany (see Figure 10). Photomicrograph taken with crossed polarizing filters, a 10x objective lens and C-mounted digital SLR camera.

 


Figure 4. Microscope slide by C.V. Smith slide of "Pteris aquilina, transverse section of rhizome", as illustrated and described in Figure 438 of Otto Thomé's "Text-Book of Structural and Physiological Botany (see Figure 10). Photomicrograph taken with a 3.5x objective lens and C-mounted digital SLR camera.

 

Charles Henry Vance Smith was born during the autumn of 1845, second child and eldest son of George Vance and Agnes Jane (nee Fletcher) Smith. The name "Vance" was evidently a historical family name of significance, as the father, Charles, and a younger brother, Philip, had it as a middle name. Some contemporary documents presented it as part of the surname, as "Vance Smith", and the death record of Charles' mother lister her surname as "Vance-Smith". Further complicating naming of the family, the 1871 census recorded Charles and his mother as being together in Bilton, Yorkshire, with names reported as "Chas. H. Vance" and "Agnes J.V. Smith".

Some of those naming complications may have arisen from Charles' father's important position in mid-1800 English religious politics. Widely known as "George Vance Smith", he was an esteemed Unitarian minister, author of numerous religious books, and a member of an international committee that was tasked to produce the New English Revised Bible.

George Vance Smith's ministry and education likely had significant impacts on Charles' slide-making career. In 1857, George took his family to Germany, where he studied for a year at the University of Tübingen. Charles Vance Smith later translated a paper by Leopold Dippell from German to English, implying that he developed fluency in German. That knowledge may have also helped him with his slide series to accompany the botanical textbooks of Julius Sachs and Otto Thomé, which were originally written in German. It is possible that Charles Smith knew Sachs and Thomé through his connections to Germany.

As noted above, a colleague described Charles Vance Smith as having been "paralysed for many years". It is not known whether that was due to a birth defect, an illness such as polio, or an accident. His paralysis may explain not only his early death, but also why Smith does not appear to have lived an independent life. The 1871 census listed Charles as working as a "commercial clerk" in Bilton, accompanied by his mother. His father and sister, however, lived in Bootham, Yorkshire, where George served a ministry. The next census, and all correspondences from Charles, show him as living with his parents.

The earliest known record of C.V. Smith as a microscopist was an 1876 exchange request in Hardwicke's Science-Gossip: "Wanted, Living Desmids in exchange for Mounted Specimens which will retain their colour. Any genera except Closterium - Communicate with Charles Vance-Smith, old Chapel Parsonage, Dukinfield, near Manchester". His comment that his mounted specimens "will retain their colour" implies that he had already developed a mounting medium for desmids that facilitated retention of their natural colors.

Two years later, Smith wrote a query to Hardwicke's Science-Gossip, "Actino-cyclus Berkleyi – I have some specimens of this diatom, with reference to which I shall be glad if one of your correspondents will give me a little information. I should like to know, in the first place, whose nomenclature A. Berkley is; and, secondly, whether it is synonymous with any of the species described in the fourth edition of Pritchard's 'Infusoria'; if not, where are the specific characters to be found?" This letter implies that Smith was studying diatoms by 1878.

He joined the Quekett Microscopical Club on July 25, 1879. The Smith family had moved to Carmarthen, Wales in 1876, where George became Principal of the Presbyterian College. Living over 200 miles / 340 km from London, it is doubtful that Charles Vance Smith attended many, or any, meetings of the QMC. Nonetheless, he frequently provided slides for exhibition at Club meetings, and remained a member until his death.

C.V. Smith had begun his professional microscopy career by 1879, publishing numerous advertisements of microscope slides for sale (Figure 5).

His skills in preparing botanical specimens was evident from two exchange offers that were also published in 1879: "Wanted, unset specimens of British Spiculiferous Hymenoptera, especially the Chalcididae. Well-mounted slides of vegetable tissues stained in two colours, offered in exchange", and "Wanted, a little sand or dredgings containing globigerina. A liberal exchange in double-stained vegetable tissues in return".

Smith joined the Postal Microscopical Society in November, 1881.

The 1881 census reported that C.V. Smith had "no occupation". His 1885 death record also stated that he had no occupation, and the probate of his estate described him as "gentleman". Those may reflect that his mail-order slide business was not considered to be a "real job".

Smith began producing slides to accompany Sachs' botanical book around 1882. In the middle of that year, he posted this exchange offer: "Wanted, gatherings of desmids; especially Quastrum, Cosmarium, Staurastrum, Desmidium, and Didymoprium. Valuable botanical slides, reproducing figures in Sachs's 'Botany' in exchange". In mid-1883, he advertised "about 50 new varieties" of slides to accompany both Sachs and Thomé (Figure 6).

As did other professional slide-makers, Smith curried favor with editors of popular science magazines by sending them sample slides. The editor of Hardwicke's Science-Gossip wrote in 1884, "Nothing could more plainly indicate the great strides made in the popularization and wider study of natural science than that its pursuit has made it necessary for specialists to supply materials for study. Much time is saved the student by such beautiful stained preparations as those sent by Mr. C.V. Smith, of Carmarthen, showing a transverse section of the ovary of Malva moschata, and another presenting a vertical section of the ovary of Digitalis purpurea".

Unfortunately, Charles Vance Smith died on March 7, 1885, when only 39 years old. His death record states the cause as "abscess in the bowels, 3 months". By all accounts, he was a the peak of his skills as a mounter. Whatever the nature of his paralysis, it does not appear to have affected his dexterity.


Figure 5. 1879 advertisements, from "Hardwicke's Science-Gossip".

 


Figure 6. An 1883 advertisement, noting that Smith had produced 50 new varieties of slides to accompany the botanical textbooks of Sachs and Thomé.

 


Figure 7. Another 1883 advertisement.

 


Figure 8. An 1884 advertisement.

 


Figure 9. Title pages from the 1874 German and 1875 English translation of Julius Sachs' textbook on botany.

 


Figure 10. Title pages from the 1872 German and 1877 English translation of Thomé's botany textbook.

 

Acknowledgement

Thanks to my friend, the late Peter Paisley, for his valuable essay on Charles Vance Smith.

 

Resources

Birth record of Agnes Anne Smith (1844) accessed through ancestry.com

Birth record of Charles Henry Vance Smith (1845) accessed through ancestry.com

Birth record of George Hamilton Smith (1848) accessed through ancestry.com

Birth record of Philip Vance Smith (1853) accessed through ancestry.com

Bracegirdle, Brian (1998) Microscopical Mounts and Mounters, Quekett Microscopical Club, London, pages 86, 172, and 186, and Plates 34-B, 41-A, and 41-B

Death record of Charles Henry Vance Smith (1885) accessed from the General Records Office (UK)

Death record of Agnes Jane Vance-Smith (1893) accessed through ancestry.com

England census and other records, accessed through ancestry.com

Gordon, Alexander (1912) Smith, George Vance, Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement, https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Dictionary_of_National_Biography,_1912_supplement/Smith,_George_Vance

Hardwicke's Science-Gossip (1876) Exchange offer from C.V. Smith, Vol. 12, page 240

Hardwicke's Science-Gossip (1879) Exchange offers from C.V. Smith, Vol. 15, pages 168 and 216

Hardwicke's Science-Gossip (1879) Advertisements from C.V. Smith, Vol. 15, multiple issues

Hardwicke's Science-Gossip (1881) Exchange offers from C.V. Smith, Vol. 17, pages 120 and 144

Hardwicke's Science-Gossip (1882) Exchange offers from C.V. Smith, Vol. 18, pages 192 and 263

Hardwicke's Science-Gossip (1883) Advertisements from C.V. Smith, Vol. 19, multiple issues

Hardwicke's Science-Gossip (1884) Editor's note on slides that were contributed by C.V. Smith, Vol. 20, page 89

Hardwicke's Science-Gossip (1884) Exchange offers from C.V. Smith, Vol. 20, pages 120 and 168

Hardwicke's Science-Gossip (1884) Advertisements from C.V. Smith, Vol. 20, multiple issues

Hardwicke's Science-Gossip (1885) Advertisements from C.V. Smith, Vol. 21, multiple issues

Hardwicke's Science-Gossip (1885) Minutes of the Liverpool Microscopical Society: "Mr. I.C. Thompson referred to the loss sustained to microscopical science through the death of Mr. Charles Vance Smith, who, though paralysed for many years, had attained a high position amongst microscopists through his delineation of the microscopical structure of plants", Vol. 21, page 139

The Journal of Microscopy and Natural Science (1884) "Mr. Chas. V. Smith, of Carmarthen, has sent us his Classified Catalogue of very valuable and instructive slides, illustrating the Structure, Growth, and Reproduction of Plants", Vol. 3, page 195

The Journal of Microscopy and Natural Science (1884) Advertisement from C.V. Smith, Vol. 3, inside front cover

The Journal of the Postal Microscopical Society (1882) Members: "Nov., 1881, Smith C. Vance, 3, Parade, Carmarthen", Vol. 1

The Journal of the Quekett Microscopical Club (1879) Members: "July 25, 1879, Smith, Charles Vance, 5 Parade, Carmarthen", Vol. 5

The Journal of the Quekett Microscopical Club (1881) Minutes of the June 24 Ordinary Meeting, "The following additions to the Library and Cabinet were announced, and the thanks of the meeting accorded to the Donors … 7 Slides - Desmids Mr. C.V. Smith. A letter from Mr. Curties relating to these slides was read to the meeting. The President remarked that if Mr. Vance Smith had succeeded in doing what was stated, he had done a very great thing. He had himself tried a great many things, but all the various mixtures he had used had been found to fail, except the water in which the Desmids were found. Some time ago he saw a suggestion in the 'Royal Microscopical Journal' that pickling vinegar had been used with success, and he had given it a trial, and found that it had not at present disturbed the endochrome, but it appeared to have changed the colour to that peculiar green which was commonly observed in pickles", Vol. 6, pages 321-326

The Journal of Science (1885) "The death of Charles Vance Smith, of Carmarthen, is announced. The deceased was noted for his skill in preparing vegetable tissues for the microscope: his series illustrating the manuals of Sach and Thome are well known, and are admirable reproductions of the figures in those works, and of immense value to students unable to procure the specimens for themselves", page 244

Paisley, Peter (2010) Charles Henry Vance Smith – more than meets the eye, Micscape, http://www.microscopy-uk.org.uk/mag/artsep10/pp-cvsmith.html

Papurau Newydd Cymru (1902) Dr. Vance Smith dead, March 4 issue

Probate of the estate of Charles Henry Vance Smith (1885) "Administration of the Personal Estate of Charles Vance Smith late of 3 the Parade in the County of the Borough of Carmarthen Gentleman a Bachelor who died 7 March 1885 at 3 the Parade was granted at Carmarthen to the Reverend George Vance Smith of 3 the Parade Doctor of Theology the Father and Next of Kin. Personal Estate £193", accessed through ancestry.com

Sachs, Julius (1874) Lehrbuch der Botanik, Verlag von Wilhelm Engelmann, Leipzig

Sachs, Julius (1875) Text-Book of Botany, Morphological and Physiological, Translated by Alfred W Bennett and W.T. Thiselton Dyer, Clarendon Press, Oxford

Smith, C.V. (1878) Actino-cyclus berkleyi, Hardwicke's Science-Gossip, Vol. 14, page 37

Smith, C.V. (1882) On the microscopical examination of chlorophyll, inulin, and protein-crystals, translated from the German of Dr. Leopold Dippell, The Journal of the Postal Microscopical Society, Vol. 1, pages 12-14

Thomé, Otto W. (1872) Lehrbuch der Botanik, Fr. Vieweg, Braunschweig

Thomé, Otto W. (1877) Text-Book of Structural and Physiological Botany, Translated by Alfred W Bennett, John Wiley & Sons, New York

Thompson, I.C. (1883) On the classification and labelling of microscopical objects, Hardwicke's Science-Gossip, Vol. 19, pages 249-251

Wales census records, accessed through ancestry.com