James Smith, 1800 - 1873

by Brian Stevenson
last updated December, 2017

James Smith was one of the most highly-regarded microscope manufacturers of Victorian England, considered to have produced instruments that are on par with Alexander Ross, Hugh Powell, and Peter Lealand. Smith had been anonymously producing microscope bodies for various retailers until, in 1826, he was contracted by Charles Tulley to produce a novel frame for an achromatic microscope that had been ordered from him by J.J. Lister. Lister taught Smith the intricacies of grinding lenses and, beginning in 1839, Smith began retailing microscopes under his own name. Lister’s business partner, Richard L. Beck, signed his son, Richard, to an apprenticeship with Smith. In 1847, James Smith and Richard Beck formed the partnership of Smith & Beck. Later, in 1857, Richard’s younger brother, Joseph, joined the partnership, forming Smith, Beck & Beck. James Smith resigned from the company in 1866, which reorganized as Beck and Beck / R. & J. Beck. For several years afterward, Smith produced additional microscopes, alongside his eldest son, James John Smith.

Despite Smith’s many contributions to microscopy, very little has been published about his life. His death in 1873 does not appear to have been noted by the Royal Microscopical Society or any scientific publication. Curiously, the earliest mention of Smith’s death that I have identified was a 1900 paper on Smith’s microscopes by E.M. Nelson, which ended with the inaccurate statement, “I am informed that James Smith died about 1870”. That error has been repeated in many subsequent biographies.

To rectify these deficiencies, the present essay emphasizes aspects of Smith’s life before and after his Smith & Beck / Smith, Beck & Beck partnerships.

Figure 1. Microphotograph portrait of James Smith, prepared by William Moginie (“W.M.”). Smith and Moginie were both members of the Royal Microscopical Society, and so would have known each other. Another copy of this microphotograph was shown by R.H. Nuttall in the Quekett Journal of Microscopy ( ), along with evidence that this was the microscope maker. According to Nuttall, Moginie’s images are the only known portraits of James Smith.


James Smith’s commonplace name creates difficulties in distinguishing his records from those of the many other London men who had the same name. However, a number of identified records are clearly those of our microscopist, such as censuses and his children’s baptism records.

England took national censuses every ten years, beginning in 1841. The 1841 census was taken that summer, while the other censuses were taken in the spring. The head of household, or whomever the census-taker interviewed, provided each inhabitant’s age. For James Smith, these were: 1841, 40 years old; 1851, 50 years old; 1861, 60 years old; and 1871, 70 years old. His December 7, 1873 death record gave his age as 73 years old. Assuming the reported ages are precise, they indicate that James Smith was born between March and December of 1800.

Gloria Clifton, in Directory of British Scientific Instrument Makers 1550-1851, cites a record from the Turners’ Guild that one James Smith was apprenticed to Daniel Weeden in 1806. Weeden was an optical instrument maker in Clerkenwell, London. That same record indicated that James Smith’s father was named William, and worked as a tailor. However, our James Smith’s birth in 1800 makes it impossible for him to have been the same person who was apprenticed 6 years later. There were several other optical instrument makers named James Smith who worked in London during the early 1800s (see Clifton), so Weeden’s apprentice may have been one of those other men. For examples, another man named James Smith worked as an optician at The Royal Exchange ca. 1817-1823, and yet another optician named James Smith operated at 17 Bath place, New road, Fitzroy square ca. 1822-1831 (see Figure 21, at the end of this essay).

A man named James Smith was granted membership in the Founders Guild on November 28, 1820, as a consequence of the membership of his father, John Smith. Founders was the guild of brass and bronze workers. Our microscope-making James Smith initially was a maker of brass parts, and only later learned how to grind glass. Please note that there is no firm evidence for the microscope-maker having been the founder.

Jabez Hogg, writing in 1854, provided some information on Smith’s early working years. Considering that Smith and Hogg would have known each other, the information is probably accurate: “Mr. Lister, who was engaged with Mr. Tulley in the perfecting the achromatic object-glass, finding that none of the microscope-stands hitherto made were sufficiently steady for the use of high powers, directed his attention to the improvement of this part of the instrument; and in order to carry out his views, he employed Mr. James Smith, now one of our first opticians, to execute a stand from his own drawings, which he completed early in 1826”. Joseph Jackson Lister (1786-1869) was a wine merchant and a science enthusiast. Among other skills, he learned to precisely grind glass lenses. Lister is credited for numerous advances in microscopy and other fields. Charles Tulley (died in October, 1830, at the age of 69) was an optical instrument maker and early member of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Smith worked for Tulley to some extent, probably as a contracted manufacturer of brass components. Smith’s later partner, Joseph Beck (who was Lister’s nephew), described Smith as having made “instruments … for the trade”. Nelson wrote that “James Smith finished this Microscope on May 30th, 1826”. Clay and Court (1930) confirmed that statement, “entries in J.J. Lister’s account books, which show payments ‘on account’ to James Smith, at about this time, ‘for brasswork for the microscope he is making’ and a final payment to Tulley”. The separate payment to Smith indicates that he was not a full-time employee of Tulley’s.

Smith and Richard Beck (Joseph Beck’s elder brother and Smith’s first partner) displayed that instrument to the Microscopical Society of London in 1864, describing it as “a microscope stand, designed by Mr. Lister in March, 1826. The work was executed by James Smith, under Mr. Lister's superintendence, and was finished in 1827 (sic). This instrument is the basis from which has been built up all the improvements in the achromatic microscope which have taken place in this country. The object-glass was worked by Mr. Lister's own hands in 1830, and its aperture was at that time larger than any other glass made either before or for some time after”.

Figure 2. The microscope that James Smith made for Joseph J. Lister in 1826. Adapted for nonprofit, educational purposes from


An 1829 report in Gill’s Technological Repository implies a second Smith microscope: “On Mr. William Tulley's achromatic microscopes - Since our last number was published, we have been twice gratified by the sight of two of these excellent but nearly unique instruments; as, on account of the very great difficulty attending the working and combining the six lenses forming the achromatic object-glasses, it is not very likely that many of these microscopes will ever be constructed. The first of these instruments we saw in Mr. Tulley's own hands, at his father's residence in Islington, and were highly gratified with its performance; and the second in Mr. Lister's possession, for whom Mr. W. Tulley had constructed it”. Gill gave credit for the microscopes to William Tulley, who was son and successor to Charles Tulley.

James Bowerbank (1797-1877), a renowned microscopist and president of the Royal Microscopical Society, recounted, “My first introduction to Mr. William Tulley was in 1828, at the house of a friend to whom he was showing some of his favourite test objects; and before we parted that evening he had kindly engaged to make me such another instrument as the one through which we had been looking. Shortly afterwards, as he was unable, from press of other business, to complete my instrument, he placed in my hands his own, and the original combinations with which to work until he could complete the one ordered by me. He told me that but four such as I had ordered had been made, and that they were in the hands of Mr. Lister, Dr. Birkbeck, Lord Ashley, and himself”. Clay and Court state that Lister’s account books record purchases of the above-described Smith-Tulley microscope, an earlier purchase of a microscope from Robert B. Bate (1782-1847), and an 1840 purchase of another microscope from James Smith (discussed below). They do not mention purchases of other microscopes during that time, implying that the microscope described by Bowerbank was the one made by Smith. Thus, if Bowerbank’s memory was correct, he indicated that four instruments similar to that shown in Figure 2 were produced by James Smith shortly after 1826.

Lord Ashley (Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 1801-1885) was a politician and, in 1851, became Earl of Shaftesbury. An 1830 paper by H. Coddington may have described one of the four early Smith microscopes: “Tulley has just finished an achromatic microscope ordered for Lord Ashley, about six months ago. This instrument, which I have seen, is a masterpiece of art, but I believe that the above eminent optician has been obliged to make the object-glass with his own hands, and the price is far beyond the reach of most naturalists”.

Smith continued to work as a wholesale supplier to commercial retailers through the 1830s. He does not appear to be included period trade directories, consistent with a wholesaler rather than retailer.

Business evidently was good enough for Smith to start a family. His first known child, James John Smith, was born in 1833, and christened on June 10, 1833 at St. James Clerkenwell. The father was described on parish records as being an “optical instrument maker”, implying that to be his main output. The child’s mother was named Maria. She is listed with James in the 1841 census. The 1851 census listed James’ wife as being named Ann, although of the same age as Maria would have been. Those names and ages suggest that James Smith may have been the person of that name who married Mary Ann Rance at St. James Clerkenwell on January 22, 1833. Regarding the proximity of the marriage and the son’s birth, it was relatively common in that period for couples to cohabit before marriage.

Clifton states that Smith “attended London Mechanics Institute” in 1834. I have not found corroborating evidence, but it is possible that the 34 year-old Smith either taught at that institution or performed work for it.

Three additional children were born during the 1830s: William Robert Smith was christened on December 25, 1835 (father James described as an “optician”); Samuel Smith was christened on November 26, 1838 (father James described as a “mathematical instrument maker”); and Maria Eliza Smith, born November 30, 1840 (father James described as an “optician”). The 1841 census listed James, Maria, their four children, and 15 year-old apprentice Charles Collop as living at 50 Ironmonger Row.

Smith joined the Microscopical Society of London (later the Royal Microscopical Society) on February 19, 1840.

Around 1839, Smith began to produce microscopes under his own name. Joseph Beck recounted that “Joseph Jackson Lister had for several years been working on the microscope object-glass … He had been using an instrument constructed by Mr. Pritchard, and, finding the stand very far from what he thought desirable, he called on Mr. Bates (sic), Optician in the Poultry, and asked him if he could recommend to him a good worker in brass. He sent him to James Smith, Ironmonger Row, St. Luke's, who was making instruments on Pritchard's model for the trade. Under J.J. Lister's supervision, and from designs of his own, he constructed three stands which, when finished, James Smith being afraid he might interfere with his trade connection if he sold them privately, he advised him, as he did not wish to interfere with the trade, to take them round to his customers and offer them for sale. Thus advised, he took them to Bates, Dixey, and Dollond. On looking at them, all these opticians refused to purchase them, saying they would not suit their customers, and he came back sadly disappointed. J.J. Lister then told him he must sell them privately, and he would see what he could do for him. The first was purchased by Richard Low Beck, (Lister’s) partner in the wine trade … and was delivered in 1839 (Figure 3). Another was bought by Mr. Alexander of Ipswich, and the third was probably, but of this there is no documentary evidence, purchased by J.J. Lister himself. From this time James Smith started as a maker of microscopes, and J.J. Lister taught him how to grind the glasses, those supplied with the instrument having been designed, if not actually worked, by J.J. Lister”.

Figure 3. The first microscope produced by James Smith under his own name, delivered on May 29, 1839, to Richard Low Beck. Beck was the father of James Smith’s later partners Richard and Joseph Beck, and Joseph J. Lister’s brother-in-law and business partner. Left image adapted for nonprofit, educational purposes from The Science Museum, London. Right image adapted from E.M. Nelson, 1900.


By 1841, James Smith was recognized as one of the best manufacturers of microscopes in England. He received a very important order in early 1841: to produce a custom microscope for the Microscopical Society of London. The delivered microscope has serial number 43. It was described in The Microscopic Journal, “The Council of the Microscopic Society of London came to a resolution some months since, to purchase for the Society an Achromatic Microscope of the first character, from each of the three most eminent makers in this country. The first of these was delivered to their order at the meeting in November 1841, by Mr. James Smith of No. 50, Iron­monger Row, Old Street, St. Luke's, and we are now enabled to give a figure and description of it. The second microscope was received by the Society from Mr. Powell in December of the same year, and has been described, with diagrams, in No. 12, of this Journal, and the third is about to be furnished by Mr. Ross, which we hope to describe in a future number. The present instrument stands on a stout tripod pillar and joint, and may be planted at any inclination from vertical to horizontal; its whole construction is planned with a view to obtaining freedom from tremor; this being, when the higher powers are used, essential to beauty and distinctness of picture; it is mostly used with the body sloping, as re­presented in the figure, and with the light on the left of the observer. The Body slides by a rack and pinion, moved by the milled-head on a strong dovetailed bar; and has also a slow motion for delicate adjustment of focus, given by the milled-head, which is divided from 0 to 9, and alters the distance of the object from the glass about 1/180th of an inch by every revolution. It is furnished with a Sliding Tube, graduated to tenths of an inch, for varying its length, and with three sliding Huygenian Eye-pieces of successive powers” (Figure 4).

Figure 4. The microscope that James Smith produced for the Microscopical Society of London, delivered on November 30, 1841. It bears his name, and the serial number 43. Adapted for nonprofit, educational purposes from https://www.mhs.ox.ac.uk/collections/imu-search-page/record-details/?TitInventoryNo=44588.


Smith took Richard Beck (1827-1866) as an apprentice in 1841. Beck was a son of customer Richard Low Beck, and nephew of Joseph J. Lister. The apprenticeship ended in 1847, and Smith and Beck became partners. At the same time, the microscope business moved from Smith’s former home at 50 Ironmonger’s Row to 6 Coleman Street. The 1851 census shows that Smith and his family lived at 6 Coleman. They shared the house with two apprentices, James Stinton and Frances Jeases, and a domestic servant. Beck lived with his parents and siblings in Stoke Newington (along with a cook, a housemaid, a nursemaid, and a gardener).

Smith and Beck published a book in 1848, Charles Woodward’s A Familiar Introduction to the Study of Polarized Light. A two-page catalogue of Smith and Beck’s microscopes and accessories was included inside the book. A similar mini-catalogue appeared in the first, 1848 edition of John Quekett’s Practical Treatise on the Use of the Microscope (Figure 6).

The partners exhibited at the 1851 International Exposition, described as, “Glass case; in the top, are stands for compound achromatic microscopes, constructed so as to avoid tremor, with adjustments and complete apparatus. In the middle, are the requisites for mounting microscopic objects, the cells, slips, thin glass, fluid covers, &c., and a few preparations as specimens. The bottom is a new form of cabinet for the objects. Two tables, with revolving tops, for successively turning the microscope to two or three persons who can conveniently sit round”.

The jury report on Smith and Beck’s Council Medal read, “Smith and Beck … exhibit a microscope, the stand of which in appearance is not highly finished, but their forbearance to expend time and money on elaborately finishing the non-working part has been adopted on the strong recommendation of some of the oldest naturalists in London, in order that students may acquire instruments with first-rate glasses at the least possible expense, and that such instruments may be brought within the compass of those whose means are limited. The stand is excellent in principle: the body, stage, and appliances beneath are all carried on one stout cast bar, on the recommendation of Mr. E. Jackson, by means of which the centering of the achromatic illumination is rendered easy and certain, and on any tremor being communicated to the instrument, it is equally distributed over the whole of the working parts. The lever motion to the stage of this instrument is the most easy and generally useful that has yet been applied. If used with the right hand, while the quick and slow adjustments to the focus are worked with the left, there is no animalcule that cannot he readily followed, however fitful and rapid its movements; and any globule of blood pursuing its course through the most tortuous of the capillaries, can be steadily and easily traced, and every alteration of its form observed during its passage through these minute vessels. The field of view may also be swept horizontally or perpendicularly, and the most delicate micrometrical measurements made with great ease and precision. This stage is the invention of Mr. Alfred White; the rabbited groove on which the body moves was suggested by Mr. George Jackson, at whose recommendation the fulcrum of the stage movement was fixed to a spring, instead of to a rigid bar. The simplicity and efficiency of the whole of this stand are highly commendable. The object-glasses examined were of first-rate quality, and were as follows: 2/3-inch focus of 45o aperture, 4/10-inch focus of 70o to 75o aperture, 4/10-inch focus of 60o aperture, 1/5-inch focus of 100o to 105o aperture. They are beautifully corrected for spherical aberration, but the secondary speculum has not been much diminished. The half-inch focus of 70o aperture is a wonderfully fine combination, easily showing objects, considered difficult for a one-eighth inch focal length a little more than a year since, and bearing the application of the higher eyepieces in an unprecedented manner. Smith and Beck also exhibit all that is necessary for the mounting of microscopic objects, as cells, slips, thin glass, fluids, covers, &c, and a few preparations as specimens. There is, also, a new form of cabinet, for the reception of objects, the names of which may be exposed, by means of porcelain labels with which they are furnished, and from which the pencil-writing can be easily effaced. There are two tables with revolving tops, by which the microscope can be turned readily round for the convenience of examination by different observers, and thus rendered a social instrument. The microscopes are furnished with portable silver reflector and annular condenser, which exhibit transparent objects upon a dark ground. (This invention was made by Mr. Wenham, and Smith and Beck claim its first execution)”.

Smith and Beck published an important work in 1853, William Smith’s A Synopsis of the British Diatomaceae. William Smith’s nephew and assistant, Charles Coppock (1837-1900), went to work with Smith and Beck in 1856. Coppock later became a partner in the successor business, R. and J. Beck (see below).

Smith published descriptions of some of his microscope accessory inventions in 1859. These included a slide-making clamp (Figure 11), a stage mount to facilitate use of selenite filters (Figure 12), a microtome, a slide cabinet, and a sample-collecting bottle. He provided his address as 21 Soley Terrace, Pentonville.

The 1861 census indicates that James was then a widower (details of his wife’s death have yet to be located). He lived at 56 Tollington Road, Islington, with eldest son James John Smith and family. James John was also an “optician”. This son was similarly recorded in the 1851 census, and may have then been an employee of Smith and Beck. He may have still been employed in 1861, although he formed an independent microscope-making business at some point during the 1860s. Third son Samuel Smith lived at 3 Aston Place, Islington, and was a “microscope maker”, suggesting that he may have worked for his father. Second son William Smith had followed a different route - he was a “bookbinder” – although he had a boarder named William Taylor who was a “microscope maker” and possibly one of his father’s employees.

The 1861 census also shows that the Smith, Beck, and Beck factory and shop at 6 Coleman Street was occupied by Charles Coppock and a servant.

Smith, Beck, and Beck moved their business to 31 Cornhill during June, 1863 (Figure 16).

James Smith retired from Smith, Beck, and Beck in mid-1866 (Figures 17 and 18). The business reformed as R. and J. Beck, with Richard and Joseph Beck as owners. Richard soon died, “at the early age of thirty-nine, on the 20th of September …, through a disease of the heart, first contracted when suffering from rheumatic fever at school, and which had been suddenly aggravated six months previous to his decease”. Joseph Beck then formed a new partnership with Charles Coppock and Robert Kemp, but retained the business name of R. and J. Beck.

Smith probably did not retire from the microscope business, however. He appears to have worked alongside his eldest son, James John Smith, at their home/shop at 56 Tollington Road. Microscopes and lenses are known that are engraved “James Smith late Smith and Beck” (Figures 19-20) and “James Smith Junr” (Turner, 1989, page 176), all with the Tollington Road address.

James John Smith joined the Royal Microscopical Society on November 14, 1866, an event that might coincide with establishment of business with his father (connections through the RMS would be very helpful for a microscope manufacturer). Consistent with that strategy, James John donated a 1/20-inch objective lens to the RMS in May, 1868.

The 1871 census reported that James Smith was a “retired optician”, living with James John Smith (“optician”) and his family at 56 Tollington Road. Son Samuel Smith was reported to be an “achromatic microscope maker”, living at 117 Drury Lane, Saint Clement Danes. He may have worked with his father and brother, for another manufacturer, or on his own.

James Smith died at home on December 7, 1873, being 73 years old. The probate record of his will read, “The will of James Smith late of 56 Tollington-road Holloway in the County of Middlesex Gentleman who died 7 December 1873 at 56 Tollington-road was proved at the Principal Registry by James John Smith of 56 Tollington-road Optician and William Robert Smith of 58 Pownall-road Dalston in the said county Bookbinder the Sons the Executors”.

James John Smith died shortly afterward, on March 30, 1877.

Figure 5. James Smith microscope serial number 109. Adapted with permission from http://www.antique-microscopes.com/photos/smith.htm.


Figure 6. 1848 mini-catalogue from Smith and Beck, included in the first edition of John Quekett’s ‘Practical Treatise on the Use of the Microscope’.


Figure 7. Smith and Beck binocular microscope and accessories, serial number 1538. Adapted for nonprofit, educational purposes from an internet auction site.


Figure 8. Smith and Beck binocular “Second Class or Number 3” microscope, serial number 3144. The cabinet includes space for a monocular body, and numerous accessories. Adapted for nonprofit, educational purposes from an internet auction site.


Figure 9. Smith and Beck “Educational” microscope. The instrument collapses to fit into a wooden cabinet the size of a shoebox. Adapted for nonprofit, educational purposes from http://www.arsmachina.com/beckstudent1257.htm.


Figure 10. Microscope slides and paper covers that were sold by Smith, Beck, and Beck. A. Sold prior to 1863, with address 6 Coleman Street. B. Sold between 1863 and 1866, with address 31 Cornhill. C. The company sold paper covers to microscopists who made their own slides - the letters “S” and “B” are included in the pattern. D. An example of a slide with a Smith, Beck cover paper. This was probably prepared by an amateur slide-maker for his/her own use, noting that the “S” and “B” are upside down relative to the specimen description.


Figure 11. James Smith’s slide-making clamp, first described by him in 1859. Diagrams from his paper are shown above a photograph of a surviving clamp. “This instrument, as shown in the drawings, consists of a brass rod (A), with a handle at the one end, while the other terminates in a flat brass plate (C), one inch wide by two or three long, slightly turned up at the sides for the purpose of down in the centre of the flat plate, a spring (G) keeps the two arms apart, and, where permanent pressure is required, a loose ring (E) (or, if found more convenient, a small screw) keeps the upper arm in a fixed position by sliding it up as far as it will go. holding the slide; another arm (B) is joined by a hinge to the first at F, and terminates in a small disc (D). To use the instrument the object to be mounted is placed dry on the glass slide, which is put in the plate or holder, and a thin glass cover being placed on it the upper arm is pressed down, bringing the small disc upon the thin glass cover and holding it in its place during the process of mounting; a sufficient quantity of balsam being put at the side of the cover, the instrument is held over the flame of a lamp and sufficient heat applied to melt the balsam, which runs in by capillary attraction. The advantages offered by this process being the facility with which specimens can be mounted, as well as that objects of great delicacy can be placed on dry, and the balsam then run in without in any way disturbing their several parts; a slight extra pressure also frequently serves to disperse the air-bubbles entirely from the specimen. In the mounting of Marine Algae, &c., by this process, with a gelatine medium (Deane's), the specimen can be laid on the glass with a small quantity of water, and properly arranged in it, the glass cover being then put on, and a sufficient quantity of the medium placed at the side of it; when heat is applied, the gelatine drives out the water and leaves the object mounted”.


Figure 12. Diagrams of James Smith’s ‘polarizing stages’, from his 1859 paper. “The accompanying drawings show two different constructions of a selenite or polarising stage, which I have designed to obviate a slight difficulty in the examination of objects by polarised light, viz., that of having to alter the focal adjustment of the microscope every time the selenite is placed under the object to be examined, or removed from it; but by the use of either of the above forms of stage, the particular object to be examined having been once found and properly focused, it can be viewed, in the first place, by the polarising prisms alone, and afterwards with the selenite interposed, which can be exchanged for one or more of different tints, without in any way moving or disturbing the slide; and thus I conceive that, in instruments that are not otherwise specially adapted for the purpose, the various phenomena of polarised light (as applied to the microscope) may be more easily and satisfactorily observed. Drawing No. 1 shows the simpler form of the stage (which, from its construction, will be of very trifling cost). It consists of an upper plate with raised edges, for the purpose of holding the object-slide, and an under plate on which to place the selenite, while to it are fixed two small pins, corresponding to two holes in the stage of the microscope, to attach it, when in use, to the instrument; the same object can, however, be effected by the ordinary clamping bar or spring, where the microscope has them, in which case the pins would not be required. In the second form, as shown in drawing No. 2, the selenite holder is fixed on to a small piece of tube, which turns round in another piece fastened to the bottom plate, and in this way the rotation of the film is effected. A very slight modification of this form will allow of two or three selenites being superposed where required. The selenite stage being fixed to that of the microscope, as before described, the necessary motions can be given by the proper screws, when the instrument has a rackwork stage; but where this is not the case, the horizontal motion must be given to the object itself, by sliding it along the top plate on which it rests”.


Figure 13. Joseph Beck joined the partnership in 1857, forming Smith, Beck and Beck. These advertisements from ‘The Lancet’ suggest that the change occurred in mid-September.


Figure 14. Smith, Beck, and Beck “Large Best or Number 1” binocular microscope, serial number 4146. Adapted for nonprofit, educational purposes from an internet auction site.


Figure 15. Smith, Beck, and Beck binocular “Universal” microscope, serial number 3114. Adapted with permission from http://www.antique-microscopes.com/photos/Beck_universal_binocular.htm.


Figure 16. Smith, Beck, and Beck moved from 6 Coleman Street to 31 Cornhill in June, 1863. Advertisement from The Lancet, June 6, 1863.


Figure 17. A March, 1866 advertisement from Smith, Beck, and Beck. Advertisements from the 3-partner company are known from as late as May, 1866. A number of histories on the Smith, Beck, and Beck / R. & J. Beck businesses have stated that Smith retired in 1865; these advertisements imply that his retirement and re-organization of the business actually occurred in mid-1866.


Figure 18. The earliest identified mention of the business of Beck and Beck (R. and J. Beck), from ‘The Athenaeum’, September 1, 1866.


Figure 19. A binocular microscope, engraved “James Smith, late Smith & Beck, 56 Tollington Road, London”. The foot of this instrument is not original. Other examples of this model are known, which have a standard-looking foot. Adapted for nonprofit, educational purposes from an internet auction site.


Figure 20. A 1/4-inch objective lens. The can is engraved “James Smith, late Smith & Beck, 56 Tollington Road, London”. Adapted for nonprofit, educational purposes from an internet auction site.


Figure 21. Not made by our James Smith: this telescope was made by the man of that name who worked from Royal Exchange during the first half of the 1800s. Adapted for nonprofit, educational purposes from http://www.scientificcollectables.com.



My thanks to Allan Wissner for permission to use pictures from his collection.



The Athenaeum (1866) Advertisement describing Beck and Beck, September 1 issue, page 260

Baptism record of James John Smith (1833) June 10, Child of James and Maria Smith, father was an “optical instrument maker”, Parish records of Saint James Clerkenwell, accessed through ancestry.com

Baptism record of William Robert Smith (1835) December 25, Child of James and Maria Smith, Ironmonger’s Row, father was an “optician”, Parish records of Saint James Clerkenwell, accessed through ancestry.com

Baptism record of Samuel Smith (1838) November 28, Child of James and Maria Smith, 50 Ironmonger’s Row, father was an “mathematical instrument maker”, Parish records of Saint James Clerkenwell, accessed through ancestry.com

Baptism record of Maria Eliza Smith (1840) November 30, Child of James and Maria Smith, Ironmonger’s Row, father was an “optician”, Parish records of Saint James Clerkenwell, accessed through ancestry.com

Beck, Richard (1865) The Achromatic Microscope, J. Van Voorst, London (reprinted in 1987 by Science Heritage Limited, Lincolnwood, Illinois, USA)

Bowerbank, J.S. (1870) Reminiscences of the early times of the achromatic microscope, Monthly Microscopical Journal, page 281

The British Friend (1866) Advertisement from Smith, Beck, and Beck, Vol. 24, March issue

Clay, Reginald S., and Thomas H. Court (1930) Early achromatic microscopes by James Smith, Journal of the Royal Microscopical Society, Vol. 50, pages 292-301

Clifton, Gloria (1995) Directory of British Scientific Instrument Makers 1550-1851, Zwemmer, London, pages 255-256

Coddington, H. (1830) On the improvement of the microscope, Transactions of the Cambridge Philosophical Society, Vol. 3, pages 421-428

England census and other vital records, accessed through ancestry.com

Gill’s Technological Repository (1829) On Mr. William Tulley's achromatic microscopes, Vol. 4, pages 197-198

Glaisher, James (1867) The President’s Address, Quarterly Journal of Microscopical Science, Vol. 7, pages 25-38

Hogg, Jabez (1854) The Microscope: Its History, Construction, and Applications, The Illustrated London Library, page 9

Johnstone's London Commercial Guide, and Street Directory (1818) “Royal Exchange - North Side, Smith, James, Optician, &c.”, page 143

Kent’s London Directory (1823) “Smith Jas. optician, North Gate, Royal Exchange”, page 308

King, H.C. (1949) The optical work of Charles Tulley, Bulletin of the British Society for the History of Science, Vol. 1, page 87

The Lancet (1857) Advertisements from Smith and Beck, through September 19

The Lancet (1857) Advertisements from Smith, Beck, and Beck, September 26 and afterwards

The Lancet (1863) Advertisement from Smith, Beck, and Beck, June 6

Life and Letters of William Barton Rogers (1896) Houghton, Mifflin, and Company, New York, Vol. 1, pages 95-97

Marriage record of James Smith and Mary Ann Rance (1833) January 22, Parish records of Saint James Clerkenwell, accessed through ancestry.com (possibly our microscopist)

The Microscopic Journal (1842) Description of Mr. James Smith’s newly constructed achromatic microscope, pages 1-6

Nelson, Edward M. (1900) The microscopes of Powell, Ross, and Smith: III, James Smith and his microscopes, Journal of the Royal Microscopical Society, Vol. 20, pages 550-558

Official Descriptive and Illustrated Catalogue of the Great Exposition (1851) “253 Smith, James, & Beck, Richard, 6 Coleman Street - Manufacturers”, Vol. 2, page 423

Pigot’s Directory of London (1822) “Opticians and Mathematical Instrument Makers: Smith Jas. 17 Bath-place, New-rd; Smith Jos. North-gate, R. Exchange”, page 127

Post Office Directory of London (1845) “Smith James, Optician, 50 Ironmonger row, Old street

Post Office Directory of London (1848) “Smith & Beck, opticians & microscope ma. 6 Coleman st. City

Probate of James Smith (1873) “The will of James Smith late of 56 Tollington-road Holloway in the County of Middlesex Gentleman who died 7 December 1873 at 56 Tollington-road was proved at the Principal Registry by James John Smith of 56 Tollington-road Optician and William Robert Smith of 58 Pownall-road Dalston in the said county Bookbinder the Sons the Executors”, accessed through ancestry.com

Probate of James John Smith (1877) “The Will of James John Smith formerly of 56 Tollington-road Holloway but late of 16 Roden-street Holloway in the County of Middlesex who died 30 March 1877 at 16 Roden-street was proved at the Principal Registry by Catherine Price Smith of 16 Roden-street Widow the Relict the sole Executrix”, accessed through ancestry.com

Probate of Richard Beck (1866) “The Will of Richard Beck formerly of Pear Tree Cottage Holloway-road in the County of Middlesex Microscope Manufacturer but late of 404 Camden-road Upper Holloway in the County aforesaid and of 31 Cornhill in the City of London Optician deceased who died 30 September 1866 at Stamford Hill in the County aforesaid was proved at the Principal Registry by the affirmations of Harriet Beck of 404 Camden-road aforesaid Widow the Relict William Beck of 33 Finsbury-circus in the City of London aforesaid Architect the Brother and Walter May of the Suffolk Iron Works Berkeley-street Birmingham in the County of Warwick Engineer the Executors”, accessed through ancestry.com

Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of London (1866) Advertisement from Smith, Beck, and Beck, Vol. 10, May issue

Quarterly Journal of Microscopical Science (1864) Microscopical Society of London, Vol. 4, page 212

Quekett, John (1848) Practical Treatise on the Use of the Microscope, H. Balliere, London

Report of the Second Anniversary of the Microscopical Society of London: held at the Society's Rooms, no. 21, Regent Street, February 15th (1842) “Smith, James, Esq., 50, Ironmonger Row, St. Luke’s”, page 18

Report of the Fourth Anniversary of the Microscopical Society of London: held at the Society's Rooms, no. 21, Regent Street, February 15th (1844) “Smith, James, Esq., 50, Ironmonger-row, St. Luke’s”, page 22

Reports by the Juries(1851) “Microscopes”, page 266

Robson’s London Directory (1842) “Smith Jas. practical optician & achromatic microscope maker, 50 Ironmonger row, St. Luke’s”, page 35

Shephard, Mark (2003) The Beck microscope family, Quekett Journal of Microscopy, Vol. 39, pages 577-594

Smith James (1859) On a section and mounting instrument, Transactions of the Microscopical Society of London, Vol. 8, pages 1-3

Smith James (1859) The object cabinet, Transactions of the Microscopical Society of London, Vol. 8, pages 201-203

Smith James (1859) A new polarising stage, Transactions of the Microscopical Society of London, Vol. 8, pages 203-204

Smith James (1859) The collecting bottle, Transactions of the Microscopical Society of London, Vol. 8, pages 204-205

Smith James (1860) On a dissecting microscope &c., Transactions of the Microscopical Society of London, Vol. 9, pages 10-14

Smith, William, and Tuffen West (1853) A Synopsis of the British Diatomaceae, Smith and Beck, London

Turner, Gerard l’E. (1989) The Great Age of the Microscope, Adam Hilger, Bristol, pages 171-183 and 313

Woodward, Charles (1848) A Familiar Introduction to the Study of Polarized Light, Smith & Beck, London