Isaac Stephenson, 1872 - 1965

by Brian Stevenson
Last updated February, 2018

This amateur produced a number of good-quality, attractive microscope slides (Figure 1). Records suggest that his output was limited to only a few years during the mid-1890s.

Figure 1. Microscope slides by Isaac Stephenson: dry mount of a small butterfly’s wing, dry mount of celery seeds, and longitudinal section of a stained plant root. Prepared during October, 1894 and January, 1895.


Isaac was the eldest son of the seven children of George V. and Alice Stephenson. He was born during the summer of 1872 in Accrington, Lancashire. At the time of Isaac’s birth, father George was a “cabinet maker”. The 1881 census lists that same profession, while the 1891 census records that George had changed occupations to “ironmonger”. Isaac and his three younger brothers joined their father’s business, as G.V. Stephenson & Sons. They expanded to include electrical supplies around the turn of the twentieth century.

The few known records of Stephenson’s involvement in microscopy and interest in science date from 1894-95. He was a member and Reporting Secretary of the Accrington Naturalists’ Society during those years.

On July 7, 1894, he described to the Society of his finding an uncommon species of snail near Clitheroe, Lancashire.

He sent samples of insects to the editors of Science-Gossip in 1894, asking for identification. Their response: “Isaac Stephenson (Accrington). Your insects are book-lice (Atropos divinatoria), belonging to the Psocidae, a group of the Neuroptera. They are not peculiar to willow and rush articles but attack anything that can be eaten. They are especially destructive to insects in the cabinet”.

Stephenson made serious attempts to section, stain, and mount botanical specimens during 1895. He asked for help in a letter to Science-Gossip, “Vegetable Sections. Will someone please tell me, through the pages of Science-Gossip, which is the best book on cutting, staining and mounting vegetable sections. - J. Stephenson, 23, Avenue Parade, Accrington; February 15th, 1895” (his initial was misread and printed as “J.”).

Several readers responded with suggestions, to which Stephenson replied, “Vegetable Sections. - I beg to thank your correspondents for their information about Section Cutting (Science-Gossip, N.S., vol. ii., page 46). I have got Strasburger's book, and have read Bower's. I have tried to get Dr. Marsh's book, but I am told it is out of print. Could anyone tell me where I can procure a copy? My best results have been in cutting sections from alcohol material, staining with eosin, clearing in oil of cloves, and mounting in balsam and benzole. My greatest difficulty is fixing the stain - Isaac Stephenson, Accrington; April 16th, 1895”. His mount of Symphytum officinale root, shown in Figures 1 and 2, was probably made by that procedure.

Isaac was elected to be an analyst (auditor) of the Accrington Naturalists' Society in 1895. This is the last record I located on Stephenson’s involvement with the Society, or any other aspect of science. It may be that the newly-elected secretary was not as adept at reporting Society meetings as had been Stephenson.

Isaac lived with his parents and siblings until 1908, when he married Adeline Bell. Father George died in 1913, and Isaac and brothers continued the business. G.V. Stephenson and Sons, of 31 Blackburn Road, Accrington, was dissolved on January 31, 1942. Isaac Stephenson died on December 30, 1965, being 93 years old.

Figure 2. Wing of a small, unidentified butterfly, dry-mounted in October, 1894, by I. Stephenson (see Figure 1). Photographed using a C-mounted digital SLC camera, 3.5x objective lens, and LED top-lighting.


Figure 3. Celery seeds, dry-mounted in October, 1894, by I. Stephenson (see Figure 1). Photographed using a C-mounted digital SLC camera, 3.5x objective lens, and LED top-lighting.


Figure 4. A servant call-box, manufactured by G.V. Stephenson and Sons. Adapted for nonprofit, educational purposes from an internet auction site.



The Electrician Electrical Trades Directory and Handbook (1900) “Stephenson, G.V., Ironmonger and Electrical Supplies Dealer, 31, Blackburn-road, Accrington”, page 702

England census and other records, accessed through

The London Gazette (1942) “Notice is hereby given that the heretofore subsisting between us, the undersigned, Isaac Stephenson and Edgar Bentley Stephenson, carrying on business as Ironmongers and Electrical Engineers at 31, Blackburn Road, Accrington, Lancashire, under the style or firm of G.V. Stephenson & Sons has been dissolved by mutual consent as and from the 31st day of January 1942. All debts due and owing by the said late firm will be received and paid by the said Edgar Bentley Stephenson”, page 1235 (Edgar was Isaac’s youngest brother).

Probate of Isaac Stephenson (1965) “Stephenson Isaac of 6 Meadowside Grindleton Clitheroe Lancashire died 30 December 1965 at St Johns Hospital Keighley Yorkshire Probate Lancaster 9 February to Joseph Newton Bell engineer and surveyor and Irene Sauvain spinster. £7108”, accessed through

Science-Gossip (1894) Response to inquiry from Isaac Stephenson, New series, Vol. 1, page 216

Science-Gossip (1895) Report of the July 6 meeting of the Accrington Naturalists' Society, New series, Vol. 2, page 196

Stephenson, Isaac (1894) Reports on meetings of the Accrington Naturalists' Society, Science-Gossip, New series, Vol. 1, pages 166-167 and 215

Stephenson, Isaac (1895) Vegetable sections, Science-Gossip, New series, Vol. 2, page 21

Stephenson, Isaac (1895) Symbiosis of plants and animals, Science-Gossip, New series, Vol. 2, page 26

Stephenson, Isaac (1895) Vegetable sections, Science-Gossip, New series, Vol. 2, page 81