Francis West “Surgical Microscope”, ca. 1840-50

by Brian Stevenson
last updated March, 2015

This small, brass-mounted simple microscope was introduced by Francis West (1789-1862) during the late 1830s, for use as a surgical microscope (Figures 1, 2, and 3). Although it resembles a type of linen/cloth proofer (Figure 4), West’s surgical microscope has a very large opening in the base, and ribbons for tying the instrument onto a patient. Advertising that “medical gentlemen find it necessary to examine various diseases of the skin, so as to determine the true nature of pustular eruptions in a more correct manner than can be affected by the human eye”, West directed the user to “place the microscope over the surface or part of the body to be examined, pass the ribbon under and tie it firmly. Both your hands will thus be left at liberty, either to operate or to allow any other person to examine the object, or to explain to pupils the various appearances without displacing the glass”. He also recommended it to botanists, mineralogists, and all other scientists.

Figure 1. A West-pattern surgical microscope. The base is 1 inch (2.5 cm) in diameter, with two 8 inch (20 cm) lengths of ribbon sewn into small holes on either side of the base. The simple lens is screwed into the body, and the focus can be adjusted via the screw mechanism.


Figure 2. An advertisement for West’s surgical microscope, adapted from Francis West’s 1852 edition of ‘A Familiar Treatise of the Eye’.


Figure 3. Advertisements from ‘The Lancet’, 1839 (left), and ‘Medico-Chirurgical Review and Journal of Practical Medicine’, 1840 (right).


Figure 4. Three linen/cloth proofers of a similar size and pattern as West’s surgical microscope. Unlike West’s pattern, these have narrow holes in the bases, with diameters of approximately 1/8 inch (3 mm), which are intended for viewing details of cloth construction.



The Lancet (1839) Advertisement on page 184, Vol. 1

Medico-Chirurgical Review and Journal of Practical Medicine (1840) Advertisement on page 315, New series, Vol. 11

West, Francis (1852) A Familiar Treatise on the Human Eye, eleventh edition, Advertisement at the back of the book, F. West, London