The nineteenth century produced what Gerard Turner described as the “great age of the microscope.” The industrial revolution brought about improved materials and mechanical processes. Studies of physics and other sciences produced greater understanding of light and magnification. These and other developments allowed for construction of microscopes capable of never-before known powers of magnification and resolution. The rise of the middle class meant that more and more people had excess money, and the leisure time to enjoy it. This was a time when curious amateurs joined professional scientists in questioning how the world was put together. Amateur microscopy clubs sprung up all over, where groups would meet regularly to peer through microscopes and discuss what they were seeing of the normally invisible world. The microscope became a fixture of the Victorian era parlour, a device to while away the evening hours. Numerous makers of microscopes arose to meet the needs of the public. Likewise, professional production of microscope slides became a viable occupation, as the demand for mounted specimens increased. Many amateurs also tried their hands at making permanent slides. Magazines of the middle and late 1800s were filled with offers for exchange of microscopical specimens between enthusiasts. Edmund Dixon, writing in 1857, prophesied, "it seems probable, from many symptoms, that the microscope is about to become the idol of the day; we appear to be on the eve of a microscope mania".
Dixon also wrote, "that the preparer's art is no mere mechanical routine. He must have science to know what is worth preserving, taste to arrange it gracefully and accurately, and skill so to embalm his object as to retain its beauty for future admirers. He must have an artistic eye, a fine touch, an extensive knowledge of Nature's minutiae, and a hand practised in the manipulation of his business. Hence, it is no day-dream to predict, that, before long, collections of microscopic objects will publicly enter the lists with other articles of virtue. Choice specimens of invisibilities will rise to high fancy prices - especially after their preparers are dead. As we treasure cabinet-pictures by Teniers or the Breughels, so shall we set an exalted value on charming bits of still-life from the studios of Amadio or Stevens, on insect-portraits by Topping, on botanical groups by Bourgogne the Elder, and on other works by anonymous artists, whose names, though not their productions, still remain unknown to fame. We shall have connoisseurs, fanciers, and collectors of microscopic objects, with all the peculiarities of the genus. Indeed, I might say we have them already in the adolescent stage of their growth. But, one of these days, as my readers who live long enough will see, beautiful preparations by first-rate hands will pass through the same course of destiny as illuminated missals, majolica earthernware, Benvenuto Cellini carvings, and the like".
As predicted, collecting antique microscopes and slides has evolved into a popular hobby. A milestone publication was released in 1998 by the Quekett Microscopical Club, Microscopical Mounts and Mounters, by Brian Bracegirdle. Photographs of hundreds of microscope slides made by professionals and amateurs during the past 200+ years are presented. In addition, information on hundreds of slide makers can be found. This valuable reference should be in the library of any person interested in antique microscopy.
Most people’s collections include numerous slides by now unknown makers. These may have been prepared by amateur microscopists, or by unattributed professionals who sold through various outlets. Occasionally, a name is attached to such slides, but cannot be found in Microscopical Mounts and Mounters. Furthermore, even that reference contains numerous examples of slide preparers for whom a name or initials was known, but nothing more.
The prime objective of this web site is to supplement Microscopical Mounts and Mounters, for the benefit of antique microscope collectors and historians. While Dr. Bracegirdle was constrained by space in producing his printed book, the www allows presentation of extended biographies of mounters, plus numerous examples of their works. Ready access to historical documents through the internet has also uncovered previously unknown information. The biography of Thomas Southwart was written primarily to explain use of computer-accessible tools that have been extremely useful in gathering information for these histories.
This menu to the left is divided into several sections.
* First, makers of microscopes and slides whose products have been identified and about whom biographical information is known.
* Second, a menu of known and known makers of microphotograph slides (miniature photographs on glass slides that are discernable only through a microscope.
* Third, people known to have made significant numbers of microscopes or slides, but whose products have yet to be identified.
* Fourth, slides that are fairly abundant, but whose makers remain unknown.
It is hoped that presentations in these last two sections will stimulate discussions and possibly result in identification of the unknown makers and their work.
Additional information on early microscopists and further illustrations of their work can be found in Howard Lynk’s excellent Cabinet of Curiosities: http://www.victorianmicroscopeslides.com and other pages listed in the "Links" section
I hope that readers find these essays informative. Many of these biographies were originally published on-line in Micscape, the monthly online magazine of Microscopy UK, although many have since been revised.
"Like" us on Facebook at "History of Microscopy" for frequent updates, highlights and snippets of history.
This is a work in progress, to be updated regularly. Check back often, there will probably be something new every few weeks. New items, and articles that have been substantially updated will be highlighted in the menu bar. In addition, I frequently make minor alterations to many of the articles, such as adding a new image or a historical note. Those are generally too numerous to highlight in the menu, but are noted at the top of each article as "last updated ..".
Please feel free to contact me with additional information, comments, etc. Ideas for new microscopist biographies will be very welcome.
As to our collections, I will finish with more advice from Edmund Dixon, "A microscopic museum should be formed on somewhat the same principle as a picture gallery. First, there should be nothing but what is good; secondly, there should be variety, with several samples of all the great masters".
All contents are copyright Brian Stevenson and/or other authors, except where noted.
Page of Microscopy Links
Bracegirdle, Brian (1998) Microscopical Mounts and Mounters, Quekett Microscopical Club, London, UK
Dixon, Edmund Saul (1857) Microscopic preparations, originally appearing in Charles Dickens’ Household Words, vol. 16, reprinted in The Living Age, 55:346-352.
Turner, Gerard l’E. (1989) The Great Age of the Microscope, IOP Publishing Ltd., Bristol, UK