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Early Aquatic Microscope, ~1750

 

The 'Aquatic microscope' is of the type originally suggested by the Swiss naturalist Abraham Trembley (1710-1784) for his seminal study of the hydra, later to be materialized by John Cuff (1708?-1772?), microscope maker, for John Ellis (1707-1776), an Irish naturalist. Ellis was highly regarded by Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), who called him one of the brightest stars of natural history. Ellis was elected FRS in 1754. In 1755 he published his work on corals, translated into French the following year, which won him an international reputation. Ellis wanted a microscope of high portability which made it easy to follow the activity of the hydra and other small water organisms held on a watch glass on a microscope stage. The first model was made by Cuff for Ellis in 1752. The design became popular, and microscopes in various forms of this design were made in England and Europe. Later improvements to this design eventually included rack and pinion focusing instead of the overly simple push-fit focussing of the first models (see here). Later, Raspail changed the forward and backward motion of the arm carrying the eyepiece to a fine motion driven by a screw mechanism (see here). In 1832 Charles Darwin took with him an advanced form of the Ellis Aquatic microscope, made by Bancks of London (also represented in this collection), on his seminal voyage on board HMS Beagle.

This early form of the aquatic microscope is mounted on the ray skin-coated wooden case with a center mount for the pillar, has Lieberkuhn lenses of different magnifications that can be screwed to the bar above the circular stage with specimen holder and convex mirror below.

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This early form of the aquatic microscope is mounted on the ray skin-coated wooden case with a center mount for the pillar, has Lieberkuhn lenses of different magnifications that can be screwed to the bar above the circular stage with a specimen holder and convex mirror below. The inner redlining of the case is typical of microscope makers Benjamin Martin or John Cuff.

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Early Aquatic Microscope by Barthelon a Marseille, France, ~1750

 

Like quite a few successful ideas of scientific instruments created during the 18th century, including microscopes, the development of the 'Aquatic microscope' in London was immediately copied by many of the leading microscope manufacturers in continental Europe. These replicas have often undergone changes and improvements from the copying machines, which have been released from the standards that customers have often imposed on English optical and other instrument manufacturers.
Here is a very early replica of the 'Aquatic microscope' in its original design as presented by John Cuff for John Ellis in London in the mid-18th century. The improvements that this model presents are also in a thinner box, with a more comfortable internal division of the components, in the connection of the stage tweezers and the decorative decoration of the stage. But the microscope is faithful in general to Cuff's earliest design, in which the rod that supports the lens carrier goes into a tube attached to the pole to which the mirror, stage and lens system connects and does not enter a hole in the center.

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The microscope bears the inscription on its central stand:


BARTHELON · A · MARSEILLE


This name is not known to us at all, both from the names of the manufacturers of the period in France and from the list of retailers who sometimes added their signatures to the devices they marketed. It is at all possible that this is the name of the owner of the microscope, although such a practice of the owner's signature on his device is almost unfamiliar to us in the 18th century and only in the 19th century does it begin to appear here and there.

References: MHS: 42845; Turner 1989: 270-1; Billings: P. 158, Fig. 297, AFIP 49163-60-4713-37; Whipple: 1824; Harvard Univ. 1007; Mus. Galileo 3212;