Gould's Improved Pocket Simple & Compound Microscope by Bate, 1830


This is the smaller size of the Gould microscope made by Bate of London. William Cary was a very popular London microscope maker in the late 18th century. By 1821, Cary was established at 181 Strand, London, his two nephews now also working out of this shop ultimately taking control of the business after his death in 1825. One of his employees, Charles Gould, eventually designed this well known type of pocket microscope. The microscopes are compact and fold into their small mahogany cases, which also serve as the base for the opened instrument. This design was quickly copied by many makers in England and in continental Europe. The microscope is signed Bate London.

Robert Brettell Bate (b. 1782) operated an optical and scientific business in London during the first half of the nineteenth century. He got his start in 1804, taking over the business of his uncle and father-in-law (one in the same person), who had a commission to provide the government with hydrometers. Bate expanded the business to include microscopes and other optical equipment, plus a wide variety of other instruments. He was an optician, and so may have made at least the optical components of the microscopes, etc. that he sold. In 1833, he served as Master of the Spectaclemakers’ Guild. He was also Optician in Ordinary to King George IV and Queen Victoria (i.e. he was an official optician to the Royal Household).

The Gould type microscopes became extremely popular during the mid-19th century, as is clearly evident by their great abundance in collections and on the antique microscope market. There are good historical and typological studies of this type in Microscopist.net and in Microscopes-Antiqes.com. But looking objectively at these microscopes, they were merely toy instruments designed to address some novice interest in natural history by middle-class amateurs, desiring to "feel" what may look like a miniaturized model of a "true" brass and glass instrument with its mahogany case, but with an affordable price tag. In reality, these microscopes are almost impossible to handle with their shaky design, robust focusing rack and pinion, tiny unstable stages and mediocre quality button objectives that supplied only low magnifications and just adequate images (as they were much too far stopped down). Therefore, apart of some role in spreading popular science and feeding the curiosity of a broad public of dilettantes in viewing microscopical objects, the Gould type microscope has no role whatsoever in the history of science. It is only due to an Anglocentric approach that these microscopes are referred to as a type of field microscope by Turner (1989:75-76), while the small French microscopes that normally overtook them by optical quality and convenience of use were described as "compound microscope, toy" (ibid: 2019-221).

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