John Cuff's New Constructed Double Microscope, London, ca. 1745


The Cuff microscope is named after John Cuff (1708?-1772?), a microscope maker, who worked closely with the natural philosopher Henry Baker (1698-1774).  After expressing his dissatisfaction with the Culpeper microscope, Baker convinced Cuff in 1744 to design a new pattern, affording improved accessibility for hand manipulation of the specimen by the microscopist. "Mr. Cuff's new-constructed Double Microscope" quickly became the most popular model of the main part of the 18th century, being copied by many makers in England and across Europe in Italy, Holland, and France. However, one main drawback of its design was the inability to incline the stand for convenient observation.


This is an early instrument, still made by John Cuff under his name, and signed on the stage: "J. Cuff Londini Inv. & Fecit". Cuff was declared bankrupt in 1750, in spite of Baker's continual support and the popularity of the new design, after which his microscopes were probably retailed by Dollond under his name. It was probably the increased competition with Benjamin Martin, who set his shop next door to Cuff on Fleet Street, that was one of the main reasons for Cuff's failure to maintain his business.

Henry Baker.jpg

Henry Baker with the Cuff microscope


Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon (1707-1788)


Engraving by Jacques de Sève showing Buffon using a Cuff microscope during experiments in the Royal Botanical Gardens in Paris in 1748.

The Cuff microscope was tested not long after its introduction by a distinguished group of naturalists headed by Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon (1707-1788), in an event described by the German naturalist Martin Frobenius Ledermüller (1719 - 1769). Together with Jacques de Sève (fl. 1742 - 1788),  John Turberville Needham  (1713-1781), Louis-Jean-Marie Daubenton (1716-1800), Philippe Guéneau de Montbeillard (1720-1785) and Thomas-François Dalibard (1709-1799), Buffon headed experiments in the between March and May 1748, during which they tested the qualities of a "double microscope" for studies in the Royal Botanical Gardens (Jardin des Plantes) in Paris. In an engraving made by de Sève and presented in Ledermüller's book, Buffon is seen using a Cuff microscope. These experiments gave rise to the criticisms of Ledermüller, also voiced by Needham and Buffon, about the unclear views seen under the microscope. Undoubtedly, these compound microscopes suffered from severe chromatic and spherical aberrations and their magnifications were inferior as compared with the single microscope, also made by Cuff for the Swiss naturalist Abraham Trembley (1710-1784), that  Needham and others used for routine work.


ReferencesBaker, H. 1785. Employment for the Microscope. London: 422; Wissner; Bonanie, Skinner 2011; SML: A62993, 1925-144, A601261, A159502; Bonhams 2013, 2015; Sotheby's 2004; MHS: 47114; Molecular Expressions; Bononiae