top of page

R. Field & Son, "Society of Arts" Microscope ~1850


The design for this small and rather modest but still efficient English bar-limb microscope, dates to a prize that was offered by the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures & Commerce, for a compact, compound microscope that would sell for 3 guineas. The prize was awarded to the firm of Robert Field & Son of Birmingham in 1854, which sold for 3 guineas including 2 objectives, 2 eyepieces, bull’s eye lens, live box, stage forceps, and mahogany case. The firm was required to maintain the price and always have the microscopes in stock for sale. Field made numerous minor changes to try and control costs but eventually went bankrupt in 1880. Due to the popularity of the design, it was widely copied by many other makers, but they were not constrained by the 3 guinea price. Robert field often complained that his competitors advertised their instruments as "Society of Arts Prize." The “Society of Arts Prize” microscope, as this concept is often referred to, was the first attempt to produce an affordable microscope of reasonable quality. Although this instrument did not have the capabilities of a serious research microscope for bacteriology, etc., it made microscopy accessible to students and amateurs, but also to wider cycles of scientists. The model seen here is the original signed Robert Field & Son Birmingham.

This microscope is on long-term loan to the Madatech Science Museum in Haifa, Israel.


ReferencesBillings: P. 209, Fig. 405, AFIP 709643-68-8625-6; SML: 25/144; Whipple:, 3191; George: 03-04.

bottom of page