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Italian Compound Microscope, ca. 1700

Originally sold in an auction as an 18th-century Italian fixed-focus telescope, this is the optical tube of an as-yet unparalleled compound microscope. With its combination of materials and very high workmanship, it must have been produced by a master maker. However, the lack of a signature or any known parallel leaves the question of the maker's identity open for further research. By its style, construction, and some design details, it is most likely an Italian product dating to the turn of the 17th or the very early 18th century.


The optical tube is made entirely of wood, unlike the typical use of pasteboard in other of the period's microscopes (as in Museo Galileo 1309, 32473797; Boerhaave V28600; Golub 276, etc.). It is lined with rings made of ivory, lignum vitae for the ring above the objective and ebony for the inner housings of the eyepiece and objective). The tube is coated with dark tan vellum with rich tooled gilding. The vellum on the lower part of the tube is undecorated. It was probably intended to be held by a brass ring attached to a side pillar, similar to some other early Italian and French microscopes (e.g., Museo Galileo 3206 and the Box Microscope in this collection. Externally, some features are similar but not identical to those appearing on a microscope from Museo Galileo (Inv. 3248) attributed by Turner (1991) to Pietro Patroni (1676/7-1744) of Milano. The ocular capping and housing resemble some of Patroni's telescopes (Coll. Willach). However, the decorated vellum and other details of this microscope are untypical of Patroni's instruments. Also, this microscope lacks the draw tubes that the few surviving microscopes by Patroni have. Moreover, this microscope has only one fixed objective, an earlier feature again not practised by Patroni and other post-1700 makers. 

This microscope is now subjected to intensive scientific research to disclose more details about its date, origin, and possible maker, as well as its performance and intended users.

© Microscope History all rights reserved


© Microscope History all rights reserved

The microscope has three lenses: an eye lens, a field lens and an object lens. The lenses are held within two special housings, screwed into the wooden optical tube. The lens housings are both made of ebony combined with turned elephant ivory, representing a very high degree of workmanship. The eye lens is covered by a protective ivory cup.


© Microscope History all rights reserved


The lenses

The three lenses (eye, field and object) are biconvex. They are made of clear glass (the field lens) and greenish glass (the eye lens and the object lens).  Their dimensions are as follows:

Eye lens: Ø 18.4 mm, thickness: 3.06 mm, greenish glass containing air bubbles.

Field lens: Ø 22.4 mm, thickness: 3.1 mm, transparent glass devoid of air bubbles.

Object lens: Ø 7.6 mm, thickness: 2.0 mm., greenish glass containing air bubbles.

The eye and object lenses are original. The field lens is a later replacement.

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