Italian or Dutch 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 a very high level of workmanship, it must have been produced by a master maker. However, the lack of signature or any known parallel leaves the question of the identity of the maker open for further research. By its style, construction, and some details of the design, it is most likely an Italian product dating to the turn of the 17th or the very early 18th century.


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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 is lacking the draw tubes that the few surviving microscopes by Patroni have. Moreover, this microscope has only one fixed objective, an earlier feature again not practiced by Patroni and other post-1700 makers. 

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

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 very high degree of workmanship. The eye lens is covered by a protective ivory cup.


© Microscope History all rights reserved


© 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. The glass contains air some bubbles.

Field lens: Ø 22.4 mm, thickness: 3.1 mm. Contains tiny air some bubbles.

Object lens: Ø 7.6 mm, thickness: 2.0 mm. Contains tiny air some bubbles.