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Early 18th Century Stand Single Microscopes

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© Microscope History all rights reserved

The single microscope used by Louis Joblot, ca. 1710 (Inv. YG-21-010)

This microscope involves the work of the French researcher Louis Joblot (1645-1723). It seems that among the "Old Regime" of the beginning of microscopy he was wronged by oblivion by the general public, this in the face of the historical memory (very justified in itself) which Antonie van Leeuwenhoek won. A good, concise biography of Joblot is online here and I will not copy it.


In the historical research of the founding generation of intellectual microscopy, Anthony van Leeuwenhoek acquired the frontstage alongside Robert Hooke as a discoverer and observer who laid the foundations for modern microscopy as a science. In fact, it was Leeuwenhoek who made the important breakthrough, as Hooke described mostly objects visible to the naked eye, but under the microscope. Louis Joblot's place is absent from the list of significant discoverers, does not exist in the public consciousness, even his name is known only to those engaged in the history of science.
The comparison between Leeuwenhoek and Joblot raises a number of important ethical questions. Leeuwenhoek made a series of extremely important discoveries, while Joblot mainly described Infusoria and other unicellular organisms, most of which were already known. Leeuwenhoek made his observations with microscopes he created himself, almost always of only one type, while Joblot used a variety of microscopes, simple and compound, created for him by others. Leeuwenhoek's microscopes had a simple and rough mechanical design but with impressive optical capabilities while Joblot used a variety of devices some of which were advanced for their time. Leeuwenhoek kept the polishing methods of his lenses a secret, while Joblot provides in his book detailed instructions on how his microscopes are manufactured. 

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But most of all, Joblot made observations of the behavior of the organisms he observed, described their movements, and even tried to formulate them graphically. It goes without saying that he did not follow a regulated scientific method, but in this, he was no different from others of his time. (See Ratcliff 2009).

In his book, Joblot (1718) devotes an entire section to describing the microscopes used by him, including single and compound, while providing details on the structure and design and guidelines for their use. The microscope seen here appears as one of the devices from the single group, allowing observations of opaque objects at low magnifications. The microscope is shown in Table 2 Figure 10 (shown here), and in the text, Joblot indicates in two places (left),that the microscopes were "executed" by Monsieur le Fevbre, tres-habile Ingenieur pour la construction des instruments de Mathematique. From this, we can conclude that Mr. le Fevbre was the maker of at least part of Joblot's microscopes. Therefore, the small sticker in the inner part of this microscope's etui, reading: Le Febvre au neuf-Marché refers to this maker. 

le Febvre.jpg

Musschenbroek- type first form microscope, SML 1695-1705


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It is probable that Joblot was led to his research on microscopy by the arrival in Paris of Christiaan Huygens (1629 – 1695) and Nicolaas Hartsoeker (1656 - 1725) in 1678. In July of that year, Huygens showed microscopes that he had brought from Holland and demonstrated infusoria before the Academy of Sciences. His microscopes were made by the workshop of the van Musschenbroek family in Leiden, after a method of lens polishing that Johan Joosten van Musschenbroek (and also Baruch de Spinoza) learned from the Amsterdam optician and politician Johannes Hudde (Ruestow 1996: 22-28; Bolt et al. 2018). Joblot was probably influenced by Musschenbroek's low-powered microscope (above), which this microscope very likely imitates but with some improvements.


The frontispiece of the second part of Joblot's book presents a line drawing of a naturalist sited in his study room and looking through a single microscope towards the light of the window. Near him and on the floor there are other, compound microscopes. Standing on the table there are also an armillary sphere, a notebook and pen, and several containers. It is believed to show Joblot in his laboratory, inspecting the organisms described in his book.

From Joblot 1718

Bion Nicholas 1727_edited_edited.jpg

From Bion 1709

From Joblot 1718


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© Microscope History all rights reserved

Boerhaave V26951.jpg

Boerhaave V26951

At the same time as Joblot began to make his microscopic observations, this microscope was also advertized by Nicolas Bion (ca. 1652-1733), a maker but most likely also a great retailer of mathematical and astronomical instruments and a royal maker of mathematical instruments for King Louis XIV (1638-1715). His workshop was located in Quai de l'Horloge, Paris. In Bion's profusely illustrated treatise (1709) on the construction and use of mathematical instruments, this microscope is seen (above) together with two other typical microscopes from the end of the 17th to the beginning of the 18th century. Indeed, Joblot's book was published by the same Parisian publisher who published Bion's treatise nine years earlier.

An identical microscope with a similar case but a slightly different circular base is No. V26951 in the Rijksmuseum Boerhaave in Leiden, the Netherlands. 

Nicolas Bion 1652 - 1733.jpg

Nicolas Bion (ca. 1652-1733)


Thomin's Later Version of Joblot's Single Microscope, ~1740 (Inv. YG-20-024)


A slightly simpler version of the Joblot microscope appears in small quantities later in the first half of the 18th century and is shown here. This microscope may also have a compatible etui, but it is not preserved with any of the few examples familiar to us today. The original design became simpler and the lens housing and stage made of blackened ivory disappeared. The tweezers remained and on the other side the round stage was replaced with a spike on which a small insect or part of a plant could be impaled. It is possible that an ivory disc was adapted to be mounted on the spike, both as a stab wound and as a stage for observations in small crumbs, similar to the later design of stage tweezers on compound microscopes. But even here, we do not know of any cases in which this part has been preserved.
An accurate description of this microscope appears in Marc Thomin's book from 1749. The illustration does depict this microscope with a disc on the spike as suggested above.

Thomin microscope 004.jpg

From Thomin 1749

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  • Bion, N. 1709. Traité de la Construction et des Principaux Usages des Instruments de Mathematique Avec les Figures necessaires pour l'intelligence de ce Traité. Paris: Veuve Boudot, J. Collombat et J. Boudot fils.

  • Bolt, M.,  Cocquyt, T. and Korey, M. 2018. Johannes Hudde and His Flameworked Microscope Lenses. Journal of Glass Studies 60: 207-222.

  • Joblot, L. 1718. Descriptions et usages de plusieurs nouveaux microscopes tant simples que composez, avec de nouvelles observations faites sur une multitude innombrable d'insectes et d'autres animaux de diverses espèces qui naissent dans les liqueurs préparées et dans celles qui ne le sont point. Paris: Veuve Boudot, J. Collombat et J. Boudot fils.

  • Ratcliff, M,J, 2009. The Quest for the Invisible: Microscopy in the Enlightenment. London: Routledge.

  • Ruestow, E.G. 1996. The Microscope in the Dutch Republic: The Shaping of Discovery. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Thomin, M. 1749. Traité d'optique mécanique. Paris: Coignard.

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