Tripod-type Nuremberg microscope, ca.1800.

The tripod type of compound microscope seen here is one of several types of instruments, all made of wood and decorated cardboard, manufactured in the toy district of Bavaria, Germany (near Nuremberg)
between the late 18th through the early 19th Century.
The main styles included the 'Tripod' (AKA 'Culpeper') type seen here, a 'Sentry box' type and a Side Pillar-type. These microscopes were all made in the same style with only minor variations in the decorations, apparently for nearly half a century. This microscope is signed by "JFF" within a heart, one of a few known signatures often appearing on these instruments.
The "Tripod" type is clearly a rather crude copy of the tripod (commonly called Culpeper) type microscope of the 18th century. These microscopes, like the original tripod microscopes, were produced for the middle class public having an interest in natural philosophy but without truly scientific aspirations or the means for purchasing costly "true" microscopes. They represent an important aspect in the history of science - the emergence of popular science towards the end of the 18th century.


  • Chvátal, A. 2017. Jan Evangelista Purkyně (1787-1869) and his Instruments for microscopic research in the field of neuroscience. Journal of the History of the Neurosciences, 26, 238–256.

  • Ehrenberg, C. G. 1837. On the origin of organic matter from simple perceptible matter, and on organic molecules and atoms; together with some remarks on the power of vision of the human eye. Scientific Memoirs, 1, 555–583.

  • Jardine, B. 2009. Between the Beagle and the barnacle: Darwin’s microscopy, 1837–1854. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 40, 382–395.

However, as strange as it may be, in several cases these Nurremberg microscopes, especially of the type seen here, had their fair share in the advance of scientific research. Despite their rustic design and very elementary optical performance, in some cases they turned to become useful in the hands of some prominent scientists in the early stages of their career. A Nuremberg Tripod microscope is known to be used by Jan Evangelista Purkyně (1787-1869) in his early studies of the large neurons found in the cerebellum, called after him (Purkinje cells), the Purkinje fibres (the fibrous tissue that conducts electrical impulses from the atrioventricular node to all parts of the ventricles of the heart), and other discoveries (Chvátal 2017). A similar microscope is recorded as being used by Christian Gottfried Ehrenberg (1795-1876), the German naturalist, zoologist, comparative anatomist, geologist, and microscopist, in his work on infusoria for which he is primarily remembered. Ehrenberg began this work just after he returned from a voyage to Siberia with Alexander von Humboldt, on which he had gathered a large collection of zoological and botanical specimens. In his memoirs he refers to "only a very incomplete thirty-shilling wooden compound microscope from Nuremberg" with which he began his work (Ehrenberg 1837; Jardine 2009).

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