Olympus, Tokyo, MIC, 1970
a personal account
These days, in most cases toy microscopes are nearly worthless plastic instruments with low quality optics, kept in colorful cardboard and Styrofoam boxes together with cheap botanical needles, plastic scalpels and some inferior prepared microscope slides. Normally, I would recommend parents to buy their children of over ~12 years old a true student-class microscope for only about $100 or so. However, in the past there were several instances when child microscopes could offer true quality but with the simplicity and "chick" that would appeal to a kid. The best of these comes rather surprisingly from Olympus, a company that in my opinion has a long tradition of over-conservatism and low innovation when it comes to its student and research grade microscopes. The MIC was introduced in 1958 and was marketed with only some minor cosmetic changes well into the early 1970's. It offered a solid aluminum alloy body, excellent optics and an ingenious objective system that was apparently inspired by the revolving objectives of the Nikon H. It comes with a neat and functional thick and solid plastic carrying case. I wish they would make them today too.
This microscope brings some personal memories to me. When I was about ten or eleven years old, I walked one day with my father Zvi (1922-1992) in the main street of the old city of Beer Sheva, the rather provincial desert town where I grew up. In the window of a local optician (later to become a large holding company with many branches), I saw the MIC microscope. I bagged my father to buy it for me. My father, the most generous person I've ever known, asked me to stay out and entered the shop. From the window I could see him communicating with the seller. Then he came out and told me that as much as he wanted to buy it, we couldn't afford it. For my birthday my parents bought me a small single magnification microscope.
When I started my studies in petrography for my MA thesis, I was looking for a small, portable but efficient microscope that I could equip with polarizers and use at home. Two of my friends had MICs, which they kept since childhood but never used for many years. I asked them to sell me one of them. They both apologized but refused. Years passed, I finished successfully my MA and PhD and worked for years with several research-grade microscopes. When I became an associate professor, my friends prepared for me a big surprise party in a local good fish and seafood restaurant. One of the MIC owners, who became a professional photographer, made for me a framed photo of his MIC with a dedication inscription reminding me of this microscope and congratulating me for succeeding to advance without it.
In 2014 I was almost ashamed to buy myself this mint condition MIC on eBay for merely £11. I wish my father could see it and recall the story.