Plössl in Vienna, Large No. 1 microscope, ~1854


The reality after Napoleon's defeat and the Vienna Congress cultivated a bourgeois apolitical lifestyle, which is known as the “Biedermeier culture”. The emperor's residence attracted significant forces from the German-speaking world which, thanks to the many foreign influences, enabled great achievements that made up the cultural splendor of Vienna at the time. 

The collaboration with scientists promoted optical industries, which reached a temporary high point with the products of the Viennese optician Simon Plössl (1794-1868). Until the introduction of scientifically calculated optics - founded by Ernst Abbe at the Carl Zeiss company in Jena - his devices were highly esteemed by users in Europe. Plössl's composite achromatic microscope won first prize at a gathering of German naturalists and doctors in Heidelberg in 1829 over similar instruments such as those from Amici of Modena, Dollond in London, Fraunhofer in Munich, Chevalier, Oberhäuser or Selligue in Paris.

This is the large microscope made by Simon Plössl from around 1854. Plössl's microscope stands were made with the typical round base (seen here) instead of those with the flat tripod base. Plössl now also manufactured eyepieces for insertion instead of screwing in as before. The microscope seen here was equipped with a round brass stage with recessed black matt glass insert and two brass object holders mounted on an eccentric column. Typically to Plössl (after his earliest models), the stand was based on a prismatic rod. It is signed on tube ”Plössl in Wien”, having three eye-lenses (1, 2, 3), two later Reichert objectives (3 and 6a), frosted black glass table, concave mirror, prism, condenser lens on stand, two micrometer slides, 1 magnifier and other accessories in original wood veneered and green velvet fitted case. Size c. 41,8 x 23,5 x 14 cm. The microscopes made in Vienna by Simon Plössl's successors Carl Fritsch and Wenzel Prokesch, had rectangular stages lacking the glass coating.

Simon Plössl came from a Viennese family of craftsmen. He learned to read and write from his father, who gave him an apprenticeship as a master turner at the age of 12. After completing this apprenticeship, he then started another apprenticeship because he wanted to become an optician. So on May 9, 1812 he came to the well-known master optician Friedrich Voigtlaender, who had worked for Ramdsen in London for several years and had been running a workshop in Vienna since 1807. At that time, he produced small pocket and compass microscopes as well as achromatic lenses for research purposes. It can be assumed that the achromatic lenses produced there from 1817, which are among the first in the German-speaking area, came from Plössel's make. In the period up to November 27, 1823, he worked as an apprentice or later as a journeyman. He learned all the work from Voigtlaender that was necessary to found and run an independent company. Above all, he got to know his most important sponsors there, the botanist and director of the botanical garden, Josef Freiherr v. Jacquin, for whom he sometimes made difficult custom-made products, and the astronomer and director of the Vienna University Observatory, Josef Johann v. Littrow. Both encouraged Plössl to open his own workshop. On their advice, he attended courses in mathematics and optics at the Polytechnic Institute and at the University of Vienna. This knowledge enabled him to improve his optical devices. After eleven educational years with Voigtlaender, he finally opened his own workshop in 1823 and produced binoculars, glasses, theater perspectives and so-called aplanatic magnifying glasses, which were named after him and were widely sold.

Plössl's optical instruments soon attracted the attention of several researchers, including the physicist and applied mathematician Andreas Freiherr von Baumgartner (1793-1865), the mathematician and physicist Andreas Freiherr von Ettingshausen (1796-1878), the botanist Joseph Franz Freiherr von Jacquin (1766-1839), the astronomer Joseph Johann von Littrow (1781-1840). Microscopes made by Plössl were used by Gregor Mendel (1822–1884) for his experiments on the pea plant genetics and  plant hybridization conducted between 1856 and 1863. They supported him with commissions, so that he has achieved national and international fame within a decade, although, uncharacteristically for his time, he never lives outside his hometown and does not even leave Lower Austria to travel. Plössl is considered a very honest optician and mechanic; He published his first list of prices in 1828, which was soon followed by more detailed ones. According to the calculations of v. From 1832, Littrow manufactured Plössl dialytic telescopes, which soon became instruments in great demand all over the world - like all optical products from Plössll's workshop, the images produced with them were of considerable brightness and sharpness. 

On January 29, 1868 Simon Plössl died after a tragic accident in his workshop, when a falling glass plate wounded his right arm so much that he failed to overcome the injury and perished of complications shortly after. The workshop was maintained by his sister Anna Fleckenstein (née Plössl), where microscopes were sold under the company name S. Plössl & Comp., later S. Plössl & Cie. This brand name continued to produce instruments till 1905. The original, typical Plössl microscopes were still offered until 1882, but from 1875 production gradually switched to the manufacture of horseshoe stands.

The text in this page is based in part on the excellent website (originally in German) "Museum of optical instruments", © 2000 - 2010 by Timo Mappes, Germany

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