Powell and Lealand student ("The Iron") microscope, 1847-57


This is an example of Powell & Lealand’s student microscope, sometimes referred to as the “iron” microscope because of the cast foot and limb of the original design. Powell and Lealand introduced this model in 1843, in order to supply an affordable microscope to students and amateurs. It was originally constructed without a fine adjustment and with a black painted iron base and limb, but here we see the improved model having brass stand, short-lever fine focusing mechanism and a stage movement supported by Varley mechanism. This microscopes came with two each pre-RMS standard objectives and oculars in a crude softwood case, typical of Powell and Lealand.
The accompanying booklet provides the address 4 Seymour Place, Euston Sq., New Rd., London. Powell and Lealand worked at this address between 1847-1857, after which Euston Road was paved and the address changed to 170 Euston Rd.

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In making the "Iron microscope" Powell and Lealand took some very unique design, parts of which seem to be outdated even for their time and engineeringly awkward. It was very typical of this boutique, snobbish and extremely conservative company to preserve this obsolete and weird design for over 60 years, till the production of the last instrument of this kind in 1911.  The focusing system in these microscopes, copied from early 19th century forms such as Carpenter's, is always very sensitive and often malfunctioning because of the tiny rack. The screws holding the optical tube to the stand are also extremely delicate and short. One may only wonder why would anyone choose this microscope during the later decades of the 19th century instead of buying the much superior but still cheap student models by Zeiss, Leitz, Nachet and other European makers of the era. Still, one can observe throughout the second half of the 19th century the use of this model by professionals, such as the eccentric James Beaney, a famous surgeon at the Melbourne Hospital from 1860 to 1891 whose medical boldness, notorious self-promotion and lavish lifestyle invited controversy and divided public opinion. In an early photo taken when he was first appointed to the Melbourne Hospital in 1860, he is seen with a microscope similar to the one seen here.

James Beaney (1828-1891)

The firm of Powell and Lealand began with the partnership established between Peter Lealand & Hugh Powell in 1841. Previous to that, Hugh Powell produced microscopes under his own name and for the trade. At different times, they were located at various addresses in London: 24 Clarendon St., Somers town 1841-1846, 4 Seymour Place, Euston Sq., New Rd. 1847-1857, and 170 Euston Rd. 1857-1905. The business was operated by Thomas Powell, son of the founder, after his father's death in 1883. The firm ceased the manufacture of microscopes in 1901 although some models continued to be made by the firm's former foreman, Charles Perry, under the guidance of Thomas Powell with the work being done in the factory of Charles Baker. This continued up to 1914 (after Wissner).

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