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Smith & Beck Large Best 1b.jpg

Smith and Beck, 'Large Best' or No. 1, 1856

Model history: This microscope was the biggest that the firm of R & J Beck produced standing at an impressive 52 cm. with the eyepieces racked up. It is equipped with a large Wenham binocular body tube with course focusing at the back. Fine focusing is via a short lever on the nose piece. It is signed on the foot 'Smith & Beck, 6 Coleman St, London'. According to the company's delivery books, this specific instrument (having the serial number 1257) was supplied on 1856 or early 1857. It is an unfortunate mishap that the page of serial numbers 1246-1311 is missing hence we cannot obtain the name of the buyer.

This was the top-of-the-line model produced by the firm at the time. James Smith (1789 – 1870) established himself in business in 1839. Working with J.J. Lister in the design of the objectives used on his microscopes, he gained high reputation from the onset. In 1841 he was requested by the Royal Microscopical Society to supply them with one of his microscopes, which was regarded good but slightly inferior to the one given by Andrew Ross. In 1847 Smith took into partnership Richard Beck (1827 – 1866), J. J. Lister's nephew, and the firm was renamed “Smith & Beck.” In 1851, Joseph Beck (1829 – 1891) joined his brother in the firm and the name became "Smith, Beck & Beck". After Smith's retirement in 1864 it became R&J Beck, a trademark that continued into the 20th century.

Scientific work made with this model: A No. 1 microscope by Smith and Beck was bought for £34 in 1847 by Charles Darwin for inspecting the anatomical variations that divide the sub-species of cirripedia which can only be observed under a high power instrument.

Accessories Case


The microscope, stored in its own large mahogany case, another case with accessories accompanies it. These accessories can be found in R. & J. Beck's catalogue and discussed in Wissner's collection regarding a portable model and the same model in early production by H. & W. Crouch. There are many variations in shape and contents of these accessory sets, and they may have been made specifically by order of the clients. The set seen here is rather basic, containing the more commonly-used components, but other cases (such as the above-quoted) include vast numbers of accessories many of which, it may be assumed, were never in use by a routinely working microscopist.


References: MHS 10298, 52121

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