Early 20th Century Field Microscopes by Swift & Son

J. Swift & Son, Portable Clinical & Field Microscope, 1900


James Swift and Son designed this collapsing microscope with its solid leather case for the military doctors and traveling scientists at the beginning of the 20th century, undoubtedly under the influence of Charles Baker's "The Diagnostic No. 1" (YG-005 in this collection). At the same time, the same firm designed the more robust "Discovery Microscope" (YG-049) for the Discovery Antarctic Expedition. But the microscope seen here was made to be highly compact and portable without compromising on quality. As the sales advertisement by J. Swift & Son, ca. 1900, states: "This microscope was originally designed to meet the requirements of the Bacteriologist who needed an instrument of utmost portability. It is particularly serviceable to Microscopical and Natural History Societies, as its extreme portability, combined with great steadiness and efficiency for high power investigations, recommends it strongly. These instruments are in very general use in India and Africa amongst those working on Malaria, Sleeping Sickness, etc. They have been supplied in great numbers to the Army Veterinary Departments, the Crown Agents for the Colonies, the United States Government, etc.".

ReferencesJ. RMS 1900: 379, 381; SML: 1982-250; MHS: 84455; Turner 1989: 200; George; Wissner

J. Swift & Son, The Discovery Microscope, 1901-10


In 1901 James Swift & Son designed this portable yet competent model specifically for the RRS. Discovery (photo below) for the 1901-1904 Antarctic expedition was the first official British exploration of the Antarctic regions since James Clark Ross's voyage sixty years earlier. Organized on a large scale under the Royal Society and the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) joint committee, the expedition aimed to conduct scientific research and geographical exploration in what was then primarily an untouched continent. It launched the Antarctic careers of many who would become leading figures in the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration, including Robert Falcon Scott, who led the expedition, and Ernest Shackleton, who served as the third officer. This microscope was named in the catalog of the time as the 'Discovery' model.

ReferencesJ. RMS 1904: 103, 105; MHS: 44459; Billings: P. 111, Fig. 209, AFIP 17783-60-4713-161; Christie's 1995a: 239; Sobel.