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Pre-1738 Simple Handheld Microscope

The elegance of simplicity is revealed in the hand-held design of the antique single lens microscope. The model featured below was redrawn from photographs of the original microscope, which is part of the Billings microscope collection at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington DC.

Comprised of a single narrow piece of brass, the microscope is curved or bent in the center to resemble pincers or surgeons forceps. Each arm extends to about 2-1/2 inches in length. The instrument does not stand on its own and the microscopist had to hold on to a varnished turned wooden handle that joins the unit. Constructed according to a streamlined design, the model is equipped with a 3/8-inch lens holder positioned on the upper arm and a 1/8-inch aperture in the lower. The microscope lacks an adjustable diaphragm and focusing was limited to varying the relatively short distance between the lens and aperture by either loosening or tightening the milled-head screw. Specimens were secured onto a small platform that is positioned beneath the lower arm.

Dating before 1738, the very portable microscope was probably used in fieldwork as well as in laboratory settings. Early microscopists who peered through this instrument would have possibly depended on one of two sources of illumination -- natural sunlight or oil lamp. The magnification factor of the lens and any accessory lenses used in this hand-held instrument is unknown, as are the designer and manufacturer.


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