Gossip meeting “Books that encouraged me to take up microscopy as a hobby”

Saturday 13th February 2021

Just like a face-to-face gossip meeting, this Zoom meeting sometimes meandered off topic with members talking about their first microscopes, asking for suggestions on geology books (followed by a discussion of polarising filters), showing us diatoms and spicules from Oamaru diatomite, asking for help removing a stuck objective, and telling us about their progress with d.i.y. DIC.

Apart from the geology ones, details of the books that were mentioned are given in bulleted lists under the names of the people who recommended them, so a few are listed twice. Many of the books are too old to have an ISBN. The days when each town had a second-hand bookshop are long gone, but many of the suggested books that are out of print can now be found used on Amazon or Abe Books.

Joan Bingley’s interest in microscopy started with Understanding Science, which includes a diagram of the microscope and how it works, as well as articles such as specimens in rock pools, and how non-flowering plants work. For a starting point in identifying freshwater specimens, she recommended Microscopic Life in Sphagnum.

  • Understanding Science, 1963, Sampson Low, Marston & Co.
  • Microscopic Life in Sphagnum by Marjorie Hingley, Richmond Publishing, 1993, ISBN 9780855462918

Michael Bradley won a copy of How to Use the Microscope while he was at school, and was given his first microscope soon after.

  • How to Use the Microscope by Charles Albert Hall & E. F. Linssen, A. & C. Black

Gordon Brown showed us his first microscopy book, Life under the microscope, a present on his 11th birthday, that contains lots of illustrations of specimens. He was sure that he was the only person on the huge council estate in Gateshead to own a microscope.

Calyptostoma sp. (a mite that lives on adult Tipulids)Calyptostoma sp. (a mite that lives on adult Tipulids)

  • Life under the microscope by Otto Jírovec, Bedřich Bouček, Jiří Fiala & Margaret Schierl, Spring Books, 1964
  • Color Atlas of Urinary Cytology by Ito Kiichi, Seiji Yagi & Morio Hirata, MDMI, 1992, ISBN 978-0912791784

Danny Ferri became interested in microscopy when he was about 12 or 14, when he had a toy microscope and a copy of Microscopie Pratique. He even made slides then, and he still has a box of them. He was fortunate to live near a microscopy shop where he could buy tools and chemicals. His interest paused until he retired, when he intended to restore and re-sell microscopes; now he restores them but cannot part with them!

  • Microscopie Pratique et ses applications, la faune et la flore microscopiques des eaux, les microfissiles par Georges Deflandre, Paul Lechavalier, 1947

Grant Foden’s interest in microscopy started last year. He inherited his father’s microscope and bought himself a Watson Service. He recommended a book that he had found very useful in explaining many aspects of microscopy, Practical Microscopy. For example, he was on the verge of throwing away his dark-ground condenser when he saw the ray diagram that helped him understand that the condenser has to be in exactly the right place to illuminate the specimen.

Ray diagram of dark-ground illuminationRay diagram of dark-ground illumination

Contents of Practical Microscopy by L. C. Martin & B. K. JohnsonContents of Practical Microscopy by L. C. Martin & B. K. Johnson

  • Practical Microscopy, by L. C. Martin & B. K. Johnson, 3rd edition, Blackie and Son, 1962

Les Franchi was given a brass Hartnack microscope for his 15th birthday, and later bought a Watson Kima that he still has. His book recommendations included:

  • Amateur Photomicrography by Alan Jackson, Focal Press
  • The Microscope by John R. Upton, Murray, 1937
  • Elementary Microtechnique by H. Alan Peacock, 2nd edition, Arnold, 1940
  • How to Know the Protozoa by Theodore Louis Jahn & Frances Floed Jahn, Literary Licensing, 2012, ISBN 9781258469047

Les used his Kima horizontally for photomicrography, with a camera that used 2½ × 3½ inch plates.

Watson Kima equipped for photomicrographyWatson Kima equipped for photomicrography

The first microscopy book that John Gregory bought was The Microscope Made Easy, followed by Practical Microscopy, Microscopy on a Shoestring and Photography Through the Microscope.

  • The Microscope Made Easy by A. Laurence Wells, Frederick Warne & Co.
  • Practical Microscopy by J. Eric Marson, Northern Biological Supplies, 1983 [available new from Brunel Microscopes]
  • Microscopy on a Shoestring for Beekeepers and Naturalists by Owen Meyer, Northern Bee Books, 2010, ISBN 978-0907908104
  • Photography Through the Microscope by John Gustav Delly, 9th edition, Eastman Kodak, 1988, ISBN 978-0879853624

Graham Matthews recommended a couple of books for freshwater specimens:

  • Free-Living Freshwater Protozoa: A Colour Guide by David J. Patterson, CRC Press, 1996
  • The Young Specialist Looks At Pond-Life by Wolfgang Engelhardt & Hermann Merxmüller, Burke, 1964

Jacky McPherson was fascinated by Strange Worlds Under a Microscope, a book owned by her future husband around 1964. It has lots of line drawings and descriptions, but no photographs. Jacky also recommended How to Know the Freshwater Algaewhich is very good for identifying algae, and Introduction to Freshwater Algae.

Contents of Strange Worlds Under a MicroscopeContents of Strange Worlds Under a Microscope

  • Strange Worlds Under a Microscope by Margaret Cosgrove, Lutterworth Press, 1964
  • How to Know the Freshwater Algae by G. W. Prescott, Wm. C. Brown Co., 1970, ISBN 9780697048585
  • Introduction to Freshwater Algae by Allan Pentecost, Richmond Publishing, 1984, ISBN: 978-0855461447
  • An Introduction to the Study of Protozoa by Doris L. MacKinnon & R. S. J. Hawes, Oxford Clarendon Press, 1961

Around the same time, Jacky and her future husband followed instructions in Scientific American and made a Leeuwenhoek-style microscope in a box, with 3 spherical lenses of different sizes. Jacky’s first modern microscope was a second-hand Watson Kima, which she bought from Brunnings while she was at university; she still has it.

Back in 1968, Robert Muston thought he would like to investigate microscopy, and before buying a microscope he bought a copy of Freshwater Microscopy and read it cover-to-cover. He admired the line drawings, especially those of Daphnia and rotifers by Eric Hollowday. He wasn’t able to afford a microscope in those days, and it was not until thirty years later when he retired (in 1998) that he eventually bought his first microscope; he hasn’t looked back since.

  • Freshwater Microscopy by Wilfred J. Garnett, 2nd edition, Constable, 1965

Freshwater Microscopy by W. J. GarnettFreshwater Microscopy by W. J. Garnett

Soon after starting microscopy, Tony Pattinson bought a copy of Collins Field Guide to Freshwater Life that covers just about everything, including plants, fishes, Protozoa and diatoms. Tony likes it so much that he has 2 copies, one that stays at home and one for field trips such as Quekett excursions. Tony recommends the edition by Fitter & Manuel, not the more recent editions.

  • Collins Field Guide to Freshwater Life by Richard Fitter & Richard Manuel, Collins, 1986, ISBN: 0-00-219143-1

Collins Field Guide to Freshwater Life by R. Fitter & R. ManuelCollins Field Guide to Freshwater Life by R. Fitter & R. Manuel

Robert Ratford got started with Simple Experiments with Microscopes, one of a series produced by the Milk Marketing Board. It has simple diagrams and line drawings to explain things, and a series of projects suitable for children. Robert graduated from a toy microscope via a Lomo to a Nikon Labophot by the time he was 18. For entertainment, because many of the substances can no longer be used, Robert suggested The Microtomist’s Vade-mecum.

  • Simple Experiments with Microscopes (Project Book 116) by Wendell Chapman, K. Williams & S. Pritchard, 1970, Wolfe Publishing
  • Further experiments with microscopes (Project Book 117) by J. B. Nelson & Brian Wilkins, 1970, Wolfe Publishing
  • The Microtomist’s Vade-mecum: A Handbook of the Methods of Microscopic Anatomy by Arthur Bolles Lee, P. Blakiston’s Son & Co.

Derek Sayers recommended an extremely comprehensive book, Die Wissenschaftliche und Angewandte Photographie, that is in German.

  • Die Wissenschaftliche und Angewandte Photographie by Kurt Michel, Springer-Verlag, 1957 (available as a PDF, ISBN 978-3-7091-4023-9)

Paul Smith provided details of 4 books that got him started in microscopy in a PowerPoint presentation:

Click the arrows to move through the slides. Click the symbol at bottom right for a larger version.

  • The Microscope by Aubrey H. Drew & Lewis Wright, Religious Tract Society, 1927
  • How to Use the Microscope by Charles Albert Hall & E. F. Linssen, A. & C. Black, 1960
  • The Microscope Made Easy by A. Laurence Wells, Frederick Warne & Co.
  • Amateur Photomicrography with Simple Apparatus by Alan Jackson, Focal Press, 1944
  • Microfossils by M. D. Brasier, HarperCollins Publishers, 1980, ISBN 978-0045620029

Alan Wood’s enthusiasm for microscopy started in the sixth form at grammar school. There was a store room next to the biology laboratory with every chemical you could wish for, including ethyl alcohol, xylene, clove oil, Canada balsam and stains, and the zoology teacher was happy for sixth-formers to make slides. The biology library included Elementary Microtechnique with procedures for all sorts of specimens and recipes for fixatives and stains, but it was almost always out on loan and so Alan bought his own copy even though it was very expensive at 45s.

Elementary Microtechnique by H. Alan PeacockElementary Microtechnique by H. Alan Peacock

Alan had always been interested in ponds and streams, and to help identify specimens he bought The Young Specialist Looks At Pond-Life for 12s 6d. This book has lots of descriptions and illustrations of plants and animals, including ones that you need a microscope to see properly.

The Young Specialist Looks At Pond-Life by Wolfgang Engelhardt & Hermann MerxmüllerThe Young Specialist Looks At Pond-Life by Wolfgang Engelhardt & Hermann Merxmüller

  • Elementary Microtechnique by H. Alan Peacock, 3rd edition, Arnold, 1966 [there was a 4th edition revised by Savile Bradbury in 1973]
  • The Young Specialist Looks At Pond-Life by Wolfgang Engelhardt & Hermann Merxmüller, Burke, 1964

Alan had never heard of stereomicroscopes then, but the school had several Watson Kimas. Alan saved up and bought a used one for £32:10:0 that included a 2″ objective with a field of view of a few millimetres.

Watson Kima No. 95030Watson Kima No. 95030

John Zukowski came into microscopy as an extension of his hobby of photography and he recommended a recent book, An Introduction to Digital Photomicrography.

Lisa Ashby asked for suggestions about books on geology.

  • Julian Gray suggested:
  • An Introduction to the Methods of Optical Crystallography by F. Donald Bloss, Techbooks, 1989, ISBN 978-1878907011
  • The spindle stage: principles and practice by F. Donald Bloss, Cambridge University Press, 1981, ISBN 978-0521232920
  • Optical Crystallography by F. Donald Bloss, Mineralogical Society of America, 1999, ISBN 978-0939950492
  • Ore Microscopy & Ore Petrography by James R. Craig & David J. Vaughan, 2nd edition, Mineralogical Society of America, ISBN 0-471-55175-9, free PDF
  • An Introduction to the Rock-Forming Minerals by W. A. Deer, R. A. Howie & J. Zussman, 3rd edition, Mineralogical Society, 2013, ISBN 978-0903056274
  • John Edge suggested:
  • Minerals and the Microscope by Herbert Gladstone Smith & Maurice Kingsley Wells, 4th edition, Thomas Murby, 1956
  • Optical Mineralogy by Austin F. Rogers & Paul F. Kerr, McGraw-Hill, 1942
  • Danny Ferri suggested
  • Atlas of Rock-Forming Minerals in Thin Section by W. S. MacKenzie & C. Guilford, Routledge, 1980, ISBN 978-0582455917
  • Michael Bradley suggested:
  • Crystals and Light: Introduction to Optical Crystallography by Elizabeth Armstrong Wood, 2nd edition, Dover Publications, 1977, ISBN 978-0486234311

This led to a discussion of whether a polarising microscope is necessary. Most members seem to manage with a normal microscope by using one polarising filter on top of the light source and another (the analyser) above the specimen. Locations for the analyser include on top of the slide, on top of the turret dovetail, or in the recess below the head. The Club sells polarising film and retarders. Suggestions for makeshift retarders included the clear wrapping of greetings cards, windows in cake boxes, parts of the hard plastic of CD-ROM boxes (pushed out with a cork borer heated in a Bunsen burner) and mica windows for heaters.

Gordon Brown recommended Polaroid Laboratory J-Filters that are sometimes available on eBay. They are rigid, unmounted and marked with orientation; a pair of grey 330 gives excellent extinction (the brown 310 are not so good).

Julian Gray recommended using the screw mount (for supplementary objectives) that is present on some stereomicroscopes to attach a linear polarising filter from a camera for viewing specimens in transmitted polarised light.

John Zukowski asked how to remove an objective that was screwed tightly into a turret of his Olympus CX33. Tony Pattinson and Les Franchi recommended a strap wrench such as a Boa Constrictor, available in a range of sizes.

Boa Constrictor strap wrenchBoa Constrictor strap wrench

Jacky McPherson has been busy processing samples from the 1kg of Oamaru diatomite that she received 4 years ago, and she showed some of her photomicrographs, including diatoms and spicules.

Biddulphia from Oamaru diatomiteBiddulphia sp. from Oamaru diatomite

Sponge spicule from Oamaru diatomiteSponge spicule from Oamaru diatomite

Sponge spicules from Oamaru diatomiteSponge spicules from Oamaru diatomite

Gordon Brown showed us a photomicrograph of bath sponge spicules in the book that got him started in microscopy.

Spicules of bath spongeSpicules of bath sponge

Jacky sometimes gets sidetracked into looking at live specimens, such as this Stentor:


Tony Pattinson gave us an update on his experiments with d.i.y. DIC using Sanderson prisms, exploiting the photoelastic properties of polycarbonate. Tony is using a sheet 6 mm think and applying stress to produce a gradient of refractive index and image splitting with a zero-order fringe in the middle.

Colour fringes in a stressed polycarbonate sheetColour fringes in a stressed polycarbonate sheet

Photographing a stressed polycarbonate sheetPhotographing a stressed polycarbonate sheet

Photograph through stressed polycarbonate sheetPhotograph through stressed polycarbonate sheet

Tony has succeeded in producing a doubled image, and by rotating a polarising filter he can eliminate either of the images.

Doubled image of a steel ruler through stressed polycarbonate sheetDoubled image of a steel ruler through stressed polycarbonate sheet

Tony’s experiments so far have produced something that could replace a Wollaston prism in the substage. The next stage will be more difficult, trying to produce a similar arrangement to go in or above the back focal plane of an objective where space is limited.

Quekett member A. Loro experimented with stressed polycarbonate film and published papers in the Journal that are available on the USB drive.

Report by Alan Wood

↑ Top of page