In celebration of brass and glass

Philip M. Greaves

What better way to celebrate our first display meeting since the pandemic than by bringing out the ‘brass and glass’ and enjoying some vintage microscopy? For many years I enjoyed the wonderful displays at Annual Exhibitions of brass microscopes by Brian Davidson, and the multi-microscope displays by Barry Ellam at various meetings such as the March meetings of Reading Microscopical Society. In no way can I emulate these two savants of microscopy – both sadly missed – but perhaps I can pay homage to them!

All of the instruments on display are by that great British manufacturer, Watson & Sons. On show are their smallest compound microscope, and their largest.

On show will be a Watson Field portable microscope (their smallest), an early Service and an early Bactil (both showing Watson’s resplendent enamelling and lacquer to their finest), a van Heurck (their largest) and a rather special Watson Edinburgh.

Watson Service, 1943. Serial No. 78493

The ubiquitous model for routine laboratory work and much used after WW2 in schools and colleges. However, it could also be configured as a higher specification instrument, as here. This example has fittings for the high power binocular attachment (no longer present) and the ‘Research’ Akehurst sliding substage. This instrument clearly has had little use over the years, although the stage Y-axis movement has considerable backlash and needs some attention!

The slide is of the proboscis of the blow fly by C. M. Topping, one of my favourite microscopical structures.

The lamp is a simple Baker ‘Vernon’, lamp, recently restored and fitted in a bespoke case.

Watson Field Portable, circa 1935. Serial No. 54112

This small, folding microscope is virtually identical to a model sold by J. Swift & Sons. Neither appears to have been made in any number; a Swift version is in the collections of the RMS at Oxford but I know of only two other examples of the Watson Field model. The red case was constructed during the first lockdown, using bookbinding materials to hand.

The slide is by Watson of native silver.

The lamp is a Leitz ‘Mignon’ dating from the 1920’s on a home-made stand and is run from a PP9 battery.

Watson Bactil, circa 1927. Serial No. 38581

The Bactil (and Patna) models differed from the Service in having a larger foot for added stability and were ‘fitted and adjusted by hand’; the Patna also had a rotating stage. Both were promoted for high power work and were perhaps more serious instruments for medical laboratories than the more elaborate Edinburgh and Van Heurck stands. This example has the classical Watson ‘swing out’ substage and ‘Service’ mechanical stage, both eminently practical for the busy worker.

The slide shows the injected blood vessels in the toe of a salamader.

The lamp is a much-later (1960’s) Vickers low voltage unit.

Watson Edinburgh, 1934. Serial No. 53872

This late example of the popular Edinburgh stand was very highly specified by its original owner, with interchangeable straight and inclined binoculars, five ‘Research’ fitting condensers, Conrady vertical illuminator, illuminator, troughs and various accessories. It was purchased (secondhand) by Peter Sartory from Brunnings in 1959 or ’60, and handed by him to his son Carel, both past-Presidents of the Quekett. I would dearly love to know who originally purchased this extensive outfit!

The slide is a Typen-Platte of 40 diatom species, mounted in a labelled grid, by J. D. Moller.

The lamp is a 1950’s era Watson ‘Regulite’ low voltage unit

Watson Circuit Stage Van Heurck, circa 1900. Serial No. 5034

A big and heavy beast, here (like many) fitted with the Wenham binocular tube giving stereoscopic vision with low to medium power objectives. This was a popular microscope for those who could afford it (approximately £12,000 in today’s money), but perhaps was more of a statement than an every-day instrument; it is rather fiddly in use and is best used standing up! Nevertheless, it was the pinnacle of Watson’s design and craftsmanship.

The slide is of Polycystina from Cambridge, Barbados by an unknown maker, and shown using patch stop darkground.

The lamp is a much-later (1960’s) Leitz ‘Monla’ model, which sold widely.

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