Antique microscopes and slides

The Quekett Microscopical Club is the leading organisation for all collectors and historians of the microscope!

Antique Powell & Lealand microscopeAntique Leitz microscopeSince its invention in the Dutch Republic in the 17th century, the microscope has had one of the longest and most fascinating histories of all scientific instruments. Each century has produced evolving designs of microscopes, but it was the Victorian era that saw a rapid explosion of ideas and new instruments; it was during this period that optics of the light microscope achieved their limits in terms of resolution (the ability to distinguish details at high magnification) and microscopy became a gentlemanly pleasure in Victorian society. It was the period when the optical empires of Leitz (photo on left) and Zeiss were founded in Germany, largely serving medical researchers, while in Britain Beck, Ross, Powell & Lealand (photo on right), Watson and others grew to supply the demand from amateur gentlemen. Instruments from this period are resplendent in their polished ‘brass and glass’ and a huge range of accessories was made to facilitate examination, many of which are still invaluable today.

Antique compressorium An antique compressorium

A whole industry developed in the second half of the 19th century making microscope slide preparations of an enormous range of specimens; mounters included Norman, Topping, Sinel & Hornell and Wheeler, whilst retailers included Watson & Son, Beck and Baker. The skills and craftsmanship of these slide mounters has not been surpassed since.

Antique slides Antique microscope slides

In the 20th century, significant advances were made in microscope design and optics resulting in the light microscopes of today. During this period, the microscope changed from a gentleman’s pleasure to an instrument of industry and research, and this is reflected in the changes of microscope stand from the 1930’s to 1950’s. Many of these microscopes are now collectable items, whilst remaining as workable instruments capable of delivering the best of results.

Collecting antique microscopes and slides makes an absorbing hobby. With the advent of Internet auction sites, a collection can be built quickly, with prices ranging from a few pounds for some slides to many thousands of pounds for the finest instruments. Many collectors specialise in one maker such as Watson & Son, or in one period in the development of the microscope. Amongst our members, the Quekett Club has many leading authorities on the history of the microscope and collectors of antique and 20th century microscopes and slides. The Quekett Journal of Microscopy provides a unique archive of historical material, with its unbroken publication record from 1868, and contains many articles written by our members on the history and use of instruments, accessories and slides. The Club has also published two books to help collectors, Microscopical Mounts and Mounters and Notes on Modern Microscope Manufacturers.

So, if you are a collector, why not join us, access all of the Journal content, and perhaps contribute articles on your own historical researches. If you have an old microscope or slides and want to learn more about then, ask a question of our experts!

↑ Top of page

Further reading

If you would like to read more about antique microscopes, accessories and slides, and see lots more photographs, try the following links. Some will take you to other pages on the Quekett website, some to websites run by Quekett members, and some to websites run by other enthusiasts.

↑ Top of page