Prisms, known as Nicol prisms

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made in England

Postcard of Prisms, known as Nicol prisms.
© National Museums Scotland

Prisms, known as Nicol prisms

Prisms of this type are known as Nicol prisms, after their inventor, Edinburgh geologist William Nicol (1768-1851). These two examples were made in England in the early 19th century. They are unsigned, but may have been made by Watkins of London.

The Nicol prism is an optical filter for polarising light. Used in pairs as polariser and analyser, the prism enables minerals to be identified through optical characteristics which derive from their crystal structures.

Both of these prisms were used by William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-77), inventor of positive/negative photography and man of science, with interests ranging from optics to Egyptian hieroglyphics.

Record details

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Online ID: 000-100-102-689-C
Image Rights Holder: National Museums Scotland
Project: 0098: National Museums Scotland
Project description | View all records in project
Ref: National Museums Scotland  T.1936.108
Date: Early 19th century
Early 19th century
Material: Brass case
Dimensions: 0.97" L x 0.72" D
1.88" L x 1.25" D
What: Prism, Nicol
Prism, Nicol / case
Subject: 22. PHYSICS, Light (Departmental Classification)
22. PHYSICS, Light (Departmental Classification)
Who: Nicol (Eponym)
Nicol (Eponym)
Watkins ?, England (Maker)
Watkins ?, London, England (Maker)
Where: England
Description: Nicol prism, possibly by Watkins, England, early 19th century
Nicol prism in a brass case with screw caps on ends, possibly by Watkins, England, early 19th century
  • Morrison-Low, A.D. & Christie, J.R.R. (eds.), Martyr of Science: Sir David Brewster 1781-1868. Edinburgh: 1984, pp 87-8 
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