Microscope (detail), made by Smith & Beck, owned by Joshua Alder

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made in London

Postcard of Microscope (detail), made by Smith & Beck, owned by Joshua Alder.
© National Museums Scotland

Microscope (detail), made by Smith & Beck, owned by Joshua Alder

This photograph shows the signature on an achromatic monocular compound 'Students Microscope' made in London and bought in 1853. By 1840, three new instrument makers, exclusively manufacturing microscopes, had emerged in London, who had learned how to make successful achromatic instruments. Through J.J. Lister's optical theory and their own remarkable skill, their microscopes were the best available optically. One of these, James Smith (d.1870), seems to have worked exclusively for the trade until 1839, when he was assisted in business by Lister, with whose nephew Richard Beck he formed a partnership in 1847.

The signature on the body tube reads: 'Smith & Beck, / 6 Coleman St. / London / 743'.

Besides their expensive Lister-limb design, Smith & Beck produced microscopes at about six guineas (£6-30) for the growing student market. These were pitched at a relatively low price in competition with imported Continental microscopes, and were listed in Smith & Beck's catalogues for over thirty years. This particular instrument was sold to the naturalist Joshua Alder in May 1853. Alder was a prolific author of books and papers on conchology and zoophytology, and had previously owned one of Smith's more expensive microscopes.

Record details

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Online ID: 000-180-000-929-C
Image Rights Holder: National Museums Scotland
Project: 0504: National Museums Scotland Part 2
Project description | View all records in project
Ref: National Museums Scotland  T.1979.64
Date: 1853
Material: Brass / iron. Inscription: Smith & Beck, 6 Coleman St. London 743
Dimensions: 430 mm H
What: Microscope, achromatic compound
Who: Arthur Frank Microscope Collection
Joshua Alder (Purchaser)
Smith and Beck, 6 Coleman Street, London (Maker)
Where: England, London
Description: Achromatic compound 'Students' microscope in brass and iron, with objective and eyepiece, signed by Smith and Beck of London, 1853, and sold to Joshua Alder, natrualist, in May 1853
  • For Smith: see Turner, G. L'E. Hugh Powell, James Smith and Andrew Ross: Makers of Microscopes. In: J. North (ed.), Mid-Nineteenth Century Scientists. Oxford, 1969, pp 104-138. 
  • Nuttall, R.H. (1979): "Microscopes from the Frank Collection 1800 - 1860" 
  • Nuttall, R.H. James Smith, and Smith and Beck; 1839-1852 Part I: The Microscopes. Microscopy 36 (1989), pp 288-300, 317. 
  • Nuttall, R.H. Microscopes from the Frank Collection 1800-1860. Jersey, 1979, p 44. 
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