Microscope (detail)

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made in London

Postcard of Microscope (detail).
© National Museums Scotland

Microscope (detail)

This photograph shows the signature of the retailer of a microscope made in London around 1830. The signature on the microscope stage reads: 'Britton / Barnstaple'.

In an effort to improve the optical characteristics of the simple microscope in the early 19th century, David Brewster (1781-1868) suggested that single lenses might be made from materials with a very high refractive index, such as diamond or sapphire, which would lesser the effects of spherical aberration, a fuzziness of the image caused by the spherical curvature of glass lenses. A few of these were made, but they were expensive to produce and difficult to manufacture.

The design of this microscope signed by William Britton of Barnstaple is illustrated by Brewster in his Treatise on the Microscope (Edinburgh, 1837), where it is described as the pre-eminent London microscope manufacturer, Andrew Pitchard's, stand for sapphire glasses: however, all the objectives are made of glass. Pritchard's co-worker on jewel lenses, C.R. Goring, retired to Devon some time before his death in 1840, which may explain the signature on this instrument.

Record details

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Online ID: 000-180-000-939-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.1984.141
Date: Around 1830
c. 1830
Material: Brass. Inscription: Britton / Barnstaple
Dimensions: 200 mm x 200 mm x 260 mm approx / 220 mm 145 mm x 70 mm
What: Microscope / accessory / box
Subject: 22. PHYSICS, Light (Departmental Classification)
Who: Britton (Inscribed on the microscope)
Britton, Barnstaple (Maker)
Where: England, Barnstaple
England, Devon, Barnstaple
Description: Simple microscope, jewel lens model, in brass with three objectives, contained in a box
  • Nuttall, R.H. C.R. Goring, J.J. Lister and the Achromatic Microscope. Microscopy 32 (1973), pp 253-61; Nuttall, R.H. Andrew Pritchard, Optician and Microcope Maker. The Microscope 25 (1977), pp 65-81. 
  • Pritchard, A. and Goring, C.R. The Microscopic Cabinet. London, 1832, Plate II; Brewster, D. Microscope. In Encyclopaedia Britannica, 7th edition, Edinburgh, 1837, 763-4 and fig 1. 
  • Turner, G. L'E. The Rise and Fall of the Jewel Microscope 1824-1837. Microscopy 31 (1968), pp 85-94. 
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