With the assistance of a grant from the PRISM fund administered by the Science Museum on behalf of the Museums and Galleries Commission, the Museum has recently purchased an important English compound microscope.
The instrument can be dated to 1835 from an inscribed silver plaque on the original rosewood case, which records that the microscope was presented to Arthur Aikin by the members of the Society of Arts. H. T.Wood, in his history of the Society, records just such a gift being made to Aikin, who served as the Secretary of the Society between 1817 and 1839. As well as being a chemist and President of the Chemical Society from 1843 to 1845, Aikin was one of the founders of the Geological Society.
The microscope itself is an early example of the work of the London instrument maker Andrew Ross, who went on to occupy a leading position in the trade and to win a Council Medal – the highest award – at the Great Exhibition of 1851. It illustrates a stage in the development of the kind of solid and rigid stand required to take full advantage of the then recent improvement in resolution offered by achromatic and aspherical objectives. The massive base of the stand and the supporting struts are evidence of Ross’s continuing experimentation with solutions to this problem.
The Museum, thanks to the deposit of the collection of the Royal Microscopical Society, holds the most representative collection of the work of the leading London makers of the period, so it is particularly appropriate that it has acquired an instrument that is rare on two counts – for having a significant provenance and for representing a transient stage in the rapid evolution of successive designs.