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43 Wilson Screw-Barrel Microscope

image of Wilson Screw-Barrel Microscope

This simple (single-lens) microscope was made at some time about the beginning of the 18th century. It was acquired by an amateur biologist, almost certainly a gentleman enthusiast, who lovingly placed his specimens in the ivory slides, each between a pair of mica covers held in by a brass retaining ring. If he made more than eight slides they have been lost. Then he described each of the slides on the paper, which I found rolled up in the box. Only the first five descriptions remain in his neat and educated script.

What is so satisfying is to be able to guess the social context of the ;instrument and to imagine the collector at work.

A transcription of the paper found with the microscope describing the contents of the ivory slides:

A List of Objects


Leg of a moth
A Bug
A Flea
A Louse


Wing of a moth
Do of a bee
Do of a cockroach
Do of a stonefly


Weeping willow
Virgins bower
Elm root


Scale of a perch
Do of a dace
Do of a cod
Do of a bleak


Farina of Sun flower
Seed vessels of sorrel

Wing of a butterfly

Collection: John Lawrence, U.K.

The London instrument maker James Wilson (fl.1702-1710) described his version of the screw-barrel microscope in 1702.

See: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Volume 23, London 1702, pp. 1241-1247.


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