100 Years – 100 Objects: Field Microscope

The Houston Museum of Natural Science was founded in 1909 – meaning that the curators of the Houston Museum of Natural Science have been collecting and preserving natural and cultural treasures for a hundred years now. For this yearlong series, our current curators have chosen one hundred exceptional objects from the Museum’s immense storehouse of specimens and artifacts—one for each year of our history. Check back here frequently to learn more about this diverse selection of behind-the-scenes curiosities—we will post the image and description of a new object every few days.

This description is from Lisa Rebori, the Museum’s Vice President of Collections. She’s chosen a selection of objects that represent our Museum’s history, and our collections of historical technologies, that we’ll be sharing here – and at 100.hmns.org- throughout the year.

Made by William Cary
London, England
c. 1820
HMNS #119
Museum Purchase, 1970

Scope In Box-6x6Included in the Museum’s collections are examples of the various tools used by scientists through history. There are several examples of early optical equipment such as microscopes.

This microscope is very compact. Each piece has a special place in the fitted mahogany case.  The case was designed to be portable and to provide protection for the instrument inside. It was easy to carry, to share discoveries with friends or to carry into the field.

When assembled, the microscope attaches to the top of the case with a screw mount, and disassembles to fit compactly into the top tray, as shown here. The long brass arm in the center of the box screws in to a threaded hole on the outside of the box lid. The barrel, or main body tube of the scope (the tube on the left), fits into the arm and the eyepiece is screwed onto the top and lenses screwed onto the base. Underneath this top tray are fitted slots for glass slides and a series of small containers to hold the specimens collected in the field for future study.

This microscope is deceptively simple. The craftsmanship required to make all the various pieces and grind the lenses required great skill. Early instrument makers, like Mr. Cary, developed reputations for the quality of their work.  They signed their microscopes the same way that artists sign their work.  Most instruments are found unsigned. This model is signed on the pillar, “Cary, 181 Strand, London.”

You can see more images of this fascinating artifact – as well as the others we’ve posted so far this year – in the 100 Objects section at 100.hmns.org

100 Years – 100 Objects: Monocular Compound Scope

The Houston Museum of Natural Science was founded in 1909 - meaning that the curators of the Houston Museum of Natural Science have been collecting and preserving natural and cultural treasures for a hundred years now. For this yearlong series, our current curators have chosen one hundred exceptional objects from the Museum’s immense storehouse of specimens and artifacts—one for each year of our history. Check back here frequently to learn more about this diverse selection of behind-the-scenes curiosities—we will post the image and description of a new object every few days.

This description is from Lisa Rebori, the museum’s Vice President of Collections. She’s chosen a selection of objects that represent our Museum’s history, and our collections of historical technologies, that we’ll be sharing here – and on hmns.org – throughout the year.

English, ca. 1820
HMNS #138
Museum purchase made possible with the support of the Junior League of Houston, Inc., 1990.

During the 17th and the first quarter of the 18th century, microscopes were made of wood, ivory and layers of paper covered with leather, vellum or fish skin, such as stingray. By the early 19th century, better microscopes were made almost entirely of brass.

This is a lacquered brass scope that is based on a design by Benjamin Martin, a teacher and instrument maker from the 1760s. This scope was designed to be portable and comes in a fitted wooden box with a variety of eye pieces and lenses to allow for various degrees of magnification. 

A feature of this type of scope is the freedom allowed to move the specimen being viewed.  [The item being viewed is held in place in the stage area by tweezers (shown below) or mounted to a slide.] This type of scope also provides increased illumination. The lens on the left is adjustable and works in combination with the mirror at the bottom, to focus light to the stage of the microscope.

Optical focus is achieved with a rack and pinion mechanism that moves the barrel up and down the pillar by means of the knob on the side.  Instrument makers had to have knowledge of optics, in addition to mechanics.

Check back soon for more of the 100 most compelling objects from the museum’s collections – we’ll be posting the series throughout 2009 as we celebrate a centennial of science in Houston.