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‘Screw-barrel’ microscope

The very first microscopes were actually closer to a type of fancy magnifying glasses. They only had one lens and were only able to magnify an object to a few dozen times its size. Compound microscopes, with multiple lenses, were able to magnify considerably more, yet were not very reliable. Lenses would often be ground poorly, making them anything but perfectly adjusted to one another, and causing them to distort the image. For quite a while, compound microscopes were mostly regarded as status symbols: pretty to look at, but rather impractical in scientific research.
  • Maker: Edmund Culpeper
  • Date: 18th century
  • Location: London, UK
  • Collection: History of Sciences
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The very first microscopes were actually closer to a type of fancy magnifying glasses. They only had one lens and were only able to magnify an object to a few dozen times its size.

Who was Edmund Culpeper?

Edmund Culpeper (1660-1738) was a British instrument builder who became famous in scientific circles for his high-quality optical instruments. Initially he built simple microscopes, but later he invented his own types, including the ‘Culpeper Tripod’ microscope. Culpeper had a workshop in London.

What is a ‘screw-barrel’ microscope?

A ‘screw-barrel’ microscope is a microscope with a single lens. The image could be focused by rotating the barrel in the cylinder. The ‘screw-barrel’ microscope was invented by Nicolaas Hartsoeker and James Wilson. The specimens were held in place by a spring. The ‘screw-barrel’ microscope you see here is an example of the ‘Hartsoeker-Wilson’ type.

What makes Culpeper’s version of this microscope special?

The earliest ‘screw-barrel’ microscopes had a hand grip. They were hand-held and operated. Culpeper changed this, mounting his versions on a stand. That made them easier to use. He also fitted his microscopes with a condensing lens or reflecting mirror to provide more light.

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