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MICROSCOPE-ANTIQUES.COM     2013-15.




This page is meant to provide you some guidance if you are interested in collecting these or any other collectible for that matter. It is not meant to be exhaustive or detailed, just to offer you some friendly advice. The first thing to do is to learn about the instruments you want to collect in as much detail as possible before you contemplate a purchase. Secondly, shop around; do not jump at the first microscope described as 'rare' on Ebay. Many of these are extremely overpriced and to an experienced collector, almost worthless. That is not to say there are not great collectible microscopes and other instruments on Ebay, but buyer beware. In almost all cases condition is critical to the value of these instruments, so if you plan to buy one that is not extremely rare, wait for a good example. Only in the case of a very rare instrument (in your own experience, not the seller's!), would you be justified to purchase one not in good to excellent condition. Restored instruments are usually ruined by the restorer, especially on Ebay. If the original machining lines are polished away (something hard to see in images on Ebay), the value drops dramatically. Furthermore, relacquering or refinishing, if performed, should replicate the original; few people on earth have the skill or patience to do this properly, and so they often destroy the value of the instrument which might have been better left the way it was. A unlacquered but clean microscope is likely worth more to most collectors than one polished and refinished for the "wow" effect that looks very unlike the original. I remember reading a description on Ebay of a seller's "week's worth" of restoration and thinking, if it had been done properly, it would have taken more like a year or two! Don't get me wrong there are some tastefully restored instruments, but when done properly they will look exactly or almost exactly like the original; this kind of restoration takes a long time and is rare (and expensive and/or time-consuming).

Hunting for these instruments is a little like hunting for meteorites. You seldom find a great bargain, but when you do it is an exhilarating experience. You might spend years looking on the Internet, in antique shops, flea markets etc but one day find that gem. A further word here about price. Some antique microscopes are clearly very expensive and valuable, but most are not. Keep in mind that some manufacturers were making 20,000 or more instruments per year even in the late 19th century. An average monocular antique compound microscope from the 1890's is usually not worth a fortune. Nice antique microscopes from the nineteenth century often sell for a few hundred dollars. Very few collectors can afford the real rarities, and would rather have a broad collection than spend their entire life savings on a single instrument. I often laugh at some of the asking prices on Ebay for some of these ordinary stands which the sellers are claiming as 'rare.' In some cases I have seen a microscope of which perhaps 30,000 or more were made, being advertised as 'extreme rarities'. This is not rare, particularly when there are so few collectors of antique microscopes on the planet. The laws of supply and demand certainly apply to the world of microscope collecting. Although a few sellers on Ebay know the value of their microscope, many have no clue. Unfortunately, as noted above, 'restoration' of less than an authentic type, often destroys whatever collectible value many of these microscopes have as well. Some of these are easy to recognize with a silver or chrome-colored foot (base). No microscope was ever made that way. Avoid any microscope that contains a silver colored foot-it is almost certainly a inaccurately redone instrument.

There are exceptions to some rules. There are a few very wealthy microscope collectors who will spend almost anything on an uncommon microscope in excellent condition. In 2013 a microscope (admittedly in excellent condition) that should have sold for about $2500 went for almost $9000 because two wealthy bidders both wanted it and were willing to pay almost anything. I bought an almost identical microscope, in good though not in as excellent condition, for $1200 a few months later; sometimes buying a scope in good but not superb condition is worthwhile, especially if it is uncommon. There are extremes in collecting microscopes just like in other fields. One can see that fine or uncommon very small microscopes, as well as fine but extremely large microscopes seem to bring equal attention. In the case of the small simple microscope, some of the more uncommon or 'collectable' varieties bring thousands of dollars, though originally they were very inexpensive. It is interesting that a rare simple microscope may cost as much as the most complicated and originally much more expensive larger models.

I should also note that there are other auctions as well as fixed-price sites other than Ebay, so if you are interested, you should seek out these other sites. Bonhams and Miller in England and Skinner in the USA often sell antique microscopes, and occasionally an auction house that does not handle microscopes, will have some. If you are willing to scour the Internet you will eventually find some bargains on less popular sites but be aware this will be time-consuming. Keep in mind however that shipping with these may be very expensive, and that in a traditional auction, you and the seller will each likely have to pay a premium of about 25% extra when you buy from them; on Ebay only the seller pays the premium, although this too has become very expensive. This is an advantage for the buyer on Ebay, but a disadvantage for the seller which is why I sell many of my own surplus items on Fleaglass, a fixed price site, where I can sell for a lower price.

Speaking of Fleaglass, there are several other fixed price sites selling microscopes. Unfortunately, their prices are often, though not always, very inflated, so again, buyer beware. Sites like this include The Gemmary in the USA. These sites are usually reliable, but you will sometimes be paying premium prices for the privilege. Recently I have started selling my surplus instruments (a variety including some microscopes) on Fleaglass because I can actually sell them for a lower price than Ebay!! This is because Ebay has now raised its fees so high (about 20% of the final value).

Another thing to be acutely aware of, is the practice (especially on Ebay) of selling reproductions. Often the seller is not well informed and simply makes the mistake of claiming something as 'Antique' because of inexperience. In other cases, it is just an obvious deception. Again buyer beware! Reproductions are not allowed to be sold on Fleaglass. Ebay has no such regulation nor does it attempt to regulate this at all; a seller can label anything as antique and Ebay does almost nothing to stop this. Ebay has also recently been limiting sales by legitimate sellers and this is also turning off reliable and knowledgeable sellers. Good hunting!