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This is a revision of an article, written by myself and James Solliday, first published in the Journal of the Microscopical Society of Southern California in 19981. In the early years, microscopes had few or no accessories. It soon became apparent that accessories were needed to allow more convenient study. Soon things like a forceps attached to the microscope to hold an insect or plant part became common additions. Soon items to restrain or hold a living specimen were also added. Of course, variable magnification was helpful, so a variety of lenses were often supplied. As more discoveries were made, accessories to allow easier study of such subjects became commonly available. Things like a fish-plate to study the circulation of the blood in the tail of a small fish, and similar devices were supplied. As advances in optics and new techniques of illumination progressed, things like better illuminators and polarization apparatus became frequent accessories. The following discusses many of these accessories and below is a partial listing of the accessories frequently found with antique microscopes. Most of these are easily identified either because their use is obvious, others with the help of illustrations in old publications. Some however, may remain a mystery to this day. This list is not complete and may be updated from time to time when identification of, or purpose of, a unlisted accessory comes to light.

For the most part, we have not speculated as to the nature or origin of the accessories we have discussed. The information is derived from well documented references such as records of instruments supplied to the Royal Microscopical Society, or personal documentation. For example, a Smith camera lucida is identified because it was supplied with a signed Smith microscope AND was found in a fitted compartment into which it fit perfectly, and a second identical instrument had the exact same camera lucida. Similarly, a Nachet camera lucida was signed by Nachet. In a few cases, we have concluded the nature of an accessory based on experience, along with consultation with acknowledged leading authorities. In some cases, the nature of an item would not require speculation (e.g. microscope illuminator lamps, bullseye condensers, or scalpels). Of course, the fact that an accessory was supplied by a maker, does not mean that it was made by that maker. Even in the twenty first century, there are occasionally some accessories found with old microscopes for which the exact purpose eludes us. For the readers convenience, a PDF of the accessory section of the 1882 Beck and Walmsley catalog is available.   Furthermore, a large number of accessories accompanying the Grand Van Heurck Microscope are shown on the accessory section of that web page.




Ramsden Micrometer Engraving Although most microscopes were supplied with several different eyepieces, or oculars, specialized eyepieces were also not uncommon. Among these were the eyepiece micrometers. There were two basic types. Early on, the Ramsden type (Fig. 1), through which the user could see a row of metal points resembling a comb. Riding in front of these was a hair, usually of spider web, which could be moved across the combs via a calibrated screw and through which objects could then be measured.

Micrometers A simpler and much less expensive method was developed later once accurate dividing engines could scribe a series of parallel lines on glass. Such glass pieces were inserted through a slit in the eyepiece (Fig. 2C) and used directly, much the same way as our modern eyepiece micrometers are today. Another variant was a round drop-in micrometer which could be placed inside the eyepiece after unscrewing part of it.

Smith & Beck Pointer eyepiece Another accessory that seems inappropriately uncommon is the use of a pointer inside the eyepiece (Fig. 3). These can be recognized by the little piece of metal rotating on a screw on the outside of the eyepiece with the screw’s axis parallel to the optical path. Some other variations include a fixed pointer, and others.

Camera Lucidas In addition, several ingenious makers devised attachments to fit on or over their oculars. A typical example was the camera lucida, several examples of which are shown in figure 4. These are drawing aids which allow one to see their subject and the drawing they are making at the same time; this results in more accurate imaging.

polarizers and stops Another over the eyepiece attachment was the analyzer (Fig. 5) for polarized light microscopy. Although sometimes the analyzer sat above the ocular, occasionally it was also made in a form that could be attached between the optical tube and the objective with an adapter which allowed it to rotate (Fig. 5A). It could also take the form of a slider which fit through a slit above the nosepiece, and this is a common method even today. The polarizer usually fit into the substage (Figs. 5B, 5G).

Sorby-Browning Microspectroscope

Finally, there were some very sophisticated microspectroscopes which were first devised by Sorby and constructed by John Browning (Fig. 6). These had varying degrees of complexity, and could be fitted with a micrometer for precise measurements of the spectra. They usually had some provision for comparison to a standard, often a liquid in a glass tube held onto the side of microspectroscope by spring clips.


cuff microscope  kuhns

Not only were objectives (Fig. 32) of varying focal length usually supplied, but some were either more specialized, or had provision for further attachments. Perhaps the earliest specialized objective was the Lieberkuhn. Although initially intrinsic to objectives, Cuff soon developed the slip-over Lieberkuhn reflector that could be put on or removed; these were supplied with early nonachromatic instruments such as the ‘Cuff Double Microscope’ (Fig. 9). Later slip-over Lieberkuhns were supplied for achromatic objectives (Fig. 10 C,D & E).

Lieberkuhns, however, were not ideal illuminators for opaque objects , and various types of vertical illuminators were developed. An example by Richard Beck is shown in Figure 31. It used a thin circular disc of glass to allow light to enter and be reflected downward through the objective. The user would view the illuminated object while looking through this same glass.

Jones Most Improved  microscope Compound late 19th Century  microscope Although developed quite early, and found on microscopes by George Adams (1746)3, Benjamin Martin and W & S Jones (Fig. 11), the use of a multiple objective nosepiece was not initially supplied with the achromatic microscopes with their larger, heavier, and more complex objectives. In the second half of the nineteenth century, multi-objective nosepiece attachments were again introduced, this time accepting the individual objectives (Fig. 12). At first these held two objectives, but later this number gradually increased; in the twentieth century rotating nosepieces could hold as many as six different objectives.

Another, but much later nosepiece innovation, was the centerable nosepiece, required for advanced work with polarized light. In this case objectives were stored on individual centerable fittings, each of which was exchanged on the nose as required; changing these was made easier by quick-change fitting. Much later, in the twentieth century, even a rotating nosepiece became available in which each objective on it could be centered.

Polarizing accessories As noted above, in addition to these attachments, an accessory was also sometimes supplied which joined between the nosepiece and the objective and accepted the analyzer providing an alternative location to the over-the-eyepiece configuration (Fig. 13C).


Although many microscopists and collectors are familiar with the field lens mounted inside the main ocular tube to give a wider field of view, few are familiar with another attachment called the Lister erecting lens system, or simply the erector lens. This narrow optical arrangement (Fig. 5J) is often attached to the draw tube, screwing into its bottom. This accessory allowed easier manipulation of the stage, when following a moving organism, since movements were in the same apparent direction as that of the organism.


slides In place of ordinary slides, a variety of measuring devices were supplied; the more common of which was the slide micrometer (Fig. 14).

Selenites Selenites, used to enhance polarization microscopy, were supplied either as a slide or in specialized brass fittings (Fig. 15). Some of these had provision for mechanical rotation of the selenite or even multiple selenites.

Another type of stage accessory was the safety stage (Fig 15b). These were provided to prevent damage to both slide and objective during overzealous focusing.

Depression slides Liveboxes As for observations of living organisms, a variety of methods were used. For small organisms, various shapes and sizes of depression slides were eventually supplied(Fig. 16). But for greater capacity, various types of 'live boxes' or larger glass chambers were supplied. Figure 17 shows a variety of live boxes that could be used for wet or dry animals. Early models were constructed of ivory or brass and would often fit into the hole in the stage. Later, they were fitted onto a rectangular brass slide above the stage; some contained micrometer markings. An original article on liveboxes is now available on this site.

troughs troughs Glass Troughs were supplied by many makers in several different configurations. Smith supplied one with a little brass handle (Fig. 18C) and Smith also started a tradition of supplying a rectangular glass chamber with an ivory wedge to adjust the space in which the specimen was trapped (Figs. 19,20).

Compressors Some living organisms were so active that it was more convenient to partially immobilize them . This could be accomplished with a compressor, otherwise known as a 'compressorium,' various types of which are shown in figure 21. For a more comprehensive look at most of the major types of compressoria see the article about compressors added to the site in 2017.

Frog and Fish Plates Eel tubes Following the description of the circulation of the blood by Malpighi, it became popular to view capillary circulation. This could be seen in the tail of a fish using a fish-plate(Fig. 22A,22D), in the web of a frog foot using a frog plate (Fig. 22B, 22C), or in a smaller fish, tadpole or eel, using a thin test tube (Fig. 23).

Stage Forceps For cruder work, such as looking at a plant or a dead fly, a stage forceps was often used (Fig. 24). These could be attached to a hole on the stage or to the limb assembly.

Stage Vice
Another variation of the stage forceps, the 'Microscopic Vise'(Fig 24b, collection of Dr Jurriaan de Groot), provides a stronger grasp of the specimen not dependent on a spring, as might be needed for small hard specimens, like a small mineral. Such specimens would likely slip out from between the leaves of the usual stage forceps. This instrument was first reported in the Monthly Microscopical Journal of 1869.

To illuminate opaque objects on the stage, in addition to Lieberkuhns, the bullseye condenser was very popular. It could be attached to the stage (Fig. 11), the limb (Fig. 10A), or as a separate accessory on its own weighted stand (Fig. 12).


In addition to the mirror, several accessories were available for the substage. The earliest was a simple set of pinhole apertures to adjust the amount of light and size of the cone of light (Fig. 35A). Soon, a wheel of apertures became available; this continued to be supplied even with achromatic instruments of less than first class. Later, a single-lensed condenser was used. Finally, with the development of achromatic lenses, achromatic condensers of various types were developed (Fig. 35D). These initially were supplied with wheels of apertures; iris diaphragms were not supplied until the end of the nineteenth century.

Polarizers also fit into the substage, which were usually provided with a method of rotating. Some had graduated scales (Fig. 13A).

Dark field microscopy could be done using the standard condenser with dark field stops or with a parabolic condenser (Fig. 5C).

Another accessory often fitting into the substage area was a dark well holder and dark wells (Fig. 23D). There were used to view small opaque three-dimensional objects in conjunction with a Lieberkuhn.


Slide making and dissecting instruments were often supplied (Figs. 26, 27, 28, and 29). Additional accesories related to slide making can be seen on the Collins Slide Kit page.

Microscope Dissecting tools


Illumination could be accomplished with sunlight, a candle, an oil lamp(Fig. 25), or later, gas or carbon arc lamps. To concentrate light, especially for opaque objects, a stand-alone bullseye bench condenser was frequently supplied (Fig. 12).

Microscope Oil Lamp



dipping tubes Dipping tubes were used to retrieve microorganisms from a liquid medium, such as a pond (Fig. 30).

diamond object markerObject markers were used to call attention to a relatively small area of a slide. They commonly came in two forms. Both attached to the nosepiece. One was a simple stamper which could have ink or paint applied and when pushed down onto the slide outlined the area in question. The other type(Fig. 30b), was a tool with a diamond tip, inscribing a circle of adjustable diameter.

Aperture stops for objectives and a vertical illuminator Hand held folding botanical Microscope Tripod Microscope

Achomats Microscope Condensers


1. J. Microscopical Soc of So Calif   Vol 3, #4, pp65-79, April 1998.

2I have recently(12/31/16) added the original color images.

3George Adams first produced his 'Universal' Microscope with a rotating wheel of objectives about 1746.


  1. Eyepieces
        a. Usual type
        b. Micrometer eyepiece
            1) Ramsden type
            2) Jackson type
            3) Other types
        c. Pointer eyepiece
  2. Eyepiece Attachments or replacements
        a. Camera lucida
        b. Polarization analyzer eyepiece
        c. Microspectroscope
        d. Binocular adapters
        e. Pinhole eyepiece
  3. Lister erector lens
  4. Vertical illuminator
  5. Nosepiece attachments
        a. Double
        b. Triple
        c. Quadruple
        d. Rotational (for analyzer)
        e. Analyzers (for polarized light work)
        f. Object Markers
          1)'Ink Stamp' Marker
          2)Diamond Marker
  6. Objectives and attachments
        a. Usual type
        b. Correction collared
        b. Dual magnification (“Smith’s Quarters”)
        c. Lieberkuhn illuminator objective covers
        d. Parabolic illuminator fitting on end of objective
        e. Stops (used inside of objectives for dark ground work)
        f. Phase contrast objectives
        g. Interference contrast objectives
        h. Water-immersion objectives
        i. Oil-immersion objectives
  7. Stage and limb attachments
        a. Side arm illuminators
            1) Rectangular style
            2) Circular style with half cut to allow placement immediately adjacent to the objective
        b. Stage forceps
            1) In some cases can be limb mounted.
            2) Often had a sharp spike on one end that could also have a removable black and white disc attached for viewing large opaque specimens.
        c. Stage-mounted or limb-mounted bullseye condensers
        d. Goniometer attachments
        e. Tenaculum
        f. Fiber analysis stage attachment
        g. Black and White disc for stage opening (older models)
        h. Black back-drop slide
        i. Needle combs (?)
        j. Thin stage replacements for use with oblique illuminators.
        k. Safety Stages
            1)Watson Safety Stage
            1)Stephenson Type
  8. Special Slides and related
        a. Test plates
        b. Test diatoms
        c. Micrometer slides
        d. Crosshair
        e. Maltwood’s finder
        f. Selenite slide
            1) Stand-alone simple type
            2) Inside a brass slide
            3) Mechanical selenite slide
            4) Mechanical multiple selenite slide
        g. Well slides
        h. Black back-drop slide
  9. Liveboxes (some with built-in micrometers)
        a. Round double chamber on rectangular brass base
        b. Round stand-alone double chamber
        c. Brass slide-type
        d. Ivory
  10. Troughs
        a. Glass trough
        b. Brass-edged glass trough
  11. Compressors
        a. Lister type first made by James Smith: spring-loaded with screw adjustment in the center
        b. Lever type -higher pressure
        c. Reversible cell type
        d. Wenham’s compressor
        e. Rousselet's compressor
        f. Other models
  12. Animal Restraints (other than compressors)and related items
        a. Frog plates
        b. Fish plates
        c. Fish or eel tubes
        d. Coiled wire to extract fish from tube
  13. Dissection Instruments
        a. Scalpels
        b. Pins and needles
        c. Tweezers and forceps
        d. Scissors
  14. Substage attachments
        a. Pinholes
        b. Wheel of apertures
        c. Achromatic condensers
            1)Without additional features
            2)With simple wheel of apertures
            3)With dark-field apertures
            4)With combined aperture wheel
            5)With double wheel of apertures
            6)With iris diaphragm
            7)Kohler type
        d. Parabolic darkfield condenser
        e. Wenham’s oblique illuminator
        f. Substage Amici prism
        g. Polarizer
        h. Dark wells and their holders
        i. Multiselenite substage attachment
        j. Phase contrast condensers
            1)Single phase ring types
            2)Heine Type
            3)Zernicke Type
        k. Interference contrast condensers
  15. Other apparatus on stands
        a. Oil lamps
        b. Bullseye bench condensers
        c. Parabolic or side illuminators
  16. Dipping tubes
        a. Straight
        b. Curved
  17. Camel-hair brush (for brushing fragile specimens onto a slide or for cleaning optics)
  18. Tools (e.g. for tightening an inclination joint)
  19. Slide-Preparation Accessories
        a.Ringing Tables
        b.Warming Tables
        c.Coverslip Micrometers
        d.Coverslip clamps
        e.Slide labels and Paper Covers
        f.Unused Slides and Coverslips
        g.Chemicals including stains, glues and oils
  20. Hand lenses and simple microscopes
        a. Tripod illuminator
        b. Multilensed types
        c. Folding botanical microscopes