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Date: after 1878.


Collins Slide Kit


slide kitcollins labelThis 'mounting cabinet' is made of pine. The top lid is lined with blue velour and bears the small trade label of 'Collins, Optician, 157 Gt PORTLAND ST, LONDON N.W.'   The contents are stored not only under the top lid, but also in a drawer which slides out to the right side. This drawer is secured by a pin from above and the drawer is held against the pin by some tension imparted by some pieces of bent spring steel inside its compartment. To release the drawer, one needs to push it inwards, releasing some of the tension and allowing the pin to be withdrawn.

The compartments are adjustable in that the dividers can be added or removed at will, not unlike the plastic utility boxes of today. The two columns of compartments to the left side are deeper than the the other three columns, which of course sit above the drawer.

The kit features a good complement of accessories for the microscopist to make a variety of mounts, not only on slides but also on little pinned pieces of cork. It provides a variety of adhesives as well a Canada Balsam as a mountant. With the kit are a variety of unmounted specimens both in little pieces of folded paper, and in cork-stoppered vials. The contents are as follows:

  1. Four original Collins Reagent bottles including Canada Balsam, Marine Glue, 'Asphalte', and Gold size.
  2. A large assortment of 'Cells' of various heights and diameters
  3. Plain glass slides ('Glass Slips')
  4. Cork Mounts, with black paper cover on one side and white on the other; one is labeled 'Arrow Root' but no longer contains a specimen
  5. Wooden Slides of Mahogany with various sizes of openings, some with black bottoms in the openings, some unchanged. Some of these slides are of the size to accept the Cork Mounts. They have white paper backing.
  6. Round and also Square cover slips ('thin glass') in small circular white cardboard containers with either red or pink lining
  7. A variety of unused Slide Cover Papers including a group for smaller than usual slides. There is also some Uncut Decorated Paper.
  8. Two packs of Slide Labels
  9. There is a Scalpel, Dissecting Needle, and a delicate Brass Forceps. The Scalpel and Needle have wooden handles with metal ferules.
  10. Eight paper packages of Unmounted Specimens
  11. Four cork-stoppered Vials of Specimens
  12. Brass Cover-Slip Clamps ('Brass Clips')most with a cork tip on the clamping surface
  13. Six Watch Glasses ('Glass Saucers')
  14. A pine and Brass Ringing ('Revolving') Table
  15. A slotted Brass Slide-Warming Table with detachable brass legs
  16. A miniature brass 'Spirit Lamp' for heating the table
  17. A heavy punch for cutting round pieces of paper or other material to fit under the cells or for labels
  18. Two long bent wires with sharp tips

The kit and its contents fit very well the description given in Collins catalogs. A further description and details of the individual items follows.

watch glassesBefore selecting a specimen for mounting (from pond water for example), small portions of the source could be examined grossly on these 'watchglasses,' which Collins referred to as 'glass saucers.'   They came in a variety of sizes and depths and some had a small portion of the bottom flattened to steady them on a table.

collins bottlesThe four bottles of reagents, all with original Collins labels have wood-topped cork stoppers. Canada Balsam, one of the best mountants of all time was of course included. 'Asphalte' is a tar-like substance which was used for sealing specimens under a coverslip and especially specimens in deep cells and was used for 'ringing' the cell, a process facilitated by the Ringing table. Goldsize is a material of a lighter color, used for the same purpose as Asphalt, but being of lighter color could be used alone or mixed with dies to impart color to the ring. Marine Glue, as its name implies, is a water insoluble cement used for gluing a ring to a slide and the coverslip to the ring. This glue will dry even in a moist environment, allowing cells to contain liquid preservatives. Gold size is another adhesive. (The author is grateful to James Solliday for the information contained in this paragraph).

cellsA variety of sizes and depths of 'cells' were supplied with the kit. This allowed great flexibility in mounting and protecting three dimensional specimens. They were made of hard rubber, metal, and glass.

cork mountsCork mounts were sometimes used to hold opaque objects, especially three dimensional ones that did not require sealing to protect them from the elements. Examples might include small shells, minerals, and some crystals. These cork mounts usually had a pin going through them. The specimen was mounted on one side, with either a white or black background, the obverse often labeled. These specimens could be stored one next to another, pinned to a board. When examined, they fit inside a depression in a wooden slide, This arrangement saved supplies and also space. The specimen could be tilted on a special tilting superstage, to view its various three dimensional characteristics. The big disadvantage was that the subject was easily dislodged; many, if not most of the surviving examples have lost their objects.

wood slidesglass slidesAccording to the catalog, the kit was supplied with standard (1 x 3 inch) glass slides and also wooden ones. The glass slides of this period in history usually had polished edges. Those of the early twentieth century actually took a step backward and were often sold without polished edges. The wooden slides supplied with this kit are also of standard size, and have round cavities of various depths and diameters. They could be used to hold cork mounts, or, with a suitable base layer of black or white paper, solid objects of their own. These slides are made of mahogany.

cover slipsAccording to the catalog both round and square cover slips were supplied with this kit. At that time in history (2nd half of 19th C), these were usually supplied in little round cardboard boxes, usually with black sides and white tops; sometimes the tops were labeled. The inside of the boxes of this period were usually colored pink or red.

Early in the 20th century, cover slips began to be supplied in labeled boxes, at first round and white, and then square, often with fancy labels. The exterior of these boxes were often a glossy red or blue in color.

paperslabelsTraditionally, slides of the second half of the 19th century were covered with fancy papers. The paper was sometimes simply a sheet cut to size, or pre-made papers of a size suitable for covering standard 1 x 3 inch slides. Blank covers suitable for small slides are also present in this kit. Additionally, some sort of label was needed to identify the specimen. The identifying labels shown here, made by Sutley & Silverlock, are still in their original packaging, and were made in the first quarter of the twentieth century. The small oval blank white labels shown on the left are from the late nineteenth through early 20th centuries.

lamp and slide tableOnce a mountant was applied to a slide, it was often necessary to gently heat the slide to rid the mountant of bubbles and/or soften the mountant to flatten it and distribute it evenly over the specimen. For this purpose a brass table with slot for a slide and a spirit lamp were supplied. Early versions of this kit came with a glass lamp, but later versions like this one had a brass lamp.

brass clipsSome kind of clamp was needed once a coverslip was applied over a mountant, to hold it flat and prevent movement while the mountant dried. Supplied with this kit were brass 'clips' for this purpose. The clips had cork fittings to protect the cover slip from scratching or breaking.

ringing tableOnce a coverslip was secured, either directly on the slide or on top of a cell, it was often sealed with a ringing compound. If the coverslip and cell were round, this was facilitated by the ringing table, also known as a 'turntable', or 'whirling table.'   This device allowed a neat circle of sealant to be applied, and its calibrated rings allowed accurate centering.

specimensvials With this kit when I obtained it, were a number unmounted specimens, folded inside neatly folded pieces of paper, allowing the owner to mount them on his own. This is a practice that dates back to the 1600's when Antony Van Leeuwenhoek enclosed packages of specimens like this with his letters to the Royal Society. Also with this kit were some vials of specimens, labeled on their corks.


collins slide kit from catalog Among the first notices of this mounting kit was in the 1867 sixth edition of 'The Microscope: Its History, Construction and Application..' by Jabez Hogg, and in the Quarterly Journal of Microscopical Science for the same year. It was listed as the 'Amateur Mounting Cabinet' in the 1878 Collins Catalog and simply as the 'Mounting Cabinet' in the 1881 catalog. Examples exist both with Collins' Great Portland Street Address, and also from his pre-1871 address on Great Titchfield Street. The earlier version came with a glass Spirit Lamp, while later examples have the Brass lamp. Judging by the number of surviving examples, this kit was quite popular. It was frequently quoted as being of a more reasonable price than competing examples by other sellers. For a detailed history of Collins, please see Dr Brian Stevenson's site, Historical Makers of Microscopes and Microscope Slides.

The author is grateful to James Solliday, Brian Stevenson, and Joseph Zeligs for providing materials, information and some of the illustrations used on this web page.