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MAKER: Attributed to Parkes & Son (though unsigned)

c. 1862



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This, the early version of this microscope, arises from a tripod, the rear leg of which is vertical and has a diameter of about 18 mm; it has a lacquered brass end cap at the bottom which has a slightly larger diameter. The two front legs have a rectangular profile about 7 mm wide and taper in front-back dimension from 14 to 10 mm in thickness from top to bottom. The top of the stage is about 82 mm above the table when set up for use. This is a very sturdy arrangement, which does indeed allow dissection without the worry of depressing the stage with the pressure of the dissecting instruments.

The wide rear leg houses within it the roughly triangular bar limb, which is actually slightly trapezoidal in profile. The bar has an attached rack with straight teeth, controlled by the pinion for focusing. The rack is 3 mm wide. There is no fine focus control.

The arm can be swung out of the axis to fully access the stage. The gimbaled mirror (diameter about 48 mm), is attached to a sleeve riding on the rear leg. The mirror, encased in lacquered brass, is single sided and flat.

The stage is topped with a circular glass plate of about 95 mm diameter, painted black on the bottom except in the center where a central area of about 40 mm is unpainted. The glass plate is about 3 mm thick and has a beveled edge. There are two removeable lacquered brass stage clips about 47 mm long with pins about 22 mm deep. The stage clips hold the glass stage in place.

A small understage holder swings out with a hole to accept the bullseye condenser. The holder for the bullseye extends the hole to accept it up to 28 mm from the front edge of the stage.

As noted, unlike the 1880 model figured in the JRMS, this model does not have a fine focus, and also does not have the wheel of apertures under the stage found in the 1880 model.

huxley tube and objectiveshuxley extendedThe arm is threaded to accept either the compound body, or one of three simple lenses. The compound tube is about 132 mm long closed, and the drawtube can extend the tube length to about 200 mm (7 7/8 inches). The range of focus can raise the nosepiece about 56 mm above the stage. At the lower end of the compound tube is a sleeve inside which the two included press-fit objectives fit, held by friction. The inside of the sleeve accepts the objectives which have a fitting diameter of about 13.5 mm. Outside, the upper portion of the sleeve is a male thread, to fit into the arm.

Accessories still present include three simple lenses, the compound body, two objectives, the bullseye condenser, and the mahogany case, just as described in the original 1862 Parkes & Son Catalog. Lacking are the (optional) erecting lens for the compound tube, and the original dissecting needles.

hux objectives hux eyepieces The objectives are in cans labeled 1 1/2 inch and 1/4 inch. The 1 1/2 is now missing its optics. The 1/4 inch objective is in excellent working condition. The objectives fit into sleeves in the lids of their cans and the lids also press-fit on the top of the cans. The objective cans store on the door of the case. There are three simple lenses stored in the drawer which has a bone pull.

There is a single eyepiece for the compound tube and it is about 43 mm long with a diameter of about 23.5 mm. The eyepiece has a line scored 10 mm below its top. All the lenses produce good clear images. Even though the highest power simple lens has a crack in the bottom element, this crack does not seem to be visible when looking through the lens when it is focused on a subject.

The high quality substantial bullseye condenser is finished in lacquered brass, steel and oxidized brass.

hux in caseThe fitted mahogany case is in overall good condition, with scattered dings. It measures about 7 inches wide, 6 inches deep and 8 inches high. The door closes fully and there is a lock and key, though the lock is frozen in the unlocked position. Two small leather straps are present on the top of the case which would have supported the handle, now missing. Overall the case is in quite sound condition.

The microscope stand itself is overall in very nice condition. Almost all the lacquer is intact with only some minor tiny losses here and there. The front edge of the stage ring is roughened and somewhat worn, but overall this microscope is in excellent condition with the caveats noted above. When received, the black paint of the stage plate was tattered; it has been accurately repainted.


huxleyThomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895), a former president of the Royal Society and also of the Quekett Microscopical Club, was a biologist and microscopist. He is famous for his studies in comparative anatomy of both invertebrates and vertebrates. He is often considered the finest comparative anatomist of the late 19th century. A strong supporter of Charles Darwin, Huxley was one of the first to conclude that birds evolved from small carnivorous dinosaurs.

Parkes"The microscope which has become associated with his name, may not be his invention, as it was offered by Parkes & son in their Wholesale Catalogue of Simple and Compound Microscopes, and Microscopic Apparatus of 1862 where Huxley's name is not mentioned. It was offered for 1 16s with stage (bullseye) condenser, and three simple powers of 2 inch, 1 inch, and 1/2 inch. When supplied with the compound body with 1 1/2 inch and 1/4 inch achromatic objectives in a mahogany case with drawer, it sold for 3 10s. An erector lens for the compound body for dissecting with high powers was an extra 10s. The model shown on this page is indeed that early model.

Seventeen years after the above-mentioned listing in the Parkes & Son Catalog, Huxley discussed a slightly different version of this microscope at a meeting of the Quekett Microscopical Club and this was reported as such in the Journal of that Society, Volume 5, pp104-105 in 1879. There he described the features he thought were most important in a dissecting microscope, which were found in the 1880 instrument. These included a firm stage which could stand up to pressure, lenses which could be easily changed without the need for screwing or unscrewing, and easy conversion from simple to compound without disturbing the subject being studied or dissected. He also suggested a satisfactory dissecting microscope would be easily portable and that the lenses should have long enough working distance, so that they would not interfere with his dissecting needles. The 1862 model did have press-fitting objectives for the compound tube, but the compound tube screwed into the arm as did the simple lenses. These did not become drop in-fitting until sometime later. The 1862 model also lacked the fine focus and the substage wheel of apertures. Nevertheless, it already had many of the features of the model later associated with Huxley's name including the sturdy frame, extreme portability, long working distance optics, and choice of either simple or compound optics.

huxley scopehuxleyA more detailed description of the later model of the stand itself, with illustrations, was published in the JRMS of 1880, pp705-707. The stand pictured in the JRMS of 1880, differed from the one shown in the Parkes 1862 catalog, in that it had a fine focus control, a provision for a society thread under the arm, and a wheel of apertures, all lacking on the 1862 version in the catalog, and my example shown on this page. As noted above, the 1862 model used press-fit objectives for the compound tube and the simple lenses screwed into the arm from above. In the 1880 model, shown to the right (from another private collection), and in the woodcut, the objectives or simple lenses were simply dropped in to the end of the arm.

Several other examples of this or similar microscopes have been found unsigned. Occasional examples of this model, or similar ones, are found with various signatures. Some have been signed by Parkes & Son, while other signatures have included Negretti & Zambra and Griffin (Sardinia St London). Since the designs differ somewhat in some of these examples, this model, or one like it was likely made by more than one maker.

Why are these microscopes so uncommon? During the 1879 meeting of the Quekett Microscopical Club alluded to above, a long discussion revealed that few people could agree on the ideal form of a dissecting microscope, which made any one model liable to be unprofitable, or at least of insufficient popularity, for the maker. This likely explains both the variety of designs of 19th century dissecting microscopes, and also the relative rarity any other one particular model designed for dissecting. This changed in the early twentieth century when a favored design seemed to win out over the rest.