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MAKER:Smith & Beck

MODEL:'Best No 1'

DATE: c.1858-1865 (see below)

SIGNED:'Smith & Beck, 6 Coleman St, LONDON'


ORIGINAL OWNER: 'NEWMAN' (probably John Newman-see below)


Please Click On Any Picture for a Larger Version

ACKNOWLEDGMENT: The author would like to acknowledge with gratiude, the kind assistance of Dr Joseph Zeligs who was so generous with his time in reviewing this web page and making many helpful suggestions which have substantially improved its clarity and accuracy.

DESCRIPTION:signaturesignatureThis is a fine example of the binocular double-pillar Smith & Beck Best No 1 compound microscope with a square mechanical stage. It arises from a rotating circular plate on a flat tripod foot. The foot is signed: 'Smith & Beck, 6 Coleman St, London' and engraved with the serial number on the edge '1873'. The Lister-Jackson limb is suspended between the twin pillars via trunions.

The limb has two square holes to accept accessories. Each hole is equipped with a set screw with a knurled knob to hold the accessory in place.

The binocular tube has a Wenham prism in a slide out drawer. Coarse focus is by straight rack and pinion, fine by short lever focus to the nosepiece from the front.

The mechanical stage is equipped with knurled knobs to control X and Y motion. The top plate of the stage can be moved forward and backward independently of the controls, and also manually rotated.

A substage condenser holder is focused by rack and pinion. There is also a bayonet cutout for accessories on the underside of the stage which allows accessories to attach by a bayonet fitting; in this case it accomodates an iris diaphragm which would be most useful using the mirror alone without an additional condenser. The large gimbaled plane and concave mirror is on an articulated arm attached to a rounded fitting which can slide up and down the triangular tailpiece.

The microscope is equipped with two large cases of accessories; a small wooden case containing the Beck 'Live Trap' set fits inside one of the accessory cases. Condition of the microscope is mechanically and optically excellent with very good cosmetic condtion as well, with a few areas of tarnish mainly on the foot and scattered minor defects in lacquer on the binocular tubes, and other minor issues as described below. The accessory cases are completely full of all appropriate accessories with the exception of the three glass test tubes.

main casemonogramThe main case is an original Smith & Beck case but was likely an upgrade when the microscope itself was upgraded from monocular to binocular, sometime in the early 1860's. It has furniture to accomodate the large bench condenser and the two main accessory boxes. The microscope itself slides in and out of the case on a fitted wooden base. The front of the case is glazed and on the upper door is a fancy engraved silver-color metal plate. It is engraved with a capital letter N.

There are a large number of accessories including eyepieces, objectives, double objective changer for the nosepiece, large substage polarizer, substage rotating selenite fitting, various stage accessories, bench condenser, substage prism illuminator, erecting lens, compressorium, troughs, Beck opaque disk rotator, diamond-tipped marking pen, liveboxes, forceps, nosepiece analyzer, vertical illuminator, paraboloid dark ground substage illuminator, substage darkwell holder with three darkwells, and a set of Beck live-traps in case. These are shown in the paragraphs that follow; for more images and further information, click on the images of the individual accessories.

SB OcularsThere are five eyepieces with this set. These include two low power, two medium power and one higher power eyepiece. There are cutouts in the accessory case which do accomodate three of the five; the remaining (lowest power) pair must be stored on the binocular tubes themselves. One of the lowest power eyepieces has an integrated moveable pointer, controlled by a knurled knob.

SB objSB objSB objThere are five objectives with this set, all in their original cans. They include a 3 inch by Smith, Beck & Beck, a 1 ½ inch by Smith & Beck, a ⅔ inch by Smith & Beck, a 4/10 by Smith, Beck & Beck, and a 1/5 by Smith & Beck. The 4/10 and the 1/5 both have correction collars. There is a Leiberkuhn which fits the ⅔ and one that fits the 4/10.

The 1/5 objective is labeled ' 15 ' with a horizontal line and the word 'uncovered' above the line;a small horizontal line moves as the collar is adjusted, above or below the line, depending on what part of the range the correction collar is set at. The correction collar is calibrated in numbers 1 to 9. It operates smoothly. Its can is signed on the lid '15, Smith & Beck, 6 Coleman St, London'.

The 4/10 objective is labeled ' 410 ' with a horizontal line and the word 'uncovered' below the line; a small horizontal line moves as the collar is adjusted, above or below the line, depending on what part of the range the correction collar is set at. The correction collar is calibrated in numbers 1 to 9. It operates smoothly. This objective is also labeled with its angular aperture, '55o'. Its can is signed on the lid '410, Smith, Beck & Beck, 31 Cornhill, London'.

The 2/3 inch objective can is signed on the lid ' 23 ', Smith & Beck, 6 Coleman St, London'. The objective itself is unsigned. It shows some wear to the lacquer where the Lieberkuhn has been attached.

The 1 ½ inch objective can is signed on the lid ' 1 12 ', Smith & Beck, 6 Coleman St, London'. This objective itself is also unsigned.

The 3 inch objective is labeled '3 In'. The can for the 3 inch objective is signed: '3 In, Smith, Beck & Beck, 31 Cornhill, London'.

double objective changer for nosepiecedouble objective changer for nosepieceThe firm supplied a double objective changer for this relatively early model. It has a knurled attachment knob to secure it in any desired position. In later years a quadruple objective changer was routinely supplied with the Best stands.

4/10 Lieberkuhn4/10 LieberkuhnTwo lieberkun reflectors for viewing opaque objects are included, one for the 4/10 inch objective(left), and one for the 2/3 inch(right). Each of them has a protective cap, each having the size of objective they fit, scratched on the cap.

The polarized light apparatus supplied with this microscope is extensive (for the time period), and includes all the apparatus to demonstrate all the double image prism experiments described by Legg in the Transactions of the Microscopic Society of London, Vol 1 of December 1846, and also described in Richard Beck'sTreatise on the Construction, Proper Use and Capabilities of Smith, Beck, and Beck's Achromatic MicroscopesTreatise of 1865 . These include:
pol access -A large substage Nicol calcite prism polarizer
-Four eyepiece caps which store attached to each other which include:
     •Two stackable double prism eyepiece caps for use with an eyepiece, one shorter than the other,
     •A selenite eyepiece cap, which also stacks over the eyepiece,
     •An eyepiece cap fitting containing a section of crystal which demonstrates a beautiful conoscopic interference figure(pattern) when viewed with a polarized light source from below, and the eyepiece cap analyzer stacked on top of it.
-A Nicol prism eyepiece cap analyzer
-A tourmaline eyepiece cap analyzer
-A rotating nosepiece analyzer fitting(to which the objectives attach), and which accepts the analyzer from the eyepiece cap analyzer
-A substage fitting which includes three separate selenite wave retarders one above the other, which can be individually rotated; each can be turned in or out of the optical axis with little individual lever handles, thus allowing production of a multitude of colors. The selenite disks are individually labeled with their degree of retardation, 9/4, 3/4, and 1/4, and each is marked with a P|A indicating the direction of the primary axis.
-A blackened brass slide with three different diameter holes to illustrate the double image prism experiments as originally described by Legg in the Transactions of the Microscopic Society of London, Vol 1 of December 1846, and also described in Richard Beck'sTreatise on the Construction, Proper Use and Capabilities of Smith, Beck, and Beck's Achromatic MicroscopesTreatise of 1865
PLEASE NOTE: please click on the image above and to the right for more detailed images and information about each of these accessories.

substage paraboloidA substage paraboloid condenser for dark ground illumination is included with the accessories. It has two slightly raised contact bands on the barrel. This accessory is damaged, having internal cracks in the glass, and some verdigris corrosion near the lens. Its stop is frozen in the downward-most position.

Dark Ground Spot lens Another substage accessory for dark ground illumination is a large parabolic 'spot lens' condenser. Unlike the paraboloid, this device is in perfect operating condition. It has a large black circle on top to block central light rays, and a frosted spot of smaller size on the bottom surface. In this way only oblique rays from the angled clear glass can reach the specimen, allowing dark ground illumination. This device is used for dark ground work with lower power objectives.

Achromatic CondenserAn achromatic condenser is in a mount which allows adjustment of centration by two small knurled knobs 90o from each other. It has a single wheel which incorporates 3 stops and 5 apertures. The upper optical elements can be removed for use with lower power objectives.

Beck irisBeck irisAn accessory that may be used without the other condensers is an iris diaphragm in a barrel that attaches by bayonet fittings under the stage. This piece is signed 'R. & J. Beck'. It must be removed to use the substage condensers or the darkwell fitting. It is most useful when using the mirror or prism illuminators without condensers.

darkwell setA substage darkwell-holder is included complete with 3 darkwells. This provided a small darkened chamber to view 3 dimensional objects with top lighting against a dark background to avoid reflective glare and extraneous light.

prism illuminatorAn adjustable Amici-type prism illuminator fits into the top of the moveable substage. It is adjustable to provide oblique lighting as desired.

silvered side reflector A curved silvered side illuminator is designed to fit into one of the square holes in the limb. It has several versatile sdjustments. It has a blackened brass protective cap which fits over the reflecting surface when not in use.

limb-mounted bullseye condenser A bullseye condenser for top illumination sits in a gimbal and attaches to the limb like the side illuminator. It too has adjustments for a variety of positions.

stage forceps A stage-mount forceps has a cork at one end for pinning objects to it. This type of stage forceps has one fixed thick metal leaf, and a single flexible spring leaf to hold objects like a leaf or insect wing etc. This was a common accessory, though most examples have both leaves made of spring metal.

livebox A livebox can be used on the stage and still has its original glass.

brass hand forceps A lacquered brass hand forceps is included in the set.

3 pronged stage forceps A 3 sided forceps with sharp points attaches to the stage and adjusts to hold irregularly shaped objects, either within its wires, or by the sharp pointed tips. It can hold something delicate, porous or firm, even with an irregular shape, within the range of its adjustable jaws. The jaws are adjusted by sliding the triangular support piece attached to the bases of the prongs closer to or further away from the fixed support piece. The prongs are made of steel. This accessory is not as common as the ordinary stage forceps or liveboxes are.

glass trough Glass accessories include the larger version of the Beck trough, complete with spring, wedge, rectangular glass plate for the bottom, and the tilting upright glass piece. This is essentially the same trough included with James Smith's early microscopes, except for the design of the wedge. The wedge and spring acting against the internal glass piece allows the chamber size to vary. In later catalogs, the more delicate wedge found with this set, was offered with a smaller trough, while the thicker wedge found with the earlier Smith microscope on this site was offered with the larger version of trough. These troughs were offered for at least forty years.

thin glass trough Another thinner, but wider similar trough is also included. This example did not come with other fittings like the wider one.

glass ledgeglass live slide Also made of glass are a ledge slide(left), and a built-up ledge slide for specimens in liquid(right). This latter slide has a thin bottom slide, with another slide with a hole in its center cemented on top of that, forming a chamber. There is also a ledge on this slide. The hole has a small cutout to allow the user to add more liquid under the coverslip as the specimen dries out. A large round coverslip suitable for use with this slide is provided in the red cardboard spares case.

maltwood finder A Maltwood finder in a leather case is included. This device allows one to record a particular standarized location on any slide by recording that position indicated on the finder, so that it can be moved to that location again at a later date by again setting the stage to that location on the finder. It is diamond-engraved on the left side: Maltwood Finder and on that side has an arrow showing where it registers on the stage, labeled 'Stop'. On the right side it is engraved: 'Photographed by Smith, Beck, & Beck, 6 Coleman St, London'

parabolic reflector A silvered parabolic reflector which fits on the front of the objectives, is in excellent condition and is housed in an oval lacquered brass case. It has an extra adapter ring which allows it to press fit onto two different diameter objective fronts.

drawtube A separate draw tube is included for high power monocular work. It is calibrated from 1 to 6 inches in 1/10th inch increments, labeled every whole inch.

erector lens A Lister-type erector lens which screws into the bottom of the drawtube is included. It has some damage to the lacquer and slight verdigris around the edge of one of the lens fittings. Optically it is in fine condition.

vertical illuminator A Beck-type vertical illuminator in excellent condition is housed in its original brass case. A small blackened brass plate on it is inscribed: 'SMITH, BECK AND BECK, PATENT, LONDON'. It still contains its original coverslip reflector. There is also a spare coverslip for this in the cardboard spares case.

disk rotatordisk forceps Also in one of the large accessory cases, is a Beck Opaque Disk Rotator apparatus. It is in fine condition, and includes the special tongs as well as a can containing the 24 original disks. The cylinder carrying the disks has a hole that registers on a pin in the can, thus preventing any of the disks from touching the edges of the can. This method of disk storage was one of two types offered by the firm. The other was a series of stacking brass plates as seen on the other example on this site.

parallel A Beck parallel plate compressor, of the type first introduced about 1855, is included complete with large glass coverslips. In this example, the large rectangular coverslips are attached directly to the plates of the compressor by two tiny knobs. In other examples, removeable blackened metal pieces hold round coverslips. Extras of the large rectangular coverslips are included in the red cardboard spares box. For a review of the various types of compressors, please see the dedicated article on compressors on this site.

spare glass covers A small red and white cardboard box contains large rectangular spare coverslips for the parallel plate compressor, large round ones for the wet cell, and a smaller round one for the vertical illuminator. At the time this outfit was made, thin class of suitable optical quality was very expensive, so the spares were both a convenience and a cost savings compared to buying new ones individually.

diamond tipspanner wrenchThe main accessory cases also contain a diamond-tippled writing implement(left), and a lacquered brass 'key'(spanner wrench, right), to adjust the tension of the inclination joint.

live trap kitA small wooden case housed in one of the large main accessory cases contains a set of 'Live Traps' which is described and pictured in more detail on its own dedicated Live Trap Kit page.

James Smith worked for the trade until commencing business on his own in 1839. In the early years, his 'Best Model' arose from a single pillar with a compass joint at the top supporting the limb. It was supported atop a flat tripod, and could rotate at the top of this tripod. Furthermore, like other microscopes of the time, the substage apparatus was attached by dovetailing to the underside of the stage. The single pillar design was used for several years, still being used for the frontispiece of Wythes book of 1852, although double pillar microscopes were being produced by 1849.

Initially the stage on the Best No. 1 model was square; but by 1866 it was round and could be rotated by a rack and pinion mechanism which was easily disengaged for manual rotation. In summary the Smith Best No 1 was initially a single pillar stand with substage accessories dovetailing under the stage. It then became a double pillar microscope and a rack and pinion substage became standard soon thereafter. Finally, the square stage was changed to a rotating round stage which could be rotated by rack and pinion or manually.

Smith worked closely with Lister, and in 1847 Lister's Nephew, Richard Beck became a partner as the firm was renamed to Smith & Beck. In 1857 the two were joined by Richard's brother Joseph, and the firm was again renamed to Smith, Beck, and Beck. When Smith retired in 1865, the company became R & J Beck which remained the company name well into the 20th century.

Note the date that construction started on this microscope was likely far in advance of the delivary date, which according to the Firm's delivary books was delivered on September 5 of 1858. In those days it would take many months or more to make a first class microscope. This would account for the earlier Smith & Beck signature instead of the Smith, Beck & Beck signature which one would expect by the delivary date of 1858. Another interesting feature of this microscope is the Wenham binocular configuration. Although Francis Wenham had worked for a time on various types of prisms for a binocular microscope, it was not until the end of 1860 that he published the design of the prism which was used for binocular microscopes for the next 50 years. So although this microscope was made close to the time he published his design, it seems likely that the binocular tube and other items were later additions, though exactly when, is uncertain. Since the disk rotator was not reported until 1862, it is unlikely the updated outfit dates to much before 1862. It is also notable that the substage iris is signed R & J Beck, which dates that accessory to 1865 or later. It is quite possible the entire outfit was upgraded sometime in the early 1860's, and perhaps around 1865 would be a good estimate based on all the above information and illustrations of Smith, (Beck), & Beck equipment from those years.

The original delivary books of the firm, show that number, number 1873 was sold to 'NEWMAN' delivered in 1858. Because there are no initials or a first name, this was very likely the firm of John Newman, the scientific instrument dealer, whose firm was likely that referenced as the purchaser. John Newman(1783-1860) was a well known Scientific Instrument maker who employed, among others, Robert Murray of Murray & Heath, before Murray founded his own business. The firm was 'John Newman' until 1856, then 'John Newman & Son' from 1857-1860, and after John died from 1861, it was the son alone, 'John Frederick Newman'. Some sources apparently list the father also as John Frederick, but this has been shown to be erroneous. John Frederick was succeeded by Negretti & Zambra. To this day the case retains a fancy monogrammed 'N' on the top of the front door. It is possible, or even likely, that this was John Newman's personal microscope, at least initially. Because the Wenham binocular was not yet available until the 1860's, and since John Newman died in 1860, it was likely upgraded after his death by the subsequent owner, possibly his son, John Frederick, to include the binocular tubes and additional accessories, since the monogram remains. Parenthetically, John Newman's firm made primarily non-optical scientific apparatus and apparently never made their own microscopes. Likely they would have been able to purchase microscopes from Smith & Beck at the 'wholesale' price.