Collecting Antique Microscopes

I just returned from my meeting with the members of the Microscopical Society of Southern California (MSSC). Many of the members are collectors, and viewing their collections is a treat. It is the closest, and I can come to for a field trip in time. Pictured in this post is one of my oldest instruments, a Reichert. I cannot resist showing it off. It is my only brass and black scope: an impulse purchase from eBay. I bought the Reichert for no other reason than I thought it looked cool.

But the highlight of this meeting was the striking presentation by Dr. Timo Mappes. Dr. Mappes is a scientist who works for Zeiss. As a hobbyist, he has studied the history of microscopy and the development of that instrument. You can get a sense of how exciting his presentation was by visiting his site, The site's text is in German, but if you use Google's Chrome browser, it translates the text.

His website made me think of the rationale for collecting. Naively, I thought, it was simply getting instruments and distributing about the house. In fact, a good collector is doing much more than that. Studying the collections of the members of the Microscopical Society of Southern California, I realized that there were "themes" in their compilation. For example, one member might obtain the instruments from a specific manufacturer, to study the evolution and improvement of the microscope’s mechanical controls. Another member may collect portable field microscopes to see how their size and weight is reduced as new materials become available for their fabrication. In my case, my modest collection is on discontinued contrast enhancement accessories to determine if their performance is improved by using them with digital cameras.

Gathering these instruments is not a trouble-free hobby. In many cases, one has to harvest accessories from a variety of individual microscopes to put together a composite which reproduces the function and appearance of the original instrument when it is new. Sometimes, the device is incomplete, or its finish has developed a patina which reduces the high gloss luster of the original finish. Some collectors relish this appearance, feeling it gives the microscope character. In any case, collecting is like an adventure and like all explorations, it has false turns and blind alleys.

As an aside, if you are in Southern California, you may wish to visit MSSC. They have workshops on the first Saturday of the Month and a Lectureship meeting on the 3rd Wednesday of the Month. Check the web page for their schedule.

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