Davis Victorian Scientist’s Optical Set

This was one of the rich Victorian gentleman’s “must have” items!

The first draw in position as part of the telescope!

The first draw in position as part of the telescope!

In those days the landowning aristocracy spent their time “Doing Science”, and the things they needed were a microscope to really understand the small bits of nature, and maybe also a telescope to see the larger animals that moved a bit too fast for them to catch up. So around 1850 the thing to have was a scientific set, which was thankfully provided by the instrument makers of the day – the ones who had identified a good marketing plan anyway.

The complete scientific set, and box

The complete scientific set, and box

This boxed set was made by B. Davis, of 430 Euston Road, London, as is engraved on the first draw of the telescope. The rest of the set, apart from the box, comprises a microscope stand, some specimen slides to look at, plus an eyepiece with a ruby glass lens, to reduce glare, presumably from an arc light focused on the mirror under the slide. There was also a little glass roofed brass sided enclosure, presumably to enclose a fly or bug or something in the right place under the microscope,to be observed in a trapped area.

A flea on one slide

A flea on one slide

There are several pre-prepared glass microscope slides with the set, which look to be French, and that probably means they were added later. They are labelled, as S**d Po* – Grass  (Seed Pod – Grass); Cuticle Onion; Scale – Perch; S**rch – W*ea* (Starch – Wheat?); Seed Carrier – Aster; Sole Scale (also Scaille de Sole). Two others are home-made slides, one is labelled as a “Small spider’s leg”, the other is unidentified, but looks like a flea!

DSCN2543sThe idea behind this scientific set is that the first draw of any telescope, with typically four eyepiece lenses, is actually a microscope: when acting as the first draw of the telescope, it allows the observer to see the small image of the remote object created by the objective lens, positioned just in front of the end of this microscope, but upside down. The eyepiece lenses turn this image the other way up and magnify it.

But when this first draw is used separately, screwed into another holder in a vertical position, it creates a microscope in a frame, that is positioned above a specimen slide to be inspected. By using the same mounting threads, in the microscope frame and the telescope body, it all fits together and has a dual purpose…..

The Maker, B Davis

So this became a great little scientific set to sell to the man with time on his hands, and interest in the developments being made in botany and science and astronomy etc, all at once. The problem really is that these boxes get broken up, and the bits get separated, so it is really good to find a set still with all its components intact. They were manufactured in Victorian times, B Davis was said (in Gloria Clifton’s Directory) to have been an Optician, who attended the London Mechanics Institute from 1830-32, and then lived at 1 Lower Terrace, Lower Road, Islington, London.

DSCN2552xThere are records of an Isaac Davis at Lower Terrace, Lower Road Islington from 1832-38, and then with his brother Marcus here until 1842: they had also traded as Davis Bros.at 33 New Bond Street from 1820-38. But there are also records that show Lower Road was at times called Essex Street, and could indeed have been renamed as an extension of Euston Road, given that the roads around the newly growing railway stations were probably being developed. Since the Clifton Directory covers only the period to up to 1851, possibly this set was produced by B Davis after that date, when the road name had changed.

The complete boxed set: the box is missing one of the side panels.

The complete boxed set: the box is missing one of the side panels.

Postscript: The Winter 2015 Tesseract catalogue features a combined microscope/telescope set like this, but in better condition, and earlier, made by W&S Jones in maybe 1790. The microscope specimen carrier is better quality, and the whole thing is in better condition. But that one would cost you $9500. Maybe I should rethink the value of this little set too…or clean it up a bit more, restick the box together!


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