Accession No


Brief Description

compound microscope, side pillar type, by John Cuff, English, 1745 (c)


England; London


Cuff, John



Earliest Date

Jan. 1, 1743

Latest Date

Dec. 31, 1745

Inscription Date


wood (oak, mahogany); metal (brass, steel); glass; paper (cardboard); fishskin (shagreen); ivory


height 352mm; side of base 169mm

Special Collection

Robert Whipple collection


Purchased by Robert Stewart Whipple from T.H. Court in 02/1939. The instrument made its way to Stevens' sale, where it was purchased by T.H. Court. Once belonged to E.M. Nelson.


‘J. Cuff Londini Invt. & Fecit’

Description Notes

Square box foot with drawer; oak core with thick mahogany veneer shaped brass plate with square pillar, scroll brace and socket for swinging concave mirror; 2 part side pillar with clamp and fine focus by steel screw width knurled brass head; cruciform brass stage with slots for frog plate, stage forceps etc.

Brass socket for body; cylindrical snout; screw thread to field lens mount; screw thread to eyepiece with sliding cover.
Six objectives marked ‘1-6’; cardboard slip case covered with black shagreen for ten 4-object ivory slides; 1 brass 4-object slide; glass disc; wheel of objects; part of a live box.

[Much soldering under the stage; two sliding parts of the pillar stuck; a few later screws].


Boris Jardine; 'John Cuff and the 'new-constructed' microscope'; Explore Whipple Collections online article; Whipple Museum of the History of Science; University of Cambridge; 2006: 'Parts of the Microscope '; University of Cambridge:


The compound microscope was developed during the 17th Century and was closely related to the refracting telescope. Its popularity increased after the publication of Robert Hooke’s (1635-1703) Micrographia in 1665. Micrographia contained detailed pictures, never before seen, of insects magnified using a compound microscope.

A compound microscope uses two or more lenses. The lenses are held at certain distances from each other and are mounted inside a rigid tube. The tube was usually made from pasteboard, ivory, or most commonly, brass. The basic compound microscope magnifies an image in two stages -

Stage one: Light from a mirror is reflected up through the specimen into a powerful objective lens.

Stage two: The image produced by the objective lens is magnified again by the eye lens, which works like a simple magnifying lens.

The first compound microscope consisted of a simple barrel which would have been held up to the light. Later developments ensured that the compound microscope had a stable base, usually a brass stand and a side pillar.

In the 17th Century, the compound microscope had some serious drawbacks which made it easier to use a simple microscope (which have only one lens) instead. The image produced by a compound microscope was often affected by two types of aberrations known as chromatic and spherical. These aberrations caused blurring to the image (spherical) and the edge of the specimen to colour (chromatic). Chromatic aberration was removed at the end of the 18th Century by Harmanus van Deijlan, an instrument maker in Amsterdam. In 1830, spherical aberration was overcome by Joseph Lister, who developed the achromatic lens. Achromatic lenses became widely used in microscopes in the 1850s and are still used today.

Created by: Corrina Bower


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