Sunday, October 7, 2012

Victorian Slide Specimens

Microscopic specimens captured between thin plates of glass have always intrigued me, but never more so than when they are labeled with beautiful examples of Victorian type specimens and ornament. The thought of viewing a tiny organism through a lens, with all of its' intricate design; and then seeing the specimen's ornate paper wrapper with equally decorative design and lettering is quite alluring to me. These highly prized antique microscope slides are not only chronicles of 19th century natural science, but they also document the historical design of the day.
     As microscopes and lenses became more sophisticated, and glass slides gained popularity in Victorian England, commercial glass slide mounters began to emerge in order to meet the demand of amateur naturalists. Many of the commercial slide makers began attaching decorative lithographed wrappers to the glass, often fixed with small handwritten identification tags and monogrammed trademark labels. Individual slide mounter's work became very recognizable over time, and have retained considerable value when found in near original condition. The work of John T. Norman became one of the most recognizable, which you can see immediately below.
     The Common Objects of the Microscope book above, was one of the more popular books available to the amateur naturalist in the late 19th century. It is featured at Microscopy UK, where you can learn a great deal more about the topic. The slide examples seen below are from Howard Lynk's collection which are well documented at Victorian Microscope Slides

John T. Norman began his business in London in 1846, and became a commercial success until his death in the early 1890s. He was known for using a variety of beautifully patterned cover papers in the course of his slide mounting career.
     The slide work of James Neville (1840-1900) seen below, was quite distinctive in style with his familiar decorative borders which he applied by hand to the sealed frame around each specimen. He was a highly skilled artist and it is rare to find two of his slides where he used identical patterns and color combinations.


  1. these microscope slides are as beautiful as glazed tiles. were some of the slides made of colored glass? it doesn't make sense, since it would impact the colors of the object being examined, but the slides are colorful, so I am curious...can you explain?

  2. Very good question suzieQ. My uneducated guess is that they have been discolored over time. They experimented with a lot of different chemicals, preservatives and sealers then, and it most likely caused the yellowing.

  3. i would tend to agree that it is discoloring over time, but there is at least an outside chance that the colored glass was used to bring out certain features on the sample.


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