Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Science and Beauty: Victorian microscope slides

The beginning of the 19th century, saw significant advances in the study of the natural sciences as well as the burgeoning of the middle class during the Victorian era.  This new social class had some extra money to spend and leisure time and some sought to put together their own cabinets of curiosities. Now collecting specimens and conducting research was no longer a pursuit attainable only to the leisure classes. Going on excursions to collect specimens and putting together their own slides became a popular pastime for many people.

From The Illustrated London News, 1855

Some of these amateur naturalists added microscopes to their collections, as more affordable versions of the instrument were now being made with the development of industry.  Looking at slides was not only appealing to those interested in the natural world, but was also seen as a source of entertainment to both men and women, just like other pass times which became available to the middle class such as playing the piano.  

Advertisement in the Quarterly Journal of Science, 1875

The beauty of the slides is conveyed by both the slides themselves as well as the mounts. Mounts for the slides were decorated with coloured papers and ornate designs. The specimens found within the slides could come from back gardens or from around the world, the concept of "the exotic" being very much in vogue at the time. Some individuals, seeing the popularity of microscope slides, rose to the occasion and began producing slides for sale.

Below are some examples of sought after microscope slides made and collected by Victorians, as seen on the superb website I can really see why these slides are still sought after by collectors.  

The specimens below are shown as they appear under the microscope and are made with various materials such as scales or shell. These are beautiful examples of the appeal of viewing specimen slides for their colourful beauty.

It's spectacular how the natural world never ceases to inspire a sense of delight and wonder. 

What a beautifully human experience.

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