A Rare Universal Microscope Sold by a Boston Retailer. c. 1840-1855
Attributed to the Parisian optician Buron, Rue des Trois Pavillons No. 10,
This instrument is signed in script on the tube Made for Widdifield & Cie, Boston. The incomplete translation of the signature is indicative of its French origin. It dates around 1840-1855. The microscope is very similar to the Chevalier Universal Microscope, but some details of construction suggest that it was made by a different firm. A similar microscope with three draw case was offered in the 1848 Pike catalog (Pike's Descriptive Catalogue of Optical, Mathematical, and Philosophical Instruments, Vol. II, 1848). The Pike illustration appears to have been extracted from the 1844 catalog of the Parisian optician Buron, Rue des Trois Pavillons No. 10, suggesting that this is the firm that may have made the microscope. In addition, item No. 277 in the Wipple Museum of the History of Science catalog, (1986), is a horizontal microscope signed by Buron with a number of similarities to this microscope.
The stage measures 9 x 6.5 cm with a 40 mm center hole. Focusing is by rack and pinion movement of the stage using a single milled brass pinion knob. The rack is inset into the bar and held in place by two screws. The stage with two stage clips has an opening made with a counter-sink; a disk that holds the aperture wheel fits into this. With the examples made by Chevalier, the aperture wheel is mounted on a separate arm located under the stage. The stage can be easily detached from the main body and reinserted upside down for use when the microscope is in its inverted configuration. The main column of the microscope is topped with a compass joint that allows the instrument to be inclined when used in vertical mode. Above this joint is the limb that carries the prism holder and the tube. The bar that holds the mirror and stage is screwed into this limb with a blued steel screw. At the rear of the limb is a milled knob engaging a brass washer loosening this knob allows the limb to be freely rotated where it can then be tightened leaving the tube and stage at any desired angle. The nosepiece that holds the objective, prism, and tube can be removed from the body of the microscope via a bayonet joint that is activated by pressing a spring-loaded saddle-shaped knob on the limb. Removal of the nosepiece reveals a tapered shaft and two steel pins used to line up this part with the limb. This is one of the novel features that distinguish this microscope from those made by Chevalier where the nosepiece is secured to the limb with a brass-headed steel pin. Like the similar model made by Chevalier, but using a different mechanism, the front part of the limb can be rotated out of the plane of the stage to allow easier changing of the objectives. The tube incorporates a drawtube to extend its length. The photos show the microscope set up in horizontal, vertical, inverted (chemical), and simple microscope configurations.
The accessories are stored in the two upper draws of the case lined with mauve cloth. They consist of two unmarked eyepieces, two unmarked objectives with triple button fronts, an alternate nosepiece for use when the microscope is set up as a simple microscope, three simple objectives numbered 1-3, and a Soemmering drawing attachment. There is a place for a double-jointed stage-mounted condenser, which is now lacking. The second draw contains a brass bound trough with glass bottom, a partial set of dissecting tools, cover glasses, and glass slides. There is an empty rectangular compartment that might have contained a stage micrometer. The top tray of this draw can be removed relieving a storage space below, now empty.
Daniel Brown Widdifield was born in Boston on May 26, 1800. He began his apprenticeship first with the optician Thomas Pons and later with John Peirce after which he commenced business in his native city. In the Columbian Centinel newspaper of Boston dated June 6, 1837, appeared an advertisement promoting Daniel B. Widdifield, Optician, located at No. 141 Washington Street opposite the Old South Meeting-house. The ad shows a pair of spectacles. According to the Websters Instrument Makers Database, the firm traded under the name D. B. Widdifield from 1828 to 1837. Thereafter, from 1838 to 1868, instruments were signed D. B. Widdifield & Co. or just Widdifield & Co. It is not certain exactly when the firm went out of business. Instruments that appear to postdate 1868 are known. Besides the microscope described here, it is known that the firm sold telescopes, thermometers, and barometers and it can be assumed that a variety of other scientific instruments as sold by other mid-century opticians were available from the shop. There are no indications that the firm manufactured any of the instruments sold, although further research would be needed to confirm this. The 1860 Boston directory places Widdifield & Co. (Daniel B. Jr, and George F. Widdifield) at 148 Wash. bds 26 West Cedar and indicates an association with J. L. Millar. In the 1883 edition of The Tech, the newspaper of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, an advertisement appeared by Wm. K. Millar & Co. located at 38 West St. in Boston offering a variety of instruments to the students. This advertisement states that this firm is the " successors to Widdifield & Co." A floor-mounted telescope signed " Widdifield & Co., Boston, assumed to be from C. 1890 (but probably pre-dating 1883), and described as a Bardou type is known to have been recently sold. In addition, another telescope signed Bardou et Fils a Paris Pour Widdifield & Co. Boston is located at the National Maritime Museum in Dublin. It is dated mid to late 19th century.