Mid-18th century compass microscope in sharkskin etui

Mid-18th century compass microscope in sharkskin etui

Stock Number: FG_21050


The "Compass Microscope" is named so because of the center hinge, reminiscent of a drafting compass. It was used during the 18th century for inspecting small opaque objects such as fauna or flora. To use the instrument, the user would mount the specimen with the stage forceps and locate it just opposite the lens. The silvered reflecting Lieberkuhn mirror focuses more light on the top surface of the specimen. These microscopes were very popular as pocket field aids for naturalists.


Ca. 1730-40

Country of manufacture

UK and Ireland

Categories: Scientific, Microscopy, Mineralogy & Gemmology, Natural history


This is a nice version of the mid-18th century compass microscope, safely collapsing into a pocket-sized pouch (or “etui”).

From about 1700, the case design with tightly packed instruments was very popular and was to endure for almost a century. Now dubbed etuis, they were originally called pocket magazine cases and were made in several forms and sizes. They were made for pocket nécessaire, namely, sets for personal grooming usually containing a mirror, tweezers, scissors, ear spoons, scent bottles, and/or ivory toothpicks. They also became very popular for English drafting instrument sets, including a compass with a set of inserts: pencil, ink points, and expansion bar, dividers, a sector, parallel lines ruler, and a scales ruler. 

With this background, it was only logical to house pocket microscopes for fieldwork in such cases. From around 1700, the London instrument makers Edmund Culpeper and Edward Scarlett sold miniature screw-barrel microscopes in such etuis. Here we see a nice compass microscope that can be collapsed into such a pouch for convenient portability. The Lieberkuhn can be added or removed, and the magnification of the tiny spherical lens is pretty impressive.

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IL Gilgamesh

Gilgamesh was the mythological hero of the cultures of ancient West Asia, who set out on a journey in which he sought youth and eternal life.
Fleaglass Gilgamesh is located in Israel. As an archaeologist researching the material culture of the distant past and using the microscope as a major research tool, for more than two decades I have collected microscopes from the first 300 years of existence of this amazing tool and researched the cultural context of their use. Passion has become an obsession and I cultivate the full and almost unique West Asian collection of historical microscopes. Respectively, I put up for sale surplus or interesting items from the collection. I would be happy to advise any interested collector free of charge. Needless to say, I would love to send photos, information and bibliographic references, and discuss the sale details of the items offered here for sale.

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