A rare example of a Watkins simple/double monocular microscope c. 1790


35 cm. tall (14 inches)



Country of manufacture

UK and Ireland

Categories: Microscopy, Natural history, Engineering antiques, Office Antiques, Patent & Salesmans Samples


A previously unrecorded example of a F. Watkins simple/double (compound) monocular microscope in a sharkskin case c.1790.

In my opinion, this microscope is a rare example of the work produced by the nephews of Francis Watkins after his death in 1791 but before the business was turned over to his son c.1800 and most assuredly before the partnership with W. Hill c. 1810. Although unsigned (Jeremiah and Walter used paper labels as Francis was also the engraver), the entire mid-section of this microscope is identical to recorded examples by Francis Sr. during his career (1750-1790). I have the measurements if you want to check against museum and private collections. The stem, base and body tube has been modified to reflect the forward thinking of the nephews to incorporate the latest innovations by Dollond (lol), Cuff, Jones, Ayscough, Ramsden, etc.

Standing two inches (5 cm.) taller than the examples of signed F. Watkins microscopes, this example exhibits a tapering cylindrical pillar, rectangular folding tripod feet  with ornate cutouts (never seen before) and a finely machined (diagonal roping/knurling of all components) body tube seen in compound (double) microscopes of the Georgian Era. The incorporation of these modifications, together with the double jointed pillar (for which Watkins was given credit for and a patent) made it much more functional than the microscopes he produced during his career. The nephews did their homework and the machining  skill of Addison Smith (foreman) is magnificent.

Standing 35 cm. (14 inches) tall overall, the compound body tube (with in between field lens) is 12 cm. in length, the mid-section (11 cm.) incorporating the removable, harp-shaped stage with one piece, slider stage clip to accommodate the live box. Rotating numbered wheel of six lenses (intact) with adaptor flange for the body tube, double blued steel clips below (for a glass tube-missing), removable Lieberkuhn on dove tail, all move by fully functional rack and pinion gear work (with gradations to the back marked 1-6 for S (simple) and D (double) rack positions). This microscope seems to have been used as a simple microscope during it’s working life as the ONLY area of wear is the upper stage and the parts that are missing from the case are those that would have been frequently used i.e. brush, tube, forceps, etc. The other parts (pillar, foot, compound body tube ALL retain their original, golden lacquer (99%). The optical axis is simple with NO in between condenser (Bleuler c. 1780) terminating in a huge (trademark Watkins) double sided, rotatable (180 degrees vertically and 360 degrees horizontally) mirror in two sections with a central pin. The mid-section NEVER changed after the death of Watkins until the innovations of William Hill (Watkins and Hill) c. 1818-1856. These aforementioned instruments were also signed.

As stated previously, the  10 cm. pillar (stem) had been changed from a fluted hexagonal to a clean, tapering cylinder with threaded screw to the foot (base). The legs have gone from raised, ornately flowing and bent to a straight, rectangular folding tripod but with wonderful, sharply elliptical (vesica piscis), biconvex lens cutouts NEVER seen before or since. Again, only my opinion, but this must have been a special order microscope for a wealthy patron produced during a time of turmoil within the Company (death of Francis Sr., probate of the Will (Francis was a wealthy landowner and landlord). a son (Francis Jr.) too young to run the shop, nephews trying to be progressive with Smith (since 1784) and a new partner (Hill-1818)). It had to have been produced between 1790-1800 as the case is sharkskin (near flawless) with large, eared C-hooks and ornate buttons on the underside. The case measures 15 x 14 x 5 cm. deep and contains the surviving accessories including a magnificent brass sleeve with knurled knob containing the original 12 ivory sliders- 6 blank (now partially filled) and 6 numbered, two ivory sample manipulators, live box, Lieberkuhn, folding brass, 6 glass wet cell and talc box (missing one end cap). If one looks at original Watkins advertising papers, ALL of these accessories are original equipment except the ivory sticks. Stage forceps sadly missing but it makes sense that missing parts are ALL components that would have been frequently used as a SIMPLE microscope and could easily have been separated from the box during it’s usable life i.e. hand and stage forceps, brush, wire for cleaning out the aquatic tube, aquatic tube, etc.

All in all, a magnificent and rare transitional microscope DEFINITELY produced by the Watkins workshop exhibiting some of the latest innovations of the day in an era of constant flux. The optics are dirty but functional with all lenses present. The rack and pinion is somewhat crude but functional. One mirror has minor silvering loss, the other cloudy from age. The original golden lacquer is 90% intact. The machining (roping) is magnificent for early lathe work. The microscope is light and compact. This is an important piece with a price tag that reflects it’s rarity and uniqueness. NO other extant examples. I have 20 additional photos, including measurements if you want to be assured that this is a Watkins workshop product.

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CA ScientificaOpticae

Scientifica Opticae

Mark Hacking (Scientifica Opticae Inc.) has been an avid collector/dealer for over 30 years. A former Science teacher, he has an innate love for anything natural or mechanical. Specializing in optical (microscopes, telescopes), surveying, medical, weighing and drawing instruments, he is an active participant of the Scientific Instrument Fair in London. Living in Stratford, Ontario, Canada, with his wife and two children; Mark looks forward to meeting as many fellow collectors as possible, and has a worldwide following on eBay (Sciopti).

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