I was looking at this trade card for the optical instrumentalist John Yarwell ("Traded at Ye Archimedes & Spectacles in St. Paul's Church Yard
(1671-92), North Side of St. Paul's (1672), St. Paul's Churchyard
(1676-96) & Archimedes in Ludgate St.(1697) & Archimedes &
Crown (1698-1712), all London, England") and was struck by something a little bit "odd". For as many times that I have seen early images of compound microscopes I don't think I've ever looked at how the instrument was attached to its stand. Now that I am seeing it, it is remarkable how efficient and careful the early users were. Basically, the microscope was attached bya hair to its stand–well, not really, but just about.
Yarwell features spectacles, looking glasses, microscopes and a variety of telescopes. Here's a detail of a compound microscope from the Yarwell image (left), and it is remarkable how potentially unstable the attachment makes the instrument. Just a slight bit of turmoil, or a bump near a table leg could upset the image.
Take for another example this very famous compound microscope made by Christopher Cock for the great Robert Hooke (1635-1703):
[Image of the Hooke microscope via the Billings Collection at the National Museum of Health and Medicine, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology]
This famous instrument was evidently the one with which Hooke first observed living cells (25 March 1663, nearly 350 years ago) and which he used for the first investigation and of cork and the naming of the "cell" (13 April 1663), and which was the basis for the images gathered for his masterpiece of investigation and exploration, the Micrographia (1665).
It seems even less stable than the Yarwell instrument. The astonishing thing about this fish-skin-covered instrument, this gateway to a completely undiscovered miniature world, is that so much of it depended upon such a little bit of engineering…it just seems as though taking the next little step could have been taken for a more basic base, a heavier mount, a more stout connection from stand-to-microscope, just to make the instrument more stable. But it didn't happen just then for Hooke, and it evidently didn't matter.