Posts tagged Van Musschenbroek

Van Musschenbroek Microscopes

It cannot be denied that Antoni van Leeuwenhoek made major discoveries with his single lensed microscopes. Consequently, when thinking about the simple microscopes of the 16th and 17th centuries, most people have focused on his very simple (some say crude) microscopes. In fact, there were several other single lensed microscopes in use at the time. Many of them were more complicated than Van Leeuwenhoek’s microscope with extra features and even engraved ornamentation. One had a rotating disc with different sized holes to give varying apertures, others had detachable lenses or moving sample holders so that samples did not have to be transferred to another microscope for a change of magnification. Significant discoveries were also made with these microscopes and yet they are rarely studied. Comparison of results from the different types could tell us so much more, but working replicas (with proper lenses) like the Van Leeuwenhoek replicas I normally work with are not to be found.


Last year, after I complained about the lack of such replicas for experimental use during a lecture, someone called my bluff. Dr Koen Quint of the Dutch Stichting voor Historische Microscopie offered me the honour of trying their (real) Van Musschenbroek microscope! I have to admit that my first reaction was panic.

The Van Musschenbroek workshop in Leiden was a family business between 1660 and 1750. They produced (and invented) a range of scientific instruments, among which were microscopes. At its peak between 1730 and 1740, their microscope range included 10 different models, some of which were their own invention. The more complicated of their single lensed microscopes included a holder and detachable lenses.

Van Musschenbroek microscope with lenses and sample holders

The initial experiments have been encouraging. Of course, using a centuries-old microscope was a bit nerve wracking, and much of the first session was spent working out how to set everything up without damaging it (e.g. we wrapped the  handle of the microscope in felt to protect it against the clamps holding it erect). Obviously I can’t take it home to use on wet Sunday afternoons as I would with a replica, but the next few weeks are going to be fun!

Experimental setup

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