In 1982, the British singer Thomas Dolby let the whole world know "She Blinded Me With Science" through his catchy pop song of the same title. Now everyone knows that today's technologies have enabled us to increase our knowledge of the inner workings of our world at a blinding pace. However, this was not the case even a hundred years ago, despite some pretty impressive scientific instruments available at the time. Let's take a look at some "cutting edge" century-plus old research tools that will be on display and for sale at the upcoming New England Antique Show's Boston Antiques and Design Show and Sale, and see what makes them so interesting from a scientific and historical perspective.
Focus in (literally) on this collection of antique laboratory tools, including two microscopes and a calculator. The microscopes were both manufactured in America and are quite rare. The one on the left is a McIntosh brand microscope which was made in Chicago in the 1885 through 1897 time frame. The one on the right is "model #5" from the company E.F. and G.H. Tighe of Detroit. It is from around 1895 and retains its original box. The unusual grey-metal colored item in the front is actually a very early calculator, called a "Brunsviga Midget." This item is from around 1908 and was made in Germany for export to the United States.
Let's do a little bench research to learn more about each of these instruments!
The McIntosh Company was founded in the early 1870's by Dr. McIntosh, a physician who was also quite entrepreneurial. His business changed names a few times over the next few decades; in 1889, the company became the McIntosh Battery & Optical Co. The company produced high end microscopes into the 1890's, but few have survived to this day. Dr. McIntosh died in 1892 and the company was sold around 1897. In 1890, about the time of the McIntosh microscope pictured above, the company's catalog listed five microscope models in their lines: two "new clinical" microscopes that ranged in price from $20 to $37; two "scientific" microscopes that ranged in price from $35 to $57; and one "professional" microscope that cost anywhere from $65 to $100 (depending on configuration) at the time. The microscope under discussion is the "professional" model; the original catalog illustration of it is pictured here to the left.
It's good to have family keeping an eye out on the business, and that's exactly the situation with the second microscope pictured above. This boxed beauty was produced by E.F. and G.H. Tighe of Detroit, a company owned by brothers Edward & Frederick Tighe. The brothers were born in Canada to Irish parents; the sons moved to the US in the 1870's to later set up an optical practice a few years later. Tighe as a company was in business from around 1891 to 1902. They worked closely with another scientific instrument company called Gundlach from Rochester, New York; the Tighe pattern of microscope was made and sold into the 20th century by the Gundlach, long after Tighe was no longer in business. The Sears catalog was a major channel of distribution for Tighe microscopes at the turn of last century. The microscope pictured to the left is the Tighe #5; this picture is from the Lundy Antique Microscope Collection.
You do the math and consider how far we have come in calculator technology, based on the third instrument pictured above. This small-ish number cruncher is called the Brunsviga Midget. Although the abacus and slide rules technically are really the great-grandfathers of calculators, the first commercially successful "calculator" was produced in 1820. Moving forward, the Brunsviga Midget had its origins in the late 19th century, and really hit the market hard and fast in the 1890's. It is interesting to note that the German company that bought the patent rights to this early calculator also specialized in manufacturing sewing machines. Brunsviga machines were based on a pinwheel mechanism and were able to display results up to 13 digits. A little bell went off when the calculation crossed from positive to negative, and vice versa. (For more information on the fascinating "inner workings" of these pinwheel calculators, click here.) Many of these calculators were originally mounted on a wooden base and came with a carrying case (as pictured to the left); most in the United States were sold through a distributor who was headquartered in the Philadelphia, PA area.
I would like the thank John Kuenzig of Kuenzig Books, who was instrumental in introducing me to these remarkable antique scientific devices. Kuenzig Books is located in Topsfield, Massachusetts and specializes in 18th through 21st century books, manuscripts, ephemera, scientific instruments, artifacts, and related material. The company is always interested in letter collections, diaries and identified photograph albums regardless of topic. To learn more about this these instruments - which will also be on display at the upcoming New England Antique Show's Wilmington event - please contact John directly at email@example.com or 978-887-4053.
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