Optical instruments are to be encountered in the strangest of places; not that the Royal Philatelic Society London is strange, but whereas you might expect to see lots of postage stamps there, a binocular microscope is perhaps less of a foreseeable object.
Nevertheless, when visiting the premises on business last week, my eye was drawn to a Zeiss stand microscope on temporary display, used by the Earl of Crawford and Balcarres (1847-1913) to inspect his stamps with minute precision. As the caption label helpfully informed me, Crawford pioneered the analytical study of philately, using instruments such as this to study every aspect of a stamp’s design, production and use. I guess he’d have had to have taken his top hat off when bending down to look through the binocular eyepiece!
I didn’t have time to study it in detail when I was there, but looking at my photograph it appears to be a well-preserved example of the Stativ XB from 1912. (You can read about it, in German, on website of the Zeiss Archive). So after a lifetime’s study of stamps Crawford presumably enjoyed the use of this particular instrument for only a very short time. Similar gentlemen of means were using the device as an aquarium microscope or for observing parts of plants and rocks. Various accessories were available supplied in an alder wood box. I shudder to think what the postage cost might have been for importing the instrument from Jena in eastern Germany, but no doubt it arrived quicker than it would have done today!
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Wow, The Royal Philatelic society. That place sounds really, really fascinating. You're so lucky. Couple that with the fact you actually got to see a GENUINE Zeiss stand microscope (!) and your visit sounds positively transcendent. Tragically, I don't speak German so I can't understand their website but I can read it and hope to absorb the engrossing subject matter through linguistic osmosis. Truly, you are a glowing light of well informed knowledge in the world of obscure ocular devices.
27 July 2012 at 02:37 PM