Professor’s microscope collection spans centuries

By Costa Maragos Posted: March 21, 2017 6:00 a.m.

Dr. Stephen Bend, professor in the department of Geology, with some of his collection of antique microscopes. His collection includes pieces from the late 1600’s.
Dr. Stephen Bend, professor in the department of Geology, with some of his collection of antique microscopes. His collection includes pieces from the late 1600’s. Photo by Rae Graham - U of R Photography

The microscope, as a scientific instrument, has undoubtedly had a major impact on research over the past few centuries.

Dr. Stephen Bend can appreciate the science as well as the art of antique microscopes. Bend, a professor in the Geology Department, has amassed an impressive collection of microscopes.
“The workmanship on some of these is outstanding,” says Bend. “The microscopes are typically made by what I call artisans and craftsmen. The scientists came up with theories and the notion of how to define optics but the practitioners put these together.”

Bend Microscope
A solar microscope from the 1700's. U of R Photography

Bend is holding a talk Wednesday, March 22 at 4 p.m. at College West (room 232.3) titled: "The Unofficial History of the Light Microscope." His presentation will include pieces from his collection.
You will be amazed by Bend’s stories of the ‘cast of characters’ who participated in the evolution of the microscope. However, you will be captivated by his collection.

“There aren’t many like this in Canada,” says Bend. “I’ve strategically sought certain microscopes because of their historical importance and the evolution of the microscope or because they’re examples of the specific manufacturer.”

Samples of Bend’s collection include:

  • One of world’s first solar microscopes (Cuff - See photo right)
  • The world’s first compound brass microscope from 1745 made by John Cuff.
  • The world’s first brass microscope from 1702 made by Edmund Culpeper (See photo left)
  • One of the oldest wooden compound microscopes (17th century)
Stephen Bend
Photo courtesy of Rae Graham - U of R Photography

“I think this collection has been a useful vehicle in trying to learn and research the history and advancement of microscopes and tied to that, of course, is the development of science as a whole,” says Bend. “The microscope is one of those items that actually unifies all the branches of science.”

The scientific value of these instruments may be of little use now, but their artistic design will endure for generations.

“I have a little bit of a chuckle to myself in that the scientists or the person who may have originally commissioned or purchased the microscope is lost in obscurity,” says Bend. “But the artisans and the craftsmen who perhaps got the second rate and sometimes not the respect at the time are now celebrated.”

Bend brings to light the names of Culpeper, Cuff, Baker and Jones. These are men who changed the course of scientific research thanks to their revolutionary microscope designs.

“One of the most sobering thoughts is that a microscope like this Cuff microscope which was manufactured in 1744, I’m only temporarily curating it,” says Bend. “I might have it in my possession for 20 or 25 years and it is a responsibility I feel I have to take care of these objects so that they are available for generations to come and can be enjoyed.”

Event:     The Unofficial History of the Light Microscope
Date:       Wednesday, March 22
Time:       4 p.m.
Location: College West – Room 237.3
This talk is free and open to the public.