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Smith & Beck microscope bought by Francis Herbert Wenham – £38,000 at Flints.

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He is credited with inventing the ‘Wenham binocular’ arrangement that was copied by almost all late 19th century microscope makers and made the Ross-Wenham Radial microscope, the largest binocular microscope of the Victorian era.

Wenham's modifications

The Smith & Beck instrument includes a number of modifications, probably made by Wenham himself. According to a letter that accompanied the lot at scientific instrument specialist Flints (24% buyer’s premium) in Thatcham, Berkshire, on November 19, this was Wenham’s prototype binocular microscope which was first exhibited at a meeting of the Microscopical Society of London on December 12, 1860.

Some of the accessories, eyepieces and objectives also appear to be some of Werner’s own creations: the high-power prism was discussed in an extract from the Intellectual Observer (1866) titled ‘Mr Wenham’s New Binocular’ while a 1/25inch objective in a can engraved Wenham and dated 1856 appears to be that mentioned in the 1857 Microscopical Society of London’s President’s address. At the time, it the most powerful objective ever made.

The microscope was sold by Dollond & Co in 1911, just three years after Wenham’s death, and was in a number of important collections before its sale at Christie’s South Kensington in 1993 for a premium-inclusive £10,450. Reoffered at Flints with a guide of £20,000-30,000, the hammer price bid by a US private collector was £38,000.