'Through a Pocket Lens' by Henry Scherren 1897
a book review ... a 100 years later!

by Dave Walker

Regular readers of Micscape will know that we actively encourage the use of the not so humble hand lens. This is not to be confused with the 'Sherlock Holmes' type magnifying glass which only magnifies 2-3X. A typical hand lens magnifies 8-10X and can open up a whole new insight into the world around you (see further reading).

As a particular devotee of the hand lens myself, I've been aware of a book called 'Through a Pocket Lens' by Henry Scherren published at the turn of the century, but it's only recently that I was able to trace and order a copy. The one I ordered was catalogued as a 1904 reprint but to my surprise I was sent a copy of the first edition for the same price - thank you Savona Books! When I noticed this first edition was published in 1897 it seemed too good an opportunity in December 1997 to miss writing a book review - one hundred years later!

I know very little about the author Henry Scherren although the book states he was a Fellow of the Zoological Society, London and authored other books including 'Ponds and Rock Pools' which I also possess.

The opening paragraph of the book I think is terrific and succinctly summarises one of the objectives of the Microscopy UK / Micscape web site and my own modest attempts as an amateur naturalist at monthly Nature Walks.

'The object of this little book is to show how much may be seen with an ordinary pocket lens, and with a simple microscope; and, as far as possible, to dispel the idea, far too common, especially amongst beginners, that no real work can be done unless one has a compound microscope with a large battery of lenses and an array of 'accessories'.'

The slim volume of 192 pages starts with an interesting chapter on the pocket lens and dissecting microscopes with some nice line diagrams. The remaining five chapters discuss various arthropods worth studying with a pocket lens, with quite detailed descriptions of their structure supported by small line diagrams. The subjects covered include water beetles, spiders and mites. Crustaceans such as prawns and shrimps are also covered.

Unfortunately, I don't think the breadth of subjects covered by the book lives up to the splendid opening paragraph quoted above. I was hoping it would cover a wider range of plant and animal subjects easily accessible to the casual worker. In this respect I much prefer the other classic of this era 'Half Hours with a Microscope' by Edwin Lankester which covers a wider range of subjects and is profusely illustrated.

However, what interested me most about this particular edition of Scherren's book were the adverts. Many books of this era contained adverts in the flyleaves and often, as is the case with this book, a bound insert of other book titles by the same publisher. It seems a shame that only a few modern books contain adverts related to the book's subject, because to readers a century on such adverts form a fascinating part of the social and technological history of the time.

Scherren's book had three full page adverts for hand lenses by two famous microscope makers i.e. Dollond and Watson plus a third for a firm called Wood. These adverts were a delight to see as information of this type is often difficult to trace. The advert for the Dollond pocket lens is shown below.

The other books listed as available from the publisher (The Religious Tract Society) also make interesting reading. I particularly liked the following quote.

''The Girls Own Outdoor Book' by Charles Peters. Containing practical help to girls in all matters relating to their material comfort and moral well-being. By the author of 'How to be Happy though Married'.'  (My bold emphasis.)

Further Reading

'Walk on the Wildside' a series of monthly nature walks describing and illustrating what can be seen with a hand lens or low power microscope throughout the year.

2) 8X Everything - an article showing a typical modern hand lens and what you can use it for.

3) 8X More - a hand lens can also be used with a camcorder for macro studies.

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