Charles Coppock, Microscopist (1837 – 1900)

by Brian Stevenson, Kentucky, USA

Although his name is now largely forgotten, Charles Coppock was a significant person in mid- to late-1800s English microscopy. He was part owner of the R. and J. Beck microscope firm, along with Joseph Beck and Robert Kemp (R. Beck died in 1866, shortly after that company was initially formed). Coppock left Beck to start his own microscope firm in 1882, selling instruments of his own manufacture, as well as being the English agent for Nachet, Zeiss, Tolles, Bulloch, Spencer and other makers. Coppock’s firm also sold microscopy supplies and slides, examples of which are shown in Figures 1, 2 and 3.

Brian Bracegirdle’s Microscopical Mounts and Mounters briefly describes Coppock’s slides as “various subjects, probably factored.” That conclusion is undoubtedly correct. As the owner of a large microscope production and retail enterprise, Coppock was unlikely to have spent his time producing microscope slides. As with Andrew Pritchard, Smith, Beck and Beck, Watson and Sons and other such microscope makers/sellers, Charles Coppock would have sold slides made by other people, under his own label. The slides shown in Figures 1 and 2 bear striking resemblances to slides produced by Moritz Hensoldt, of Wetzlar, Germany. The handwriting on Coppock’s slides is distinct from that of Hensoldt, suggesting that Coppock’s labels were added in England. Most likely, a clerk in Coppock’s employ removed Hensoldt’s labels, attached the new Coppock labels and copied specimen information provided by Hensoldt. Coppock’s former business, R. and J. Beck, and its predecessors also struck identification of their makers from slides which they sold.

Figure 1. Slides of thin-sectioned rock specimens sold by Charles Coppock, alongside two similar slides labeled by M. Hensholdt. Coppock exhibited a slide of “Eozoon canadense from Sutherlandshire” at the 13 June, 1883 meeting of the Royal Microscopical Society, and donated that slide, plus three of Bacillus (now Mycobacterium) tuberculosis in human lung and one of Bacillus anthracis in cow lung, to the Society. This occurred approximately 6 months after Coppock formed his independent microscopy business. As he was selling slides of sectioned eozoons and stains for bacteria such as M. tuberculosis at that time (see below and Fig. 6C), this would have been excellent advertising. Eozoon from Sutherland was also the subject of M. Hensoldt and J.E. Ady’s first “Studies in Micrographic Petrography”, published in 1883.

Figure 2. An slide of arranged, transversely-sectioned echinus spines sold by Charles Coppock, alongside a very similar slide made by M. Hensoldt. Note that the two slides have identical ringing colors and pattern. Slides of sectioned echinus spines featured prominently in an advertisement from Coppock in A.C. Cole’s 1883 Studies in Microscopical Sciences (Figure 6C).

Figure 3. Slides of Bangia atropurpurea (a marine alga) and a stained, vertical section of a Rosa canina (dog rose) stem, including a thorn. The ringing on the Bangia slide is identical to the Hensoldt slide shown in Figure 2, and was probably also made by him. The source of the rose stem slide is currently unknown.

Charles Coppock was born in early 1837, being christened on 23 March at Saint Martin in the Fields, London. His father, also named Charles, was a customs inspector, originally from Stockport, Cheshire. His mother, Kazia, was from Kent. When young Charles was about 1 year old, his aunt, Charlotte Coppock, was married in Stockport to the Reverend William Smith, the great investigator of diatoms. Charles evidently enjoyed a close relationship with his uncle and aunt, and was staying with them in Southover, Sussex at the time of the 1851 census.

Charles entered Queen's College, Cork, reportedly with the original intention of becoming a Civil Engineer. He graduated in 1856, and shortly thereafter began working for the Smith, Beck and Beck microscope firm. It has been suggested that Coppock may have aided his uncle’s association with Smith, Beck and Beck by facilitating their sales of William Smith’s slides (Nuttall, 2009). However, since William died in 1857, any assistance from Coppock would have been brief. More likely, William Smith could have helped Charles acquire his job with the microscopists, with whom Smith already had a long-standing relationship.

Coppock was definitely working for Smith, Beck and Beck by early 1861. The 24 year-old optician was listed in the 1861 census as being a boarder at 6 Coleman St., Middlesex, which was also the address of the Smith, Beck and Beck business. He was the sole boarder, and lived with a 53 year-old housekeeper. The on-site living arrangement suggests that Coppock already had an important position with the company. On 20 April, 1864, Charles Coppock was elected to be a Member of the British (later Royal) Meteorological Society. He was later elected to be a Fellow of the Royal Microscopical Society (R.M.S., in 1867) and a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society (R.A.S., in 1871). In June, 1864, Coppock resided at 31 Cornhill, the headquarters of the newly-formed R. and J. Beck company.

Later in 1864, Coppock married Matilda Amer. At the time of Charles’ election to the R.M.S. in 1867, he was still living at 31 Cornhill. In 1871, the couple had three sons, and lived at 38 Arthur Road, Islington. A widowed aunt and two servants also lived in the Coppock household. Matilda died in 1878.

After James Smith retired in 1864, his partners Richard and Joseph Beck reorganized Smith, Beck and Beck as R. and J. Beck. Richard Beck died of heart disease at the early age of 39, in September, 1866. Thereafter, Joseph Beck formed a partnership with Charles Coppock and Robert Kemp, but retained the old business name. The 1876 edition of An Illustrated Description of the Economical Microscope, Manufactured by R. and J. Beck listed all three partners as being the authors.

Lionel Smith Beale’s fifth edition of How to Work with the Microscope, published in 1880, lists Coppock as a microscope maker at 100 New Bond St. However, Coppock demonstrated a rotating specimen holder to the Royal Microscopical Society in December, 1880, on behalf of R. and J. Beck (Figure 4). At the Society’s 12 January, 1881 meeting, Coppock exhibited a microscope that he had constructed in 1878 “with the same fine adjustment as that subsequently patented by Mr. Bulloch”. Evidently, Coppock had been developing his own microscopes, and may have also operated an independent business, for some years before formally separating from R. and J. Beck.

Figure 4. R. and J. Beck’s rotating cell holder, as exhibited by Charles Coppock to the Royal Microscopical Society in December, 1880.

The split from R. and J. Beck occurred during the latter half of 1882. In May of that year, Coppock had attended the British Medical Association’s Jubilee, where he was described as being “of the firm of Messrs. R. and J. Beck, Opticians.” He exhibited “a number of microscopes, which served, at the same time, to shew the excellence of the instruments, and some capital preparations of the Bacillus Anthracis, and the Bacillus (now Mycobacterium) Tuberculosis. These preparations were prepared according to the method of Dr. Heneage Gibbes, published in the Lancet of 5th ult., and very successful they were.” Stains for visualizing M. tuberculosis and other bacteria were to be early items for sale by Coppock’s new business (Figure 6C). The March, 1883 issue of Microscopical News and Northern Microscopist gave detailed instructions from Coppock on how to prepare sputum samples and use the dyes he was then marketing.

The same March, 1883 issue of Microscopical News and Northern Microscopist also announced “We are glad to note that Mr. Coppock, who has for years been associated with the firm of Messrs. R. and J. Beck, has opened magnificent premises at 100, Bond-street, London, where he will continue his business as a manufacturing optician. The instruments and apparatus manufactured by the firm (of which he was a member) will be supplied by him as heretofore, together with all the most recent improvements of home and foreign manufacture, and from his long experience and practical knowledge of the requirements of the student and amateur we have no doubt that he will meet with that support which his courtesy has hitherto awarded him. He promises us a full catalogue with as little delay as possible, and our knowledge of his care and ability assures us it will be well worth perusal when issued.”

Later that year, The American Monthly Microscopical Journal announced that “Mr. Charles Coppock, who has recently established himself in an elegant store in Bond Street, London, has issued his first catalogue of scientific instruments, which is quite fully illustrated. Mr. Coppock does not intend to confine his business to selling microscopes of any one make, but he proposes to furnish any instruments that may be desired. We notice in the catalogue a list of Tolles' microscopes and objectives, Bulloch's microscopes, and we understand that Mr. Coppock has taken the agency for Spencer's objectives.”

The London Medical Record also announced “Mr. Coppock, of 100 New Bond Street, late a partner in the well-known firm of R. and J. Beck, has published a very complete catalogue of instruments, including microscopes, ophthalmic, meteorological, nautical, and surveying instruments, &c., and their accessories. The pamphlet is profusely illustrated, the engravings being exceedingly well executed. A considerable space is devoted to microscopes, to which Mr. Coppock has given much attention. Besides those sent out from his own factory, he incorporates in his catalogue others of some of the most eminent foreign makers, including the names of Prazmowski, Zeiss, Nachet, &c., and of the noted American firms, R. B. Tolles and W. H. Bullock, for whom he is the English agent. It is impossible in the limits of a short review to enumerate the many commendable instruments in these classes ; but, in selecting the combination microscope for especial remark, we do so from its combined advantages and moderate price. It has been constructed, as the catalogue informs us, ' mainly from data obtained from consultation with the leading teachers of science in Edinburgh,' and we recommend all intending purchasers of microscopes to see this instrument before arriving at a decision. All the accessories connected with microscopical study are enumerated and priced, and in addition all the standard works bearing upon the subject are set down in the catalogue and the cost given. Astronomical, terrestrial, and naval telescopes, and transit instruments are next treated of, and in close companionship are binocular field and tourists' glasses. The next section embraces surveying instruments, and following them we are introduced to nautical instruments, amongst which will be found some interesting examples of compasses. Barometers occupy an important position, and are exhaustively illustrated and described ; thermometers (including clinical) being no less prominent. Mr. Coppock next draws attention to anemometers, wind vanes, and air meters ; and the sunshine recorder, and sun-dial, originally invented in 1853, by Mr. J. F. Campbell, of Niddy Lodge, Old Kensington, and which has proved a most valuable adjunct to our list of scientific instruments, finds a place in the catalogue and is copiously described. In the portion devoted to ophthalmic appliances, Mr. Coppock again appears to advantage, having selected this section of his avocation for especial study. The remaining portions of the catalogue are devoted to the numerous if somewhat minor classes of instruments that help to make up the professional appliances usually found at such an establishment. In the August number of the Medical Record, we gave a lengthened description of Mr. Cathcart's microtome, and it may be noted that every instrument sent out from Mr. Coppock's establishment can be relied upon both for quality and workmanship.”

The Journal of the Royal Microscopical Society described Coppock’s Combination Microscope: “The general form of the instrument is shown in [Figure 5], the stage and body being carried upon a turned pillar, after the style of the Continental models, and the stage being as large as is consistent with the relative proportions of the whole instrument. The body-tube allows the highest objectives to be readily focussed by giving a slight spiral movement to the tube, and the draw-tube is stopped when drawn out to the normal nine inches. The side condenser is fixed by a revolving annulus to the body. The revolving diaphragm plate is recessed into the stage. When the largest aperture is used, the thread in the stage will allow of a fitting being screwed into it to receive the various stage apparatus. For class demonstration it is found that the hinged joint to the limb is not essential, and it is therefore made in two forms, with and without joint” (Figure 5).

Figure 5. Charles Coppock’s 1883 Combination Microscope. From the Journal of the Royal Microscopical Society (1883) series 2, vol. 3, page 265. He made this instrument both with and without a jointed limb. With the simple push-pull coarse focusing mechanism, this was probably a fairly inexpensive microscope to make and to buy. To date, I have been not been successful in finding a photograph of a Coppock microscope.

Coppock issued a variety of advertisements to support his new venture in many magazines and books. Some examples are illustrated in Figure 6. Note the range of items he offered, and the many different manufacturers whose products he retailed.

Figure 6. Advertisements for Charles Coppock’s microscopy business. (A) The London Medical Record, Nov. 15, 1883. The microscope illustrated is an R. and J. Beck “Economical”. (B) Journal of the Royal Microscopical Society, 1883. (C) Studies in Microscopical Sciences, Vol. 1, by Arthur C. Cole, 1883. (D) A Catalogue of Modern Works on Science and Technology, 12th edition, by George Christopher T. Bartley, 1883.

Coppock’s business appears to have been successful. The 1887 list of Fellows of the R.A.S. lists Coppock’s’ addresses as both his business at 100 New Bond St., and his residence at 109 Grosvenor Rd., Highbury New Park. At the time of the 1891 census, he was recorded as being an optician and an employer of workers. He still lived at 109 Grosvenor Rd., Islington, along with two of his children, an unmarried sister and two servants. The 1891, 1895 and 1899 Post Office Directories for London and the 1899 list of Fellows of the R.A.S. list Coppock’s business as being located at 26 Maddox St, W, just around the corner from his earlier New Bond St. address.

Charles Coppock died 5 September, 1900. He remained a Fellow of the Royal Microscopical Society, the Royal Astronomical Society and the Royal Meteorological Society until his death. The Royal Meteorological Society noted in an obituary that “Mr. Coppock was one of those who study science as a recreation. The microscope was his favourite instrument, both from a mechanical and a scientific point of view.”

Comments to the Author will be welcomed, especially additional information on Charles Coppock’s microscopes and other instruments.

Many thanks to Brian Davidson and Allan Winsser for their insightful comments, and to the colleagues who have shared images of their slide collections.



The American Monthly Microscopical Journal (1883) Notes, vol. 4, page 139

Bartley, George C.T. (1883) A Catalogue of Modern Works on Science and Technology, 12th edition. Chapman and Hall, London, page 3

Beale, Lionel Smith (1880) How to Work With the Microscope, 5th edition, Harrison, London, Appendix at rear of book, unnumbered page

Beck, Joseph, Robert Kemp, Charles Coppock (1876) An Illustrated Description of the Economic Microscope, Manufactured by R. and J. Beck

Boase, Frederick (1906) Beck, Joseph, in Modern English Biography, vol. 4, page 331, Netherton and Worth, Truro

Bracegirdle, Brian (1998) Microscopical Mounts and Mounters, Quekett Microscopical Club, London

Burlingham, Lynn (2006) Keeping it in the Family, published on-line at

Cole, Arthur C. (1883) Studies in Microscopical Sciences, Vol. 1, Bailliere, Tindall and Cox, London, page iv

England census, birth, marriage and death records, accessed through

Gill, Steve (2008) The Adye Enigma, Quekett Journal of Microscopy, vol. 40, pages 685-694

Glaisher, James (1867) The President’s Address for the year 1866-1867, Quarterly Journal of Microscopical Science, vol. 7, pages 25-38

International Health Exhibition, London, Catalogue of Exhibits in the Biological Laboratory (1884) vol. 10, page 402

Journal of the Royal Microscopical Society (1880) Proceedings of the Society, series 2, vol. 1:, page151

Journal of the Royal Microscopical Society (1881) Proceedings of the Society, series 2, vol. 1, page 172

Journal of the Royal Microscopical Society (1883) Summary of Current Researches relating to Zoology and Botany, Microscopy, &c., series 2, vol. 3, pages 265-266

List of Members of the British Meteorological Society, 1864, page 3. Dated June 15, 1864, this list identifies Charles Coppock’s address at the time as being 31 Cornhill, E.C.

The London Medical Record (1883) New Inventions: Illustrated Catalogue of Scientific Instruments by Charles Coppock, F.R.A.S., &c., Sept. 15, vol. 11, pages 399-400

The London Medical Record (1883) Advertisement for Charles Coppock, Nov. 15, vol. 11, page iii

Microscopical News and Northern Microscopist (1883) vol. 3, pages 89 and 121-122

The Midland Medical Miscellany and Provincial Medical Journal (1882) The British Medical Association’s Jubilee, vol. 1, pages 145-146

Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (1871) Notice regarding election of new Fellows, vol. 31, page 177

Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (1887) List of Fellows of the Royal Astronomical Society, June 1887, vol. 47, page 5

Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (1899) List of Fellows of the Royal Astronomical Society, June 1899, vol. 59, page 8

Nature (1884) Review of “Studies in Micrographic Petrography” by Ady and Hensoldt, Jan. 24, vol. 29, page 283

Nuttall, Bob (2009) Notes upon an Excursion to the Pyrenees: William Smith’s Last Collection of Diatom Slides. Quekett Journal of Microscopy, vol. 41, pages 45-52

Post Office London Directory for 1895, part 4: Trades and Professional Directory, page 2014

Post Office London Directory for 1899, part 3: Commercial and Professional Directory, page 1022

Post Office London Trades Directory for 1891, page 1928

Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society (1900) Obituary Notices, vol. 26, page 214

Quarterly Journal of Microscopical Science (1867) Proceedings of Societies: Royal Microscopical Society, October 9th, 1867, new series vol. 8, page 57

Quarterly Journal of Microscopical Science (1867) Proceedings of Societies: Royal Microscopical Society, November 13th, 1867, new series vol. 8, page 59

Shephard, Mark (2003) The Beck Microscope Family. Quekett Journal of Microscopy, vol. 39, pages 577-594

The Queens University Calendar, 1859, Alexander and Sons, Dublin, page 60



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