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The 1860s Smith, Beck & Beck Transparent Injections

                                                        HOWARD LYNK

         During the early 1860s, a series of histology slides was introduced by Smith, Beck

& Beck [Beck]: the superb transparent tissue injections were rumoured to be made in
Germany [1]. Their bluish-tinted glass is their distinctive attribute, mostly size 1½x3in
(38x76mm) (Figs. 1, 4). All carry excess of balsam round their covers, are never papered,
and carry only simple printed pale-green labels: these look like other Beck slide labels of
the time, but lack the firm’s name or address (Fig. 2).

         The mounts were prepared using the recently-introduced technique of injecting
fine blood vessels with transparent stains such as carmine, for transmitted light: they
met with immediate acclaim.

         This paper examines the early history of these slides, the technical advances that
made them possible, and suggests their actual maker.

Introduction of the slides
         Beck began showing the mounts sometime during 1860, often using their latest

microscopes, to groups of London medical men. The first reference to this so far to hand
was at a conversazione on the evening of 30 October 1860, at the opening of the 5th
Annual Session of the Members of the College of Dentists. A report in the College of
Dentists of England ~ Transactions, 1860, specifically mentioned them [2]:

          At the opposite part of the room was a large display of microscopes, contributed by Messrs.
          Smith and Beck, Mr. Ladd of Beak street, and Mr. Pillischer of Bond street. It is unnecessary
          that we should refer to the beauty and accuracy of the instruments of these well known
          makers. We cannot, however, help calling attention to a series of injections of the teeth and
          other structures, by Messrs. Smith and Beck. The peculiarity of these specimens consists in
          their being transparent; so that, instead of the objects being viewed by reflected light, as is
          the case with the ordinary injections, they are mounted as transparent objects, and can be
          submitted to the highest power of the microscope.

The 19 January 1861 edition of The Athenaeum [3] included Beck’s advertisement:

          In the endeavour to make our Collection of Prepared Specimens complete in every branch, we
          have lately secured the sole agency for the sale of some most remarkable transparent

         Similar advertisements continued to appear regularly in later editions over the
coming months.

1 Originally published in the Winter 2012 Quekett Journal of Microscopy, Issue 41, pages 701-712

                             Republished with permission in Micscape Magazine, March 2016
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