Wheeler’s “Other” Paper
Howard Lynk, USA
A fortuitous recent acquisition of a small group of unidentified antique papered microscope slides included one that has become of particular interest. This unremarkable botanical slide, at first glance of no particular significance, has allowed the near certain identification of a much larger group of similarly papered and labeled slides as being the work of Edmund Wheeler.
Edmund Wheeler’s distinctive cover papers with their bold EW monograms (fig. 1) are well known to anyone familiar with antique microscope slides. Beginning sometime in the early to mid 1860s, he began to successfully produce and market a wide range of highly regarded slides, continuing on into the early 1880s. Due to declining health, in 1884 he sold his business and remaining stock, including in excess of forty thousand slides, to W. Watson & Sons, where they continued to be available for purchase for a number of years.
Fig. 1 E. (Edmund) Wheeler’s familiar “EW” papers
I’m sure that many observant collectors have also noticed a few other papered slides in their collections with distinctive hand written labels which bear a striking similarity to those seen on many of Wheeler’s “EW” slides. I have in my own collection a group of such slides, all with the same floral cover paper design, lithographed in gilt on medium green paper (fig. 2). Based on the nearly identical handwriting, I have thought for some time that these slides may have also been made by E. Wheeler. To complicate matters though, the cover paper on these slides is one of a number of paper designs that I would describe as “generic” patterns… bulk printed papers that were commonly available through the many optical shops of the time. The same generic patterned papers were bought and used by many different mounters, often including both amateurs and professionals. This obviously precludes the identification of a particular mounter’s slides based on cover paper design alone.
Fig. 2 “Generic” papered slides with handwritten labels similar to “EW” slides.
I have searched for several years without success for documentation that might confirm the fact that Edmund Wheeler had used this design of generic paper for some period of time on slides he produced. Then, unexpectedly, I acquired this single papered slide that I think may provide that proof. The slide features a transection of “Fruit Stem” of Baobab Tree, Adonsonia Digitata. The unusual significance of this slide started to become apparent when I realized that I had two other similar slides, each finished in Wheeler’s well known “EW” papers. Importantly, all three also had beautiful hand written labels to compare with each other (fig. 3).
Fig. 3 Side-by-side comparison of “Fruit Stem” slides.
When the three slides are compared side-by-side, the nearly identical handwriting on the labels is obvious. Furthermore, even a cursory examination of the slides reveals a potentially more important relationship… all three of the wood sections are remarkably uniform in appearance. Although the stem section on each of the slides is mounted with a different orientation, their similarity is immediately apparent. When a composite image was created that showed all three slide stem sections placed in the same absolute orientation to each other (fig. 4), the almost certain likelihood that they were originally cut from the same piece of stem material is undeniable. Microscopic examination and comparison of the three “Fruit Stem” sections further strengthened the evidence of this relationship.
Fig. 4 Slide stem section images manipulated to show comparison using the same orientation.
In conclusion, based on the obvious close handwriting matches of these “Other Wheeler” slides and those of Wheeler’s familiar “EW” mounts, as well as the unique evidence provided by the three “Fruit Stem” slides, I think it nearly certain that Edmund Wheeler did indeed make slides for some period of time using this “generic” paper pattern for his cover papers. While I have not been able to locate any reliable information as to when these “Other Wheeler“ slides fit into his production chronology, based on the paper design graphics and several other pieces of circumstantial evidence, I think it likely to be early in his professional mounting career, with the mid 1860s to early 1870s being a probable time frame. Although Wheeler slides using this “Other” paper are much less common than those with his “EW” papers, I’m sure many collectors will find a few hidden among their group of “unidentified maker” papered slides.
Comments to the author will be welcomed
Many thanks to Brian Stevenson for his ongoing collaboration and encouragement, and for so freely sharing his knowledge and enthusiasm with others.
Bracegirdle, Brian (1998) Microscopical Mounts and Mounters, Quekett Microscopical Club, London.
Published in the February 2010 edition of Micscape Magazine.
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