Microscopes Listed in the Sears Roebuck Catalog of 1897

compiled by Chuck Huck, USA


For many years, Sears Roebuck Co. of Chicago produced a huge consumers’ catalog of almost everything under the sun, including groceries, drugs, hardware, clothing, carpets, watches, agricultural implements, books, silverware, clocks, stoves and tools, harnesses and saddles, cameras, sewing machines, and other items too numerous to mention.

Another area covered was optical goods. Listed were such items as reading glasses, surveying instruments, magnifying glasses, compasses, stereoscopes, and last but not least, microscopes. This was the heading in the 1897 edition of the catalog: “Microscopes for Students, Home Education, Amusement and Professional Use.” In 1897, here are the microscopes that were listed (complete with unedited descriptions), and I’m sure they are valued collectors’ items today—unfortunately, the reproductions of each microscope are of inferior quality and don't show up well on a computer screen:

Gem Microscope: This is a neatly finished instrument, designed for the use of those who wish to pursue their investigation beyond the powers yielded by a simple microscope. The low price at which it is sold,  its simplicity and compact form has made it a very compact instrument. The lenses are accurately ground and are of such power as to render minute objects, animal, vegetable and mineral distinctly visible. The Gem Microscope is substantially made with a vertical brass body 6 inches high. It has one eye piece and one objective giving a power of 40 diameters or 1,600 areas; has a mirror beneath the stage for the illumination of transparent objects, two glass slips, one prepared object and one pair of brass tweezers, all packed in a nice French polished case.  Price: $2.25

Household Microscope: Many years of experience in the sale of microscopes has demonstrated that the public appreciates a microscope of not too complicated construction of moderate price, but still well made, easily managed, capable of affording instruction and to supply this demand a Household Microscope had been designed. It is a compound Microscope having all the essential parts of a first-class instrument. It is a model  of the most improved and modern pattern with a range of magnifying powers affording an opportunity for investigating the minutia of animal and vegetable life by which we are surrounded and  which are to so many an unknown world. The animalcules commonly present in stagnant water, the pollen of flowers, etc., can be well observed and studied with it. It is 7 inches high. The base is of bronzed iron, has hinged joint allowing the instrument to be used at any convenient angle. The body is brass, finely finished, stage large and steady with brass springs for holding the object; has a mirror beneath the stage for the illumination of transparent objects; two crown glass objectives affording magnifying powers of every range from 30 to 75 diameters (500 to 7,000 areas); one glass slip plain, one glass slip with concave cell for holding liquid or insects, one prepared object all packed in a neat box. Weight 1.25 pounds. Price: $4.50

Household Microscope: Same as above but has three objectives which are separable, giving three powers from 30 to 125 diameters, or 500 to 10,000 areas and has condensing lens for the illumination of opaque objects, weight 1.75 pounds. Price: 6.00 [Note added: Image right above.]

Students’ Microscope: American model mounted on substantial well japanned, iron base and has inclination joint for adjusting to any angle, has a fine rack and pinion movement, one eyepiece and one dividing objective giving power from 80 to 350 diameters, has revolving diaphragm with adjustable mirror under stage for illuminating transparent objects with two rings for holding steady in position. It has a society screw which permits the use of other objectives that can be purchased when needed. The instrument is very attractive in appearance, substantial in construction, powerful but low priced, which brings it within reach of all, weight 5 pounds. Price: $15.00

The Continental Professional Microscope: This microscope is of  new construction, the coarse adjustment being accomplished by diagonal rack and pinion, while the fine adjustment is by micrometer screw giving very delicate movement. The draw tube is adjustable for the tube length. This instrument is particularly adapted to American requirements and is very complete. of high grade workmanship, simple and is offered at a price far below other instruments of equal grade. The base is made of japanned iron of the horse shoe form with rounded corners and of ample size for stability. The pillar is of lacquered brass with joint for inclination of the body. The stage is of brass oxidized and with removable spring clips. The mirror bar switches to an obliquity below the stage and is provided with both plain and concave mirrors. This instrument is especially recommended for high school laboratories as it fully meets all the requirements for the scientific work  prescribed and on account of its moderate cost is brought within the reach of all. The height is 12 inches, weight about 12 pounds, has strong and well finished case with handle, lock and key furnished with one eyepiece and  2/3 inch and 1-6 inch objectives with power from 75 to 540 diameters and can be fitted to 2950 diameters. Price complete: $34.50

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could obtain these classic microscopes today for the price stated? None of the original grammar was changed in order to give a feeling of catalog descriptions of the time.

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Published in the  October 2001 edition of Micscape Magazine.

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