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J. Swift & son "Discovery" model, c.a. 1905

Swift Discovery microscope

This is a biological microscope, especially made for heavy-duty laboratory work. The stand is a derivation of the Histological model introduced by Swift in 1894. It bears the characteristic diagonal rack for the coarse focusing, invented by Swift in 1881 and the attachable mechanical stage patented by Swift in 1894.


Excerpt from Carpenter's "The microscope and its revelations" 11th ed. 1901, illustrating the diagonal rack coarse focusing of Swift.

Excerpt from Carpenter's "The microscope and its revelations" 11th ed. 1901, illustrating the mechanical stage of Swift.

This particular model owns its name to the research ship H.M.S. Discovery used by Sir Robert F. Scott in his first exploratory voyage to the South Pole (known as the National Antarctic Expedition 1901-1904). As testified by several original sources of the period, Swift was appointed to furnish the research laboratory of the Discovery with his microscopes and developed this model in 1901 especially for the expedition, hence its name.


Frontispiece and excerpt from the book "Microscopy", by J. Spitta (1920), illustrating the Discovery model by Swift.

My Discovery microscope is not (unfortunately) one of those used aboard the H.M.S. Discovery (no surviving exemplars are known). It is signed on the inner side of the wooden case "J. Price - U.C. Hospital, London". The University College Hospital was founded in 1834 and acquired the name University College Hospital in 1837. It was part of the University College of London until 1905, when it became an independent entity. Thus, the microscope may be conservatively dated c.a. 1905.

My instrument comes equipped with two objectives of 2/3 inch (15x) and 1/6 inch (60X) on a rotating double nosepiece and two oculars no. 2 (6x) and 3 (10x) all original from Swift. There is also a drawtube extending from the main optical tube. The substage is equipped with an iris diaphragm, which can be eventually replaced by an Abbe condenser (not included in this model). In addition, there is a livebox. There is also an original wooden case with key and lock.

The range of magnifications that can be obtained is c.a. 80X - 660X. The quality of the optics is superb, with extremely well defined and clear images even at high power and without a condensing lens. A few examples of pictures taken with the microscope are given below.


A. Oxalacetate crystals in a leaf of Aralia spp. (660X). B. Human ovary (360X). C. Purkinje neurons in rat cerebellum (360X). D. Gasteropode from Sardinia beach (80X, epiillumination)


J. Swift & Son

James Powell Swift worked for the famous microscope maker Andrew Ross, before starting up his own business in London in 1854. His son Mansell James Swift joined the company in 1877 and the trade name of the company was registered as James Swift & son. In 1903, the grandson of James, Mansell Powell John Swift, joined the company. They soon became one of the top English manufacturer of microscopes and accessories. James Powell Swift died in 1906. The name of the firm was changed in J. Swift & son Ltd. in 1912. Both Mansell Powell and Mansell James Swift died in 1942, but the business continued well into the post WW II years. For more details on the firm see Brian Bracegirdle's book "Notes on Modern Microscope Manufacturers".


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