Divisible Objectives and my Favorite Stand

Things have come and gone in microscopy through the years. Some have been happily put aside as inconvenient when new advances were made and others have been quietly forgotten. I for one lament the passing of divisible objectives. -K

For a great many years it was considered abnormal and a genuine extravagance for a microscopist, even a professional, to be in possession of more than one stand. Optical apparatus was expensive, prohibitively so. Before continuing permit me to digress and provide an bit of example; consider that in the 1930 bound catalog of Bausch & Lomb an achromatic objective of 2x magnification was priced at $5.00, the equivalent of $71.10 dollars today. One could also have a 10x for $8.00 ($113.76). The full complement of dry achromatic objectives with magnification spanning 2x to 60x, some eight objectives in all, would have cost the princely sum of $86.00, $1222.93 in todays dollars according to the consumer price index, and been beyond the means of even the well-funded.

It’s easy to understand that for most microscopists it proved sensible economically to purchase a middle of the range 10x objective and use it with a comparatively inexpensive low power ocular when less magnification was required switching to a more powerful ocular as nessacary. In part because of the expense some things were done that would not be considered sound by the standards of today. One of those things, which no doubt seems somewhat blasphemous to todays workers, is the divisible objective. They turn up not infrequently on stands dating to what I think of as the “Black & Brass” era with rarer examples in the “Fully Brass” period preceding and becoming most common in the “Fully Black” period after the first world war. I can only hope for forgiveness regarding my rude designations of time but this is all very general.

A divisible objective is one in which the front and back optical components may be separated to obtain lower magnification. Bausch & Lomb produced these prolifically in the 16mm size so that with the front component in place 10x magnification was provided, while the rear portion only provided approximately 4x. By purchasing a divisible objective one was effectively provided a 16mm and 32mm objective in one unit. Most of the manufacturers provided divisible objectives of one sort or an other but the divisible 10x was certainly the most common from any source.

In 1925 Bausch & Lomb was granted a patent for a new system of constructing parfocal objectives that no doubt grew out of observations made while manipulating divisible objectives. The patent may however, have been an effort to cut down on competitors production of divisible objectives more than anything else, as the usual method of employing rings of varying thickness around the threads seems a great deal more convenient.

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For comparison

Above one may see a B&L 32mm objective, 40mm objective, and 32mm equivalent portion of a divisible 16mm objective. It’s worth noting the differing position of the optical components of the objectives and that any of these objectives will work usefully on a compound microscope. The stand seen below is a perfect example of the sort of microscope on which one could expect to find a divisible objective.

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No clips because I never incline my microscopes, it being my habit to work standing

The above is a Bausch & Lomb stand from the late 1940’s (easily dated by the double knurled heads). One can see the assembled 10x divisible objective in position and compare its outline with that of a non-divisible objective. This is in fact my favorite stand for micrography, photomicrography, measuring, and most general work, it shows every evidence of having been an economically prudent apparatus while not neglecting function.

This particular stand was assembled by Lukas Microscope Service of Skokie, Illinois. The company was founded in 1931 and is still in business today. They provided this microscope with a fixed, removable, 1.20 Numerical Aperture Abbe condenser with iris diaphragm and filter holder, the usual two sided mirror, and three objective turret. I keep a divisible 10x B&L, a 43x B&L, and a high dry 60x B&L in place on this stand and find few objectives more suitable for measuring the thickness of a mounted specimen than the 60x.

One final point concerning this lovely instrument, it is the most modern model I own which retains a draw tube. For any who are products of the modern age and have not had the pleasure I will say a draw tube can be unspeakably useful. Properly dispositioned it’s the work of a moment to compensate for an unexpectedly thick (or thin) cover glass, or increase or decrease magnification. Of course there are attendant sacrifices optically but I can’t count the times I’ve been able to better measure the size of a structure because I’m familiar with the workings of a draw tube for given combinations of objective and ocular.

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3 thoughts on “Divisible Objectives and my Favorite Stand

  1. Very interesting post, not sure how I missed it.
    I have what I think is part of an old brass divisible objective which came with a Baker microscope. It’s much older than the microscope which is 1950s. I think it’s a part of a divisible objective anyway, it may be some other kind of auxiliary lens. It doesn’t fit onto anything I own as far as I can tell.

    I wonder why there aren’t more of them on eBay? Perhaps they are too easily lost?

    • I’m sure there are several divisible objectives from various makers on ebay every year, just as I’m sure their are Nicol prism polarizers; the issue seems to be that those who sell them have no idea what they are. It’s something of a tragedy. If you browse through enough listings you might recognize one, at the moment I see a couple B&L 10x divisible objectives but they’re not listed as such. I’ve seen a divisible Leitz in the past on ebay but again it was listed as a “Leitz Optical Component, Great Condition” and the entire discription was “microscope?”.
      Here’s a good example: http://www.ebay.com/itm/Bausch-and-Lomb-Microscope-Objective-10X-16MM0-25-N-A-GOOD-WORKING-CONDITION-/200959994291?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item2eca2629b3 That is a divisible objective, it is clearly visible on the barrel, but the seller doesn’t even mention it.

      But yeah, if you ever see a B&L Nicol prism polarizer/analyzer set let me know!

      • I rarely look at Bausch and Lomb stuff, being a CTS and vickers fan but I shall start browsing B&L.

        You’d think writing “divisible” on the objective would give people a bit of a hint, but at least when people don’t know what they are selling it’s cheaper. I regularly search for “old microscope,” microscope parts and microscope spares, Old microscope can be very interesting: I also search in German :-)

        I’ll have to post a picture of my peculiar optical component sometime.

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