The microscope is something of an emblem of science. Unlike similar fetishes of science such as the test tube, the microscope stands as well as a banner for the curiosity of scientific pursuit. It’s an amazing thing and has had an impact on the sciences similar to that the automobile has had on transportation. Fortunately, while the automobile exists in a state of age restricted licensure, the microscope is available to all-or is it? What about price? What about the availability of something serious but attainable? What of something in between a fly swatter and an atom bomb?
Over the years the optical company Bausch & Lomb has broken new ground any number of times in the world of microscopy. Growing up outside Rochester, N.Y. it was something of a given that the microscopes in school would bear that prism-shaped logo and great treasures would be hidden away in the attics and sitting rooms of my childhood. These were all, however, great heavy things of cast iron and brass, replete with fragile glass elements and cases bigger than any bread-box. There was something else though, something different, and it started with the Model R.
Sold in the 1930’s during the years of the world-wide economic downturn popularly called “The Great Depression” the Bausch & Lomb Model R had a retain price of twenty-one dollars in the United States. Depending on the precise year one elects to compare that equates to anywhere from $300.00-$400.00 in todays currency. This was a time when the average factory worker was earning some $0.40 an hour and could expect a weekly paycheck which would only just cover the cost of the Model R. It was accessible but surely out of range of anyone without the willingness to sacrifice to obtain it.
The styling of the Model R was such that considered on it’s own it would not seem out of place beside a professional instrument from its day. Black enamel paint and bright nickel plating were the norm. The look is replicated in the Model R with a glossy black Bakelite stand and shiny metal body tube. A few points that quickly stand out are the lack of an inclination joint, the single focusing knob and total lack of a fine adjustment.
Then there is a draw tube… What? No! To dispense with the need for a nose piece and multiple objectives, a pair of which would cost more than the entire Model R, this microscope made use of a varifocal lens system (rather like but distinct from a zoom lens system). With this simple change the microscope was enormously reduced in price.
While today one might expect a plastic snap-case if any were provided at all it’s well to remember that in the 1930’s when an item came with a box it was as likely to be wood (perhaps more so) as pressboard. So if the look of the Model R were a product of it’s time, what can be said of it’s utility?
For that, watch this space for part II where the Model R will be put through it’s paces -K