Book Reviews, Recent Publications and New Web Resources

 Scientific Instruments on DisplayHSML46-COVER

Edited by Silke Ackermann, Museum of the History of Science; Richard L. Kremer, Dartmouth College and Mara Miniati, Museo Galileo

Leiden: Brill

  • Publication Year: 2014
  • Subjects:
    History of Science & Medicine; Art History; Early Modern History; Social History
  • Pages: xxxiv, 231 pp
  • ISBN: 9789004264397
  • E-ISBN: 9789004264403
  • Pub. Collection:  European History and Culture E-Books Online, Collection 2014-IIVolume:  46/4
  • Price: €110,00; US $142.00+ Tax (if applicable)

Each of the twelve papers in this book is based on a presentation given at the 29th Symposium of the Scientific Instrument Commission of the International Union for the History and Philosophy of Science, held in Florence, Italy, in 2010.  And while each addresses the theme—Displaying Scientific Instruments—some focus on new instruments, while other focus on historic ones.

Makers and dealers used local, national and international exhibitions to attract customers: those who might read reviews of exhibition, those who might be impressed by awards given, and those who actually visited the exhibition.  And they used advertisements and catalogs (displays by another name) for the same purpose.  Other instrument displays served as markers of identity.  A physician with a microscope might wish to be seen as scientific.  Wealthy people might use various instruments, the more costly and sophisticated the better, to signal culture and refinement.  A functioning slide rule hanging from a belt might represent technical competence or geekiness, as might or a tiny slide rule in a lapel or on a tie clip.  Some educators in museums, and some in universities, use instrument displays for science teaching purposes.

Displays of historic scientific instruments raise a different set of questions.  Some instruments are shown as decorative arts.  Some function as symbolic milestones in human history—often pertaining to such things as local or national achievement, or imperial conquest.  The unstated hope is that these instruments will be sufficiently attractive to get the museum visitors (or readers, in the case with books such as those published by DK) to read the accompanying text.

Several papers in this volume present excruciating details concerning the struggles that various people have faced when trying to get historic scientific instruments onto exhibit and keeping them there.  Seldom, however, do they grapple with the question of why anyone, other than the odd collector, curator or historian of technology, should want to look at these instruments.

The book includes the following:

  • Marco Beretta, “Andrea Corsini and the Creation of the Museum of the History of Science in Florence (1930-1961).”
  • Alison Boyle, “‘Not for their Beauty’: Instruments and Narratives at the Science Museum, London.”
  • Richard Dunn, “‘More Artistic and Scientific’: Exhibiting Instruments as Decorative Arts in the Victoria and Albert Museum.”
  • Silke Ackermann, “‘Of Sufficient Interest . . ., but not of Such Value . . .’: 260 Years of Displaying Scientific Instruments in the British Museum.”
  • Laurence Bobis and Suzanne Débarbat, “Instruments on Display at the Paris Observatory.”
  • Richard L. Kremer, “Looking at Scientific Instruments on Display at the United States Centennial Exhibition of 1876.”
  • Steven C. Turner, “Permanent Demonstrations: The Science Teaching Museum at the University of Chicago.”
  • Richard A. Paselk, “The Display of Twentieth-Century Instruments at Humboldt State University.”
  • Peggy Aldridge Kidwell and Amy Ackerberg-Hastings, “Slide-Rules on Display in the United States, 1840-2010.”
  • Ingrid Jendrzejewski, “‘Exceedingly Ridiculous’: Telescopes on Display on the Seventeenth-Century Stage.”
  • Ileana Chinnici, Donatella Randazzo and Fausto Casi, “Instruments on Movie Sets: A Case Study.” and historic verisimilitude.
  • Inga Elmqvist Söderlund, “Display of Instruments on Seventeenth-Century Astronomical Frontispieces.”


Deborah Jean Warner,

Deborah Warner is a curator at the Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History, Washington and the founding editor of Rittenhouse, the forerunner of eRittenhouse.

Printer friendly PDF of the above review


Psychological Machinery cover

Psychological Machinery: Experimental Devices in Early Psychological Laboratories

by Dalibor Vobořil, Petr Kvĕton and Martin Jelínek, pages x +130 with 156 b/w fig., 14.8 x 24.0 x 1.3 cm, Peter Lang AG: Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014.  Price: US $36.95, € 29.95, paper  (ISBN 978-3-631-64130-9).


This reference work, produced by several researchers from the Institute for Psychology at the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, offers a “categorized list” of the earliest psychological instruments developed around the turn of the 20th century (c. 1880-1930).  The work was born out of an effort, no doubt familiar to many readers, to understand existing collections of early instruments, in this case those of the Masaryk University and the Technical Museum in Brno, as well as the Charles University in Prague.  Rather than cataloguing these collections, however, the work focuses on the products of the Zimmermann workshop of Leipzig Germany which disseminated the instruments developed in the laboratory of Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920) as well as in similar laboratories founded around the world by Wundt’s students.  Source material appears to have been provided primarily by the excellent Virtual Laboratory project of the Max Planck Institute.

The book opens with a short introduction to Wundt’s lab as well as some notes on methodology.  This will provide an overview of early psychology’s archetypical setting to scholars unfamiliar with the topic.  It will not, however, contribute any significant insight into the relationship between experimenter and builder, or the process of designing and constructing precision experimental apparatus at which the Germans were so conspicuously successful around the turn of the 20th century.  The bibliography will guide the reader exclusively towards primary material relating to the nature and use of psychological apparatus rather than to the extensive secondary literature on the early psychological laboratory.

The body of the book consists of a catalogue of instruments, logically organized, briefly described, and accompanied by black and white lithographic illustrations digitized primarily from the catalogues of the Virtual Laboratory.  These short descriptions will typically give a better general sense of an instrument’s purpose and working principle than can be found in the original catalogue entries which relied on a great deal of implicit knowledge.  Though inevitably lacking substantial detail and context, these descriptions (some of which include primary source citations) will provide a solid foundation for further exploration.  The authors have also helpfully included 15 QR-encoded links to videos showing the working principle,

Vobořil f66_sm

 An entry providing a general description of hand driven colour wheels.  The authors’ corresponding QR code-linked video demonstration can be viewed at:

if not always the precise instrument, discussed in the corresponding entry.  Though these are provided for less than 10% of entries, they are nevertheless valuable.

This short monograph is best considered a general field guide to early psychological instruments, providing English summations of information available mainly in German-language catalogues.  Other publications, notably inventories of existing collections, will better represent the diversity of locally made or modified objects, as well as less prestigious instruments created in smaller workshops.  This work will be most useful to those seeking an entry point into the early material culture of psychology or a basic aid to cataloging an existing collection – it will certainly prove helpful in cataloguing the Department of Psychology’s collection at the University of Toronto.  Its reasonable price makes it a sensible purchase.


Erich Weidenhammer


Dr. Weidenhammer is a founding member of the University of Toronto Scientific Instruments Collection (  He has recently completed a PhD at the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology (IHPST) at the University of Toronto.

Printer friendly PDF of the above review



The Discovers’ Lens: A Photographic History of the Simple Microscope 1680 – 1880

by Raymond V. Giordano, pages 299 + xxxv, 9″ x 13″, Classical Science Press: Tallmadge, Ohio, 2012.  Price: $225, hardcover; $575, deluxe hardcover goatskin edition (ISBN : 978-0-9825690-5-4)

I met Raymond V. Giordano years ago at MARIAB’s Northampton, MA bookfair, where he carefully examined the antiquarian science books I offered for sale.  Impressed with his knowledge and learning that he was a dealer, I sought his catalogs for my reference shelf.  I was also pleased to discover we shared an interest in scientific instruments.  Since then, I’ve come to know him not only as a first-rate Antiquarian Bookseller, but also as an aficionado of scientific instruments with an impressive reference library and knowledge of the field.

Over the years, Ray mentioned he had a collection of single lens microscopes which I regretfully never took the time to examine in person.  However, at the 2006 opening of MIT’s Singular Beauty exhibition in Cambridge, MA, I was one of those in the packed room who marveled at the 127 instruments displayed from Ray’s collection.  Each attendee walked away cheerfully clutching a copy of the exhibition catalog, which described the instruments Ray had carefully acquired over 30 years.

There wasn’t an authoritative reference for these intriguing instruments in 2006.  What little documentation existed was scattered throughout the literature.  The 64 page, 8 x 8 inch catalog with Ray’s careful descriptions and full-color photographs by Spartan Giordano, filled that void.  At the time, I believed the catalog would become a standard reference.  My subsequent sales of more than fifty copies through the years have confirmed that feeling.

Those who used Singular Beauty suggested a few possible improvements.  The images were too small to be useful for detailed comparisons with an instrument in hand.  There weren’t enough different images of each instrument.  The small format resulted in some pages being crammed with both photographs and descriptions — as many as three instruments per page.  The catalog lacked an index, which made using it as a reference difficult.  Even so, its attractive price, the depth of Ray’s knowledge and the dearth of other reference made Singular Beauty a useful tool.

Following the MIT exhibition, the Giordano collection was exhibited at the Linda Hall Library (Kansas City, MO) in 2009.  Subsequently, the majority of the collection was purchased by the Museum of Confluence in Lyon, France where portions will be featured in a dedicated gallery when the Museum opens in 2014.

Partially based on the success of Singular Beauty, Classical Science Press* stepped up in late 2012 to publish The Discoverer’s Lens: A Photographic History of the Simple Microscope, 1680-1880.  The Discoverer’s Lens significantly improves upon Singular Beauty, featuring a larger format, many more pages, a new index,

Huygens-type Microscope

Item #2, Huygens-type simple microscope signed “Pouilly à Paris”


and instrument descriptions in both English and French.  The author describes the scope of this collection and of the volume as : “. . . though not complete, [it] has come to be representative of the history of the instrument [i.e. simple microscopes] from its earliest days in the late seventeenth century to the end of the nineteenth century.”  By definition, The Discoverer’s Lens excludes instruments with multiple lenses, e.g. achromatic microscopes and the wide variety of specialized instruments.

Ben Cole screwbarrel microscope

Item #21, An Elaborate Screwbarrel Microscope Outfit by Benjamin Cole

As one might expect, given the title, photography also plays a larger role in this volume.  Many instruments are illustrated with multiple images.  Most (over 100) are full-page color illustrations opposite the text descriptions and more than 110 smaller, detailed images.  There are both an updated reference bibliography and indices listing instruments by name and type.  The introduction, by Museum of Confluence Head Curator, Bruno Jacomy, discusses how this collection complements the museum’s collection mandate.  It is thought provoking and Jacomy’s analysis provides possible lines of inquiry as you read and study the images.

Entomological Microscope

Item #59, An Entomological Simple Microscope

The only additions I’d like to see in a future edition might be supplemental interior and exterior images with photographs of the instrument cases and labeling of some of the less common components mentioned in the descriptions.  Case exteriors could be of real interest for those interested in examining other examples.  For dealers and collectors, a key to relative rarity of each instrument or type could also be useful.  These minor issues are far outweighed by the usefulness of this work.  The depth of types of simple microscopes and the images make this an especially useful reference when used hand-in-hand with some of Gerard Turner’s volumes, particularly those dealing with 17th – 18th c microscopes, [ e.g., Essays on the History of the Microscope (1980), and in the 19th c, Turner’s The Great Age of the Microscope (1989)].

The Discoverer’s Lens is the closest most of us will get to handling such instruments.  The sound cloth binding, easy to read typeface, and the image quality lead one to fantasize that if you jiggle the book just right, the instrument may fall into your hand!  Indeed, as Singular Beauty did, The Discoverer’s Lens is likely to further stimulate interest in single lens instruments.

Priced at $225, The Discoverer’s Lens is a must have for any dealer, serious microscope collector, or institution interested in the subject.  Buy it while you can at the issue price.  The Discoverer’s Lens already occupies a valued place on our shelf, and should on yours!

John Kuenzig

Kuenzig Books ABAA

Mr. Kuenzig has been a bookseller since 1996, specializing in science, technology, engineering, and medicine.  He also buys and sells scientific instruments, and is currently the distributor for the remaining copies of the original Rittenhouse print edition.

Notes on Recent Publications

UNIVERSITY COLLECTIONS  (published on Rete 2012/07/12)

The proceedings of the XIII Universeum Meeting Arranging and rearranging. Planning university heritage for the future, edited by Sofia Talas and Marta C. Lourenço, have been published recently.

The volume compiles examples of innovative management models that have recently been established in European universities to promote and organise their cultural heritage.  It discusses and clarifies some of the risks, challenges and opportunities. It also seeks to examine how we can preserve, study, interpret and increase access to academic heritage in ways that harmoniously accommodate the missions, needs and strategies of contemporary universities.
The volume can be bought at the address:
From the beginning of September, Universeum members will have the opportunity of downloading the volume in pdf for free.
Best regards
Sofia Talas, Universeum Chair

HISTORY OF ACCOUSTICS  (published on Rete 2012/07/13)

I am happy to report that a preliminary version of a Smithsonian project on the history of acoustics  is now available at:

Funded by the Verizon Corporation through their Thinkfinity program, the site is intended as a science teacher resource, making instruments and ideas from the history of science available for classroom use.  The American Academy for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is also a partner in this project and will be developing student activities to complement the material already on the site.

I’d like to thank Jenny Wei and Carrie Kotcho, from our museum’s Public Programs Office for their assistance and encouragement in developing this project.  It could never have moved forward without their help.

Colleagues who would like to comment on the site, it’s content or the curious choice of narrator (me) are encouraged to contact us at:

One final note:  the longer videos on this site are prone to hesitate and even stop, especially on slower internet connections.  This problem is being addressed, but in the meantime we have provided links to YouTube where the videos should be much easier to view.  Apologies for any inconvenience this may cause.

Best wishes,

Steven Turner

Curator, Physical Sciences

National Museum of American History

Smithsonian Institution