THE FOUNDATIONS OF MODERN BIOLOGY
Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, born in Delft in 1632 at the height of the Golden Age of the Dutch Republic, was the son of a wealthy middle-class merchant. After receiving a basic education, he was apprenticed to a linen-draper, when he presumably gained his first experience of microscopy by using a magnifying-glass to examine fabrics, and later learned to grind lenses and construct simple microscopes. Acknowledged as the father of microbiology, Leeuwenhoek discovered micro-organisms, and was the first to observe muscle fibres, bacteria and spermatozoa using his handcrafted microscopes.
In 1676 a letter announcing the 1675 discovery of "little Animals" living in rainwater was translated from Dutch into English (Leeuwenhoek spoke only Dutch) and published in the Royal Society's Philosophical Transactions. In all over a hundred communications of the Dutch microscopist were published by the Royal Society, who elected him a Fellow in 1680.
ONE OF THE SCARCEST OF MICROSCOPES
Leeuwenhoek presented two of his microscopes to Queen Mary of England and Czar Peter 'The Great' of Russia, and gifted 26 of his silver microscopes to the Royal Society (now lost). In all he is thought to have made over 550 of these simple microscopes, mostly in brass, but their survival rate is not high, and thus they have become much sought after. Only nine are known to be extant, of which one may be a later copy, and of these ONLY THREE ARE IN SILVER: that held at the Deutsches Museum, Munich, Inv. no. 8880; Museum Boerhaave, Leiden, 7019 (M2a3); and the present example (a tenth example in silver is known in the collections of Carl Zeiss, Jena, but is believed to be a copy; cf. Ford p. 139).
This example was made at the same time as the Leiden example, since their screws are interchangeable, and the presence of the Dutch silver mark of a 'V' (shown bottom left) confirms that the present microscope was sold at auction before 1831, and therefore existed some 50 years before Mayall's copies were manufactured.