Out & About: Small 'Wonders'

‘WONDERS’ YEAR: “Wonders of the Microscope” is an exhibition on display in the Kamin Gallery on the first floor of the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center. Presented by the Rare Book & Manuscript Library, the exhibit runs through Aug. 17.

SCHWARTZ BE WITH YOU: Featuring books and microscopes from the collection of Karen and Howard Schwartz, the retrospective explores the revolution in observational science made possible by the invention of the microscope. Schwartz, who has been selling microscopes since the late 1970s, says he became interested in their history and has been collecting books and materials for more than three decades.  

EYEPIECE LENS: Schwartz says the microscope was invented by Dutch optical scientist Zacharias Janssen in 1590, but the instrument didn’t become popular until Robert Hooke published his book, “Micrographia,” in 1665. The microscope then became an important tool in the field of science.

JUMBO SHRIMP: Dan Traister, curator of research services at the Rare Book & Manuscript Library, says the microscope also had a discernable impact on artists, poets, and writers, changing “how we perceive and how we think we perceive both things that are too small and things that are too distant for the unaided eye to make out.”

OBJECTIVE LENSES: Schwartz’s collection includes about 400 books dating back to approximately 1600, and contains the majority of the most significant books in the history of microscopes and microscopy.

FINE FOCUS: Andrea Gottschalk, exhibition designer and coordinator at the Rare Book & Manuscript Library, says “Wonders” includes books from the 17th century through the early 20th century, about a dozen microscopes on display, a section on the arts of microscopy, and a section on the microscope for the amateur. “Some of [the microscopes] are in gorgeous, wood cases with their original slides,” she says. “There’s a portable microscope that is folded down and it’s all stored in a box with its slides.”

RACK STOP: David McKnight, director of the Rare Book & Manuscript Library, says the exhibit flows chronologically, and illustrates “the history and the development of the microscope.”

FIRST LOOK: Schwartz says he has several favorite pieces, one of which is a book of translation of Persian poetry by Francesco Stelluti. “In that book is the first time anybody ever published an image that was seen through the microscope,” he says. “It was an image of a bee.” Stelluti had hoped to attract the attention of Pope Urban VIII with the image, but after the pope’s quarrel with Galileo, Schwartz says Stelluti “went the other way totally.”

INTELLIGENT DESIGN: The Kamin Gallery show is the first time Schwartz is exhibiting his collection for the public. He says he would like the audience to appreciate the history of the microscope and understand how intelligent the men were who designed it. “I mean, they knew everything,” he says. “In spite of what the church told them, and what the people told them, and what generally was believed, they went off on their own way and made great discoveries.”

"Wonders of the Microscope" poster