Provenance: Thomas Jefferson; by gift to Cornelia Jefferson Randolph; by gift or purchase to an unidentified member of the Trist/Burke family; by descent to Frances Maury Burke; by gift to the Thomas Jefferson Foundation in 1955
Accession Number: 1955-50
Historical Notes: This small instrument, with a vertically adjustable double-convex lens, may be the "botanical microscope" Jefferson purchased from William Jones in London in April 1786 for ten shillings.1 On the same visit he bought a Dollond solar microscope and a Jones compound microscope, as well as some devices for concentrating light for microscope use.
This small magnifier was probably always at hand for close observation of objects of natural history. An undated list of the contents of a small traveling box, in which Jefferson planned to pack everything from razors and a toothbrush to a corkscrew and a platting scale, includes a "microscope," very possibly this one.2
"I view no science with more partiality than natural history," Jefferson wrote in 1807.3 He was described at this time by a friend as "passionately fond" of botany, riding out of Washington in search of interesting plants.4 He could use his little lens to place botanical specimens in the order of the Linnaean classification system or to examine "in all their minutest particles" the "perfectly organised" structures of insects and other small creatures.5