A Brief History
The earliest microscope slides were usually dry mounted opaque specimens or material compressed between two mica discs held in place with a brass ring, mounted on Ivory or wooden sliders, but as the mechanics and optics of microscopes became more refined, the requirements for superior mounts by professionals and amateurs alike led, in the mid to late 1830s, to the implementation of Canada balsam as a mounting medium and to specimens in which fine tissue was rendered transparent enough for detailed examination under high magnification. Among the earliest professional mounters to adopt this important process of preparation were J.W.Bond and Charles Morgan Topping.
As competition between the early mounters increased, they soon took to decorating the glass slides with colourful and elaborate, gilt decorated paper covers and meticulously wrapped paper edges, the best examples of which transformed the dissected material from the natural world into tiny works of art. The author H.G.Wells, who mounted specimens as a student
in the 1880s called it "The finest of all fine arts", and made suitably prescient comments on the appeal of the Victorian mounters craft:
"A day will come however, when slides by the masters who are even yet living, will be eagerly sought and fondly treasured"
By the late nineteenth century, the "golden age" mounters had been superseded by more prosaic but equally skilful workshops and the days of the eye-catching paper covers had largely passed. In this period, mounters such as Ernest Hinton, Frederick Enock and the Clarke & Page partnership caught the eye with their in deep cell mounts, displaying remarkable presentations of preserved insects and marine life. Enock dedicated many years to studying and mounting minute Fairy Flies (Mymaridae), the tiniest wasplets being virtually invisible to the naked eye.
The care and attention to detail displayed by the Victorian and Edwardian mounters continued into the mid twentieth century, especially with the work of some of the amateur diatomists, such as Meakin and Fuge, but the singular appeal of the cabinet of slide mounted curiosities was largely lost, aside from the continuing attention of a few collectors and historians worldwide.
From the late 1990s, largely due to the accessibility of antique microscope slide specimens in online auction sites, the slide collecting community has grown and the historical information available on the Internet has meant that the lives and work of the old mounters can now be recorded for posterity.