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The early 1800s brought rapidly increasing exploration of our natural physical world, with invention, discovery, and development in the various fields of Science expanding at a breathtaking pace. There was a corresponding refinement in many optical instruments, including the microscope. Lens systems were becoming perfected to the point of being able to be used effectively in exploration of the microcosm; both within, and around us. Accordingly, there arose a growing demand for prepared objects to study, coming from the professional community as well as interested members of the general public. Beginning in earnest in the early 1830s with a few talented entrepreneurs, this growing commercial demand was met with an ever increasing diversity of objects of every imaginable sort, being prepared from specimens and samples collected in a multitude of locations around the world. 

 

Many of the slides shown here use a method of construction wherein the mounting slide (usually a 1" x 3" piece of glass or wood) is covered either wholly or in part with colourful gilt decorated lithographed papers. This practice of using paper covers originated as a necessary means to mechanically fasten the mica or thin glass covers that were placed over the specimens, to the main slide. However, after about 1840, the paper covers quickly became more of an expression of decoration and individual presentation than need, as the use of Canada Balsam and other mounting media became widespread. Much of the best early preparers work is immediately recognizable, as they each settled on standard paper colours and graphic designs, which became their trademark of sorts. By the 1880s most slides were being produced without the full paper wrappings, but many still sported informative and decorative labels, often with coloured ringing cements.

By the later 1800s, with the advent of an expanding middleclass and the burgeoning popular interest in the Natural Sciences, it was not unusual for households to have a well used microscope and a little "cabinet of curiosities".  Some, as well as purchasing commercially mounted examples, found pleasure in collecting specimens and making their own slides. Many people of the times could give the common and Latin names, and an account of the habits, for most of the plants, insects, and other living creatures both small and large in the vicinity of their town and countryside. Holiday excursions to the seashore became a popular pastime, being seen as wonderful opportunity for collecting unusual specimens for study. Public lectures, classes and demonstrations were held, and numerous societies and clubs of interested "amateur naturalists" met regularly. During the heyday of the Victorian period, the microscope and it's attendant collection of mounted objects were not viewed as just a means to an education, or scientific tools for the laboratory, but as an interesting, wondrous, and delightful entertainment.