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Hand Magnifier

Hand Magnifier View Interactive Version ]

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 organized" structures of insects and other small creatures.5

Artist/MakerWilliam Jones
Createdca. 1785
Origin/PurchaseLondon, England
Object TypeScientific Instruments
MaterialsBrass, glass
Dimensions1 3/4 x 1 1/2 in.


  1. 15 April 1786, James A. Bear, Jr., Jefferson's Memorandum Books.
  2. Thomas Jefferson, list, undated papers, 42801, American Memory Project - The Thomas Jefferson Papers.
  3. Thomas Jefferson to G. C. de La Coste, 24 May 1807, Albert Ellery Bergh, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, 11:206.
  4. Thomas Jefferson to G. C. de La Coste, 24 May 1807, Margaret Bayard Smith, The First Forty Years of Washington Society, 393.
  5. Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, 11 April 1823, Lester J. Cappon, The Adams-Jefferson Letters, 2:592.

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