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University College

Optical Bench
This Paris-made optical bench by Dubosq is an example of the prestigious European teaching apparatus purchased by the Department of Mathematics and Physics in the 19th Century.

The University College collection is a small selection of items that were collected from the Department of Physics and the Department of Zoology and held at the University College Archives from approximately the late 1960s or 1970s to the spring of 1997. The Physics instruments were likely gathered by Archibald Hollis Hallet, a physicist at U of T from 1951 who was Principal of University College from 1970 to 1977. The Zoology artifacts were collected by Barbara Solandt. All the objects were catalogued in 1978 by Joy Smith as part of the original inventory project.(1)

In 1997, they were transferred from the to the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology (IHPST), and were stored at the Museum Studies Program and at One Spadina Crescent until 2009, when they were added to UTSIC. Their provenance being little known, they were catalogued under a separate “UC” designation, as they had been in 1978.

These items date from the 19th century. The majority were purchased for use at the Department of Physics and Mathematics which was located in University College’s west wing from 1878 to 1906. These objects therefore share the same history as the earliest objects in the “Physics” collection. The items collected from Zoology include the microscopes. However, the provenance of some items cannot be determined.

The University College collection consists of many prestigious instruments that were used for undergraduate education in the physical laboratories. The majority of them are examples of high quality instruments purchased from continental Europe, particularly Paris, where the instrument-making trade was centered in the mid- to late-19th century.

A small number of items are either Canadian in source or exhibit signs of local alterations. These include an ‘Ontarioana’ clock and a pair of resistance boxes constructed by department mechanician J.S. Plaskett—later a noted astronomer.

(1) Smith, J. “A Museum of the History of Science at the University of Toronto – Resources and Requirements” Report to the President’s Advisory Committee on Historic Resources, University of Toronto (August 1978): 129-130

Contact: Erich Weidenhammer (, Curator, University of Toronto Scientific Instruments Collection.