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Modified Spencer dissection microscope base


The instrument has a steel H-shaped base that continues upward to support a steel rectangular platform. There is an aluminum pole directly behind the platform and can be adjusted by rotating the metal dials located directly right and left of the pole. The dials move the aluminum pole up and down. Most likely an ocular and objective lens were originally attached to the aluminum rod, but were removed when the instrument was modified for another purpose.

On top of the platform rests a three rectangular plastic piece: one large one and two thinner ones. The thin rectangular plastic pieces are each located on the edge of the platform and the larger rectangular piece is placed on top of them, creating a space between the platform and the large rectangular piece. Two insulated wires are directly underneath and attached to the large rectangular piece. They are held in place by two more rectangular plastic pieces. Two small wire tips that are attached to the cords, poke through the large rectangular piece. At the end of the wires are three more wires: 2 clear ones and a purple one. The purple wire and one of the clear ones attach to metal prongs. It seems likely the other clear wire also was attached to a metal prong but it has since been detached. The plastic pieces resting on the stage are most likely modifications to the original dissection microscope base.

There instrument also has a triangular piece with a curved edge that is not attached to the steel frame or platform. The curved edge of the triangular piece contains 17 small holes. There is a small metal peg inserted into the sixth hole from the left. Attached to this triangular piece is a long rectangular metal piece with a black insulated tip. The long rectangular piece can move back and forth and it seems like it’s movement is restricted by the placement of the small metal peg. On the right side of the triangular piece is another wire that attaches to a metal piece with a circular loop.

Accession Number: 2016.zoo.14

Alternative Name:

Primary Materials: steel, metal, rubber, plastic


Between the two dials: “SPENCER BUFFALO USA 119845”
On the chord: “07497 RG-174/U ESSEX NO. 21-598”

Dimensions (cm):

Height = 26, Width = 15.5 , Length = 16.5



Good condition. There is scratching on the metal frame and on the dials. Evidence of tape residue on the plastic platform and triangular shaped piece. One of the prongs at the end of the wire is missing.

Associated Instruments: 2016.zoo.15

Manufacturer: Spencer

Date of Manufacture:


This modified Spencer dissection microscope stand belonged to the Department of Zoology at the University of Toronto. It is unknown if the instrument was used at the University of Toronto, but it is likely.

Additional Information and References:

For more information about microscope stands and Spencer microscopes, please see the following resources:

Bud, R., & Warner, D. J. (1998). Instruments of science : an historical encyclopedia. New York: in association with Garland Pub. pp. 392-393.

Historical Notes:

The Spencer company was an American company in Buffalo, New York that manufactured microscopes. The company was founded by Charles Spencer who published the first catalogue in 1838. The Spencer company was purchased in 1935 by American Optical. See for more information about American Optical and the Spencer company.

The provenance of the object, its function and the reason it was modified and to what purpose are unknown. Janet Mannone and Dr. Harold Atwood were contacted through email and asked if they had any idea of who may have used the object in the Department of Zoology at the University of Toronto. So far this has not been successful. Research has also been conducted into the Spencer Company to obtain a better understanding on what the object originally looked like before modifications. It was most likely a microscope with optical and objective lenses but these were all removed when the object was modified.

Also consulted the following book:
Craigie, E.H. (1966). A history of the Department of Zoology of the University of Toronto up to 1962. Toronto: Department of Zoology.

This book gave a good background on the origins and professors in the Department of Zoology and brief outline of subjects taught and types of experiments conducted at the Department of Zoology from it’s early years to 1962. This book did not really help in identifying the object but did shed some light on the Department of Zoology, which no one seems to know much about at the University of Toronto.