Antony van Leeuwenhoek’s microscopes and other scientific instruments: new information from the Delft archives

Zuidervaart, H. and D. Anderson
Annals of Science
73, Issue 2
Taylor & Francis


This paper discusses the scientific instruments made and used by the microscopist Antony van Leeuwenhoek (1632–1723). The immediate cause of our study was the discovery of an overlooked document from the Delft archive: an inventory of the possessions that were left in 1745 after the death of Leeuwenhoek’s daughter Maria. This list sums up which tools and scientific instruments Leeuwenhoek possessed at the end of his life, including his famous microscopes. This information, combined with the results of earlier historical research, gives us new insights about the way Leeuwenhoek began his lens grinding and how eventually he made his best lenses. It also teaches us more about Leeuwenhoek’s work as a surveyor and a wine gauger.

A further investigation of the 1747 sale of Leeuwenhoek’s 531 single lens microscopes has not only led us to the identification of nearly all buyers, but also has provided us with some explanation about why only a dozen of this large number of microscopes has survived.