Under the microscope
One of RAMM’s hidden treasures is the collection of Victorian microscope slides. The collection contains as many as 7,000 individual slides and is a unique insight into a strange and colourful world that had previously been invisible to the naked eye. The shapes, patterns and textures shown on the slides reveal the incredible variety of subjects that were studied by Victorian naturalists including Percy Sladen and W. B. Carpenter.
Percy Sladen was fascinated by the natural world from an early age, but after visiting a marine research station, he became particularly interested in starfish, sea urchins and sea lilies; the echinoderms. Preparations of these creatures formed the basis of his collection including very small whole animals but also sections of their limbs and spines.
He acquired the slide collections of Dr. W. B. Carpenter and that of Carpenter’s son, P. H. Carpenter. W. B. Carpenter had trained as a medical doctor and as part of his training he studied a wide variety of life forms. He prepared microscope slides of their organs and tissues in order to prepare himself for a better understanding of the functioning of the human body.
Specimens included animal hair, blood (sometimes the maker’s own) cross-sections of bone, feathers and the iridescent wings of moths and butterflies. Insects were a particular favourite. They were often dissected to show details such as eyes, legs, jaws, wings, antennae, mouthparts and even stings. Some of the most spectacular forms of life prepared on slides are single-celled, plant-like creatures called diatoms and foraminifera.
These microscopic creatures, called radiolarians, have an intricate mineral skeleton and are found in marine plankton