Microscope gifted to Prince Philip by the RMS features in exhibition at Windsor Castle
Instrument was presented to mark centenary of RMS Royal Charter in 1966
A microscope given by the RMS to His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, has been on display as part of an exciting exhibition at Windsor Castle celebrating his life and legacy.
The exhibition, titled Prince Philip: A Celebration, features many objects documenting his wide-ranging patronages and associations – as well as his early life, naval career, and his role as the nation’s longest-serving consort at home and abroad.
Among the exhibits is The Duke’s desk, beside which is displayed a polarised light microscope, presented as a gift upon HRH’s acceptance of the invitation to serve as RMS President from 1965-66 - thereby marking 100 years since the signing of the Society’s Royal Charter in 1866.
It is the first time the instrument, an R & J Beck microscope from the late 1800s, has ever been seen on public display. A brief mention is also made of both the microscope and the RMS in the exhibition’s accompanying publication Prince Philip 1921-2021: A Celebration.
The instrument itself is a brass, mineralogical microscope with a fitted mahogany slide and separate magnification lens. It has a brass stand and a replacement tube graduated in inches. It was presented in an upright mahogany box with hinged panel door, brass lifting handles and engraved plate – though these original accessories are not currently part of the display.
After receiving it as a gift in 1965, Prince Philip arranged for the microscope to be set up for use in the Royal Library at Windsor Castle, where it would have been seen by distinguished guests and visiting researchers.
Sally Goodsir, curator of the Prince Philip exhibition and co-author of the accompanying publication, contacted the RMS while making preparations for the exhibition and publication, and RMS Honorary Historian Chris Kennedy was able to help with enriching the Royal Collection Trust’s catalogue entry for the microscope.
Their research has confirmed the instrument’s first owner was the Victorian metallurgist and mine engineer John Percy (1817-89), to whom it was awarded as the Howard Quinquennial Prize of the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) in 1887. On Percy’s death in 1889 he bequeathed it back to ICE for the use of its members. The serial number, 12210, shows the microscope was made between May and November 1887 and sent, when new, to Beck's Cornhill shop.
It is on a '1 Best' stand, the highest quality of microscope then made by Beck. At some point in the early twentieth century, and possibly relating to a relocation by the ICE to new premises, the microscope left the institute’s ownership and subsequently came into the hands of the RMS – though the exact details relating to this transferral remain unclear.
Sally said: “For me, undertaking the initial research into potential gifts for display last autumn, the microscope stood out as a beautiful object, a lovely scientific instrument and also as something which encapsulated Prince Philip’s interest in, and support of, science, technology and industry."
Tickets to the exhibition at Windsor Castle, which closes on 20 September, are part of the general Castle admission ticket and must be pre-booked through www.rct.uk as capacities remain restricted. Telephone booking is available on +44 (0)303 123 7304.
Royal Collection Trust