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Year 9 – 1869: The Microscope, or, Descriptions of Various Objects of Especial Interest and Beauty, Adapted for Microscopic Observation by Mary Ward

Published: London, 1869

This volume illustrates beautifully what could come of a 19th century publisher’s determination to sell books: finely detailed cloth bindings embellished with gold accents, intriguing color plates, and a reader-friendly approach to the sciences. As the author notes in her preface, the book was written “to attract those readers who, unversed in microscopic marvels, might possibly feel repelled by a complete and lengthened treatise.” Her publisher took additional steps to make the volume non-repellent. MIT owns two copies of the third edition of The Microscope; one is red, the other green. An already-attractive cover is rendered even more eye-catching in the bookstore window when both colors are displayed side by side. This book is packaged to sell.

Typically for the time, Ward’s gender was not an asset as she tried to make it into print. But eventually her work became popular enough to produce multiple editions, of which this is the third.

Mary Ward was a remarkable and determined woman. Although she lacked formal scientific training, she studied entomology and astronomy as well as microscopy, and wrote popular works on each of those topics, placing her among the earliest women to publish in such fields. All of the illustrated plates in this work were produced from Ward’s own drawings, displaying her considerable skill as both scientist and artist.

This edition was published in 1869. That same year Ward died in an accident involving a steam-powered carriage, making her a pioneer in another, more regrettable realm: she was among the first people to be killed by an automobile. Today Ward’s scientific tools and, appropriately, her microscope, are on display at Castle Ward in County Down, Ireland.

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