Microscope Portrait

The opening date of the show is drawing near, especially for us since soon a lot of our effort will need to be focused on the actual physical installation of Martinez presents Marshall in CCHS’ gallery. To that end a whole painting has been completed! This painting will be one of the major works of the show as it is the full portrait of Humphry Marshall in his study. Though there are a number of things to talk about in the portrait, I’m first going to talk about the much anticipated microscope. This is the microscope that was actually used by Humphry Marshall and it’s in the CCHS collection. It was bought in London for him due to the efforts of two people that are very important in the story of Humphry, Dr. Fothergill and Benjamin Franklin. Before the revolution started Fothergill was Humphry’s main client and contact for European plant collectors. The doctor was wealthy and well respected both for his knowledge of medicine and botany. Initially theirs was a barter relationship exchanging plants and seeds for the latest books on botanical science and instruments like a telescope and microscope. Of course sending delicate equipment overseas was a hazardous undertaking at that time, so Fothergill contacted Benjamin Franklin, a mutual friend who was in London to pick out a good microscope and telescope to send to Humphry and a trusty ship’s captain to take care of it.

This is the microscope Franklin and Fothergill choose, beautifully crafted with a flamboyant baroque design so different from the microscopes of today. In particular this is a Culpeper-Style microscope, so named for the originator of the design, British instrument maker Edmund Culpeper. The notable aspects of the style are the vertical design, double tripod, and mirror. The microscope was focused by sliding the body up and down, and the mirror on the bottom helped to focus light underneath the specimen. Having used microscopes for botanical purposes myself I can attest that having a backlight is extremely important. Without a light a leaf will just look like a fuzzy black silhouette, with a light you can see the individual cells and structure of the plant. Though our microscopes look very different and have many more refinements, the basic principles are still all present. Humphry Marshall was looking at the same subtle elements of plant. There are many small but important parts of plants, like the insides of a flower, which are best viewed through a microscope. Small seeds, which look like black specks to the naked eye, reveal different geometrical shapes under a microscope and go from identical to quite distinct, which can help enormously for identification and classification. Imagine Humphry’s excitement at having his capacity for scientific research suddenly and profoundly expanded by this 18th century cutting edge technology.

scopereal scope

More About Ann Arbor


There was an incredible sense of history in the huge stack of letters and documents of the Humphry Marshall family in Ann Arbor. We went through all of the items to see if they had particularly interesting bits of information on them or were from notable individuals. A large amount of Humphry’s recorded letters are business focused, there was a great stack of letters involving people from all around the world asking him for plants and offering compensation. What was surprising to me was that almost none of Humphry and Moses’ letters were personal. It was generally all news, politics, and business. In letters they revealed very little of their personal thoughts and feelings, and it would be easier to speculate about their characters if they were less formal. Though I wouldn’t necessarily call their tendency to use a Latinate, King James Version of English a problem with our research, the handwriting was definitely a problem.

People in the 18th century had different ideas about spelling and grammar and this combined with their version of cursive script can be difficult to decipher. Scanning a letter for potential relevance required intense and ultimately, exhausting concentration. This difficulty was compounded by the massive pile of materials we had to go through. Still, it’s hard to criticize their generally high level of beautiful penmanship, regardless of how indecipherable.  It’s thought provoking that I might be one of the last generations to actually learn how to write cursive in schools. Marginal as my training was, I can only imagine scholars of the future will need to learn it as a foreign language.  The Clements Library has particular protocols for sharing images of their collections publicly, so I can’t show those pictures but reproduced here are some typical examples from the CCHS collection.

Plants Wanted

Botanical Notes


Michigan Research Adventures

The blog hasn’t updated in a while (sorry about that) but it was for a good reason. The whole Martinez clan was on a trip to University of Michigan Ann Arbor’s Clements Library! Why Michigan you may ask? Well, the answer is pretty straight forward; the Clements Library has one of the largest collections of original Marshall family papers. The letters are particularly focused around Humphry, Moses, and to a lesser extent Moses’ son who is also named Moses Marshall (to avoid confusion we refer to him as Moses Jr. even though it seems no one called him that). We had a great time spending days in the library and nerding out over two hundred year old documents. The material was spread out over 4 boxes, so we each took a box and wrote down notes and took pictures, occasionally swapping them around between ourselves. Though it was hard and exhausting work, it was a great bit of family bonding time to do it together. Next time I’ll share some of the actual results and process of our reasearch, but for now here are some pictures of the Martinez family having some photo ops in and around the Clements Library!