New York: 1851. Envelope or Cover. Stampless, folded letter datelined “August 2nd /51”. Franked with a circular “Paid 3c” New York postmark. In nice shape. Transcript included.
In this letter, Starr offers to demonstrate his state-of-the-art microscope to Trinity students:
“I write to you to inquire at what time your college term commences as I wish to come to Hartford with my Spencer’s Hydro-Oxygen Microscope, and should like to give the students an opportunity of seeing it. I have a large quantity of the Wheel anamalcules (microscopic rotifers) which I shall bring with me.”. Very good. Item #009496
Alfred Adolphus Starr was one of the most prominent microscopists of the 1850s and served as the first president of the New York Microscopical Association. He was famous for his very popular, funny, and instructive ‘scientific’ lectures that incorporated an oxyhydrogen microscope, a ‘first-cousin’ to the magic-lantern. Starr, a New York merchant, became interested in microscopy and gave up his business to become a full-time ‘scientific’ lecturer in 1845. He projected large, highly magnified images of bee tongues, fly eyes, and insect wings, aquatic insects, and protozoa while entertaining audiences with humorous – but still scientific – explanatory monologues that included ventriloquism. The capstone of his traveling theater performances featured the feeding of a tiny aquatic insect to a “Water Tiger” (probably the larvae of predaceous diving beetle), which inevitably excited audiences. (For more information about magic lantern and Oxyhydrogen microscope shows see Well’s “Fleas the Size of Elephants: The Wonders of the Oxyhydrogen Microscope” in The Magic Lantern Gazette: A Journal of Research, Vol 29, #2/3, Summer/Fall 2017 and MagicLanternShows.com.)
Charles Spencer produced high-quality achromatic microscopes which won the highest award, the Grand Gold Medal at the Paris Universal Exposition Universelle, for excellence in their optics.
An unusual document attesting to the marriage of science and theater in mid-19th-century America.