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Late Victorian Microscope Oil Lamp by W Watson & Sons, High Holborn, London


A late Victorian microscope oil lamp by W Watson & Sons.

This rare lamp is comprised of a solid brass circular base on which the maker’s name is engraved to ‘W Watson & Sons, 313 High Holborn, London. WC.’ Attached to the base is a brass square sectioned column on which the oil lamp is fitted allowing for adjustment of height. The lamp is attached from an arm to the lamp base and consists of a glass reservoir with oil burner and wick adjustment wheel stamped to ‘E. Miller & Co’. The chimney has a removable glass window for emitting the light for use with the microscope.

William Watson started the business in 1837 as a manufacturer of scientific instruments but did not initially produce microscopes. It was not until 1876 that the first microscopes were produced by the firm, by which time it had become W. Watson & Son with the first of his sons joining the family business. It has also moved to the High Holborn address with which it is best associated.

In 1881, William Watson died and shortly after, the business became W. Watson & Sons with the addition of William’s second son. The brothers continued the business and in 1908 it was incorporated as a limited company. It continued under family ownership until 1949 whereafter it was owned in various guises by Philips until it eventual closure in 1981.

Given the numerous changes to the company name during its early life, we can accurately date this microscope lamp to between 1882 – 1908.

The company of E Miller which is stamped to the wick adjustment wheel was a prolific manufacturer of oil lamps during the nineteenth century in the US. They were wide global exporters and produced lamps for various UK retailers during the period. Lamps parts with the E Miller stamp can be found on microscope lamps by both Watson & Swift during this time and these specialist part were being bought in and incorporated into lamps on the finishing benches of numerous microscope manufacturers.    

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