Any visitor who wanders into the Compass and Rule exhibition in the vaults of the Oxford Museum of the History of Science may be forgiven for thinking that he or she has erred into a jeweler display (Figure 1). The precisely wrought and intricately engraved brass and silver objects have a gemlike allure. One of them, the astrolabe that the Flemish instrument-maker and engraver Thomas Gemini incised floridly for the Earl of Leicester to give to Queen Elizabeth, was surely meant as an ornament as well as an instrument for observation, but it could be used to take precise bearings a century after it was made. However, in the case of the floridly opulent silver microscope George Adams made for George III, one can't help wondering if the king could concentrate on his slides in all the profusion of...

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