We have a 19th Century Microscope in our History of Medicine Collection.
Objects resembling lenses date back to the 5th century BC. The earliest known use of simple microscopes were the widespread use of lenses in eyeglasses in the 13th century.
The earliest known examples of compound microscopes lens near the specimen with an eyepiece to view a real image appeared in Europe around 1620.
In the 1660s, naturalists in Italy, the Netherlands and England began using them to study biology. Italian scientist Marcello Malpighi began an analysis of the lungs. Robert Hooke's Micrographia was published, with beautiful illustrations.
Antonie van Leeuwenhoek achieved up to 300 times magnification using a simple single lens microscope, by putting a very small glass ball lens between the holes in two metal plates fastened together. He helped popularise the use of microscopes to view biological structures, and in 1676, reported the discovery of micro-organisms.
Listen to Dr Allan Chapman, science historian at the University of Oxford, talk about the microscope here: