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Hooke's Books banner featuring images of the title page from Micrographia with the words Hooke's Books beneath it. An image of a microscope with the words micrographia beneath it and the engraved portrait title page of Antoni van Leeuwenhoek with the words Hooke's influence underneath it. Hooke's Books home Hooke's Books Micrographia Hooke's Influence

Robert Hooke (1635-1703) was, by all accounts, a remarkably versatile scientist and a very, very, difficult man. He was an artist, biologist, physicist, engineer, architect, inventor and much else; a man who rubbed shoulders with many of the great minds of his time, and quarreled with most of them. Hooke had a knack of intuitively grasping great scientific truths without always understanding the hard science that lay beneath. This led him to claim credit for the discoveries of others, and also to a lifetime of very public controversy.


There was one accomplishment, however, that was Hooke's crowning glory: Micrographia: or some Physiological Descriptions of Minute Bodies made by Magnifying Glasses, first published in 1665. It was a masterpiece; an exquisitely illustrated introduction to the previously unknown microscopic world. Hooke had opened the eyes of scientists and the public to a realm where the future of science would be found.


Only two editions of Hooke's Micrographia were printed in his lifetime, in 1665 and 1667.

page of the 1665 first edition of Micrographia, printed in red and black ink. Etching of fish scales from an English sole.  The name of the fish is misspelled in the original. Etching of the head of a grey drone fly, shown from the front. Etching of a blue fly standing on a leaf, shown from the side


Etching of a flea, seen from the side.  This large image is one of the most famous in Micrographia; it requires a fold-out sheet. Etching of a gnat, shown from above

Robert Hooke, Micrographia : or, Some physiological descriptions of minute bodies made by magnifying glasses : with observations and inquiries thereupon, 1st edition. London, 1665
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Title page of the 1667 second edition of Micrographia, printed in black ink only.
Robert Hooke, Micrographia; or, Some physiological descriptions of minute bodies made by magnifying glasses. With observations and inquiries thereupon, 2nd edition. London, 1667
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Etching was the best way to make a book's illustration in Hooke's time. A polished copper plate was coated with an acid-resistant ground, and the image scratched through the ground with the needle. The plate was then submerged in acid until the intaglio (recessed) image was etched into the plate.

On the right is an etched copperplate, showing the process used by Hooke.  On the left is a 'strike:' an image of a country path made from the plate. Courtesy Rare Book School, University of Virginia, Charlottesville.

Etched copperplate and image print of a country path
Courtesy Rare Book School, University of Virginia, Charlottesville


After 1667, the plates used in Micrographia were put aside and Hooke moved on to other projects, most notably assisting Christopher Wren (1632-1723) in redesigning London after the Great Fire of 1666. The plates lay forgotten for many years, until they were rediscoved and reprinted as Micrographia Restaurata by Henry Baker in 1745 (three years after Baker published his own Microscope Made Easy).

Title page of Micrographia restaurata, a reprint of Hooke's images edited by Henry Baker. London, 1745
Micrographia restaurata : or, the copper-plates of Dr. Hooke's wonderful discoveries by the microscope, reprinted and fully explained : whereby the most valuable particulars in that celebrated author's Micrographia are brought together in a narrow compass, edited by Henry Baker. London, 1745
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The three illustrations show here were all made from the same plate over a period of eighty years. They show the microscopic structure of cork bark. Hooke, struck by the orderly little squares that reminded him of monks' rooms in a monastery, called the little boxes "cells," and the term stuck.


An etching of cork bark from the 1665 first edition of Micrographia An etching of cork bark from the 1667 second edition of Micrographia An etching of cork bark from the 1745 edition of Micrographia restaurata. All three cork images were made from the same original copperplate.