• Due to renovations to our vault, the majority of our collections are currently inaccessible. Rare Books and selected archival collections will be available by appointment between September 2023 and March 2024. Please contact us for more information.

Some of Our Favorite Things, Installment 4

The Loupe, by Megan Friedel

The loupe is a thing of simple, beautiful functionality.  Want to see what the street sign says in that photo of the 1964 Alaska earthquake in Anchorage? Use a loupe.  Need to see the detail in a 35mm color slide? Use a loupe.  Can’t decipher whether the cramped hand-writing in that tiny diary says 1961 or 1981? Use a loupe.

A loupe is a small, magnifying hand lens.  It’s a bit handier (excuse the pun) than your standard magnifying glass, as loupes tend to come in a slightly higher degree of magnification than a magnifying glass.  Photographers who still work with film like loupes for their portability, price (they can be quite cheap), and ease of use for reviewing slides on a light table.  Archivists use them for the same thing — as well as all the other creative uses I mentioned earlier.  Higher-quality loupes are used in dentistry, watchmaking, jewelery-making, geology, tattooing — any profession that requires fine precision of detail at a micro level.  And I bet you too probably had a loupe in your junk drawer when you were little, maybe with a tiny box attached to it in which you could put leaves, pine needles, or pieces of dirt to marvel over the the bug’s eye view.

My stand-by loupe isn’t anything fancy.  It’s completely made of plastic, with a simple, round lens that magnifies at 10x.  I prefer a round loupe to the rectangular or the square, as they are more adaptable for diverse materials.  I keep one on my desk at work and another on my desk at home.  The one at work gets put to use regularly when I’m processing slide collections, so I can pick out details like where and when the image was taken or who is in it — or just ogle at the dense, rich beauty of Kodachrome magnified just an inch or two away from my eye.  The thrill of magnifying something doesn’t wane, whether you’re 4 or 34.

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