University College

Optical Bench

This Paris-made optical bench is a good example of the prestigious European teaching apparatus purchased by the Department of Mathematics and Physics in the 19th Century.

The University College Collection is a selection of items that were at one point transferred from an owner–likely Archibald Hollis Hallett, a former Principal of University College–then catalogued and stored by the Museum Studies program at U of T. When they were gathered from an intermediate storage location by the UTSIC collection in 2009, they were catalogued under a separate “University College” designation. These items date from the 19th century, and can be connected to the Department of Physics and Mathematics which was located in University College’s west wing from 1878 to 1906. However, over time it has emerged that many items in the Physics Collection also share this history and the University College collection should now be seen as a subset of Physics, alongside the Koenig Acoustical Collection.

The University College collection consists of many prestigious instruments which were likely used for undergraduate physics and mathematics teaching. Most of them were purchased from continental Europe, particularly Paris, where the majority of sophisticated scientific instruments were constructed during the late 1800s.

A small number of items are either Canadian in source or exhibit signs of local alterations–these include an ‘Ontarioana’ clock and a pair of resistance boxes constructed by department mechanician J.S. Plaskett–later a noted astronomer.

Contact: Erich Weidenhammer (, Curator, University of Toronto Scientific Instruments Collection.