The Age-Old Magnifying Glass

If you were asked to use one image to represent a private investigator, which image would you choose?  The magnifying glass, of course.  How many private investigators use some form of the magnifying glass in their logo and/or marketing material?  A google search returned 25 images of magnifying glasses out of the first 100 private investigator logos.  Similarly, about 30 out of 100 private investigator advertisements contained a photo or drawing of a magnifying glass.

The magnifying glass is most often attributed to a fellow by the name of Roger Bacon back in the thirteenth century because he was likely the first to use it for scientific purposes.  Mr. Bacon was an English philosopher and lecturer at the University of Oxford who conducted experiments with mirrors to explain the principles of reflection and refraction.  Although his name is the one that pops up with the most regularity, optical devices have been used for thousands of years.  Roman Emperor Nero used clear gemstones to view faraway actors on stage.  Egyptians used chips of crystal to view smaller objects. 

Perhaps the most well-known use of the magnifying glass still today is through Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous character, Sherlock Holmes.  Doyle himself was a physician who also enjoyed writing.  He first introduced his famous detective character in 1887 in A Study in Scarlet.  Sherlock Holmes was featured in four of Doyle’s novels and 56 of his short stories.  He was modeled after Doyle’s medical school teacher, Dr. Joseph Bell.  But Bell wrote to Sir Arther Conan Doyle, “You are yourself Sherlock Holmes and you well know it.”  The three most widely-recognized symbols of the fictional Holmes are his deerstalker hat, curved pipe, and magnifying glass.

Today, the magnifying glass is typically a symbolic representation for searching or zooming, especially in computer software and websites.  But it’s still a difficult symbol to extricate from the grasp of the fictional, yet very famous detective, Sherlock Holmes.  Perhaps this is primarily why so many private detectives still use the symbol today.  Some would say it’s overused and should be retired.  But others enjoy the age-old symbol attached to their profession.  What do you think?