A lens on optical history

If you work in optics, you may occasionally stumble across a piece of old equipment or vintage spectacle frames. It is fascinating to look back and see how things have changed, and if this interests you, you’re not alone.

The Ophthalmic Antiques International Collectors Club has been in operation since 1982, and brings together collectors from around the globe, with a quarterly journal, and, in normal times, visits to optical museums. While you may not be able to make many visits right now, you can join the club, and take part in their virtual AGM on 22 November.

You can also find out about optical history with an online visit to the British Optical Association museum which lives in the College of Optometrists building in central London. The museum collects objects and archival items relating to the history of ophthalmic optics (optometry), the human eye and visual aids, as well as the representation of these subjects in art. It is not just a museum of science, technology and medicine but of fine and decorative art and the social history of a profession serving people with visual impairment. The museum website is well worth a visit: it has a number of pages, with information on the collection house by the museum, and the museum’s own history.

And members of the Association of British Dispensing Opticians can read about a further six optical museums in the Lens History section of Ophthalmic Lens Availability Online. From the Netherlands, Italy, France and Germany all the way to Massachusetts in the USA, you will find others who are fascinated with optical history.

Beyond all these useful resources, despite being a modern building with state of the art facilities, the NRC has it’s own insight into optical history. You can find a small collection of frames and equipment which has been donated to the centre, with most recent additions from John Redwood and Jeff Mason which we are very grateful for.

Operations Manager Mat Stringer has been looking after the collection this week, making the most of lockdown, and took a couple of pictures. Have a look at the collection in the photos here, and remember to visit it on Floor 5 when you are next at the NRC.