As of May 2012 the collections of the British Optical Association Museum include over 3000 pairs of spectacles, from the rudimentary applied technology of the seventeenth century through to the high-fashion designer eyewear of the twenty-first, as well as historic examples of other optical devices and aids to vision including scissor spectacles, folding eyeglasses, pince-nez, lorgnettes, magnifiers, quizzing glasses and monocles. The Museum possesses the spectacles of various famous personalities including Dr Johnson, C.P. Snow, Ronnie Corbett and Dr Crippen (just the sides) as well as a pair made for Johnny Depp (which he rejected). It owns the only known pair of Scarlett-type temple spectacles in the world (c.1730), a rare collection of spyglass fans and a distinguished set of porcelain eyebaths. The collection of twenty four oil paintings, all on some optical theme, has recently undergone restoration and has been catalogued in association with the College's near neighbour, The National Gallery. Our magnificent Print Room is hung from floor (nearly) to ceiling with fascinating portraits, caricatures and satires by the likes of Stradanus, Cruikshank and Gillray - all with an ophthalmic or optical theme...but can you always tell what?
Unlike several other optical museums worldwide, which often tend to concentrate on eyewear alone, the Museum also cares for an extensive collection of optometric instruments. It collects the equipment used by optometrists in conducting the professional eye examination, prescribing and dispensing spectacles. Amongst other instruments these include test charts, refractor heads, ophthalmoscopes, retinoscopes, slit-lamps, keratometers and focimeters. You can learn more about their development in the online exhibitions on this website. We have smaller but noteworthy collections of teaching aids, microscopes, telescopes and cameras. Other highlights include some 160 glass eye models illustrating external diseases, injuries and ocular malformations, as well as a growing number of artificial eyes and ocular prostheses, representing what was once a common sideline for UK opticians.
The BOA Museum is home to an internationally significant Contact Lens Collection (CLC) which has been built up from a number of sources and is under active development. The CLC was augmented recently by gifts from several individuals who were active in the pioneering days and various contemporary manufacturing companies, most notably AMO, Cantor & Nissel, Rayner Ltd and Bausch & Lomb (UK) Ltd. Objects from abroad, most notably the former Czechoslovakia, make this collection of far wider importance. The Norman Bier Archive was donated in 2010.
The Museum operates according to a formal Acquisitions Policy and the collections are ever-growing, albeit expansion these days is mainly through gifts. In 2002 American Optical donated a number of objects and archival items relating to BAO and companies they had taken over including such historic names as J & H Taylor Ltd, UK Optical and M. Wiseman & Co Ltd. We also hold a substantial number of items on deposit from the former museum of Dollond & Aitchison Ltd. This arrangement was extended in April 2004 by the loan of three more oil paintings depicting Peter Dollond (founder of the company in 1750), the 18th century Edinburgh instrument maker John Clark and Irvine Aitchison, who became the first chairman of Dollond & Aitchison in 1927. We were fortunate to acquire the J. Lizars Opticians Collection from Scotland in 2002 and the Boots Opticians Collection was donated to the College in 2003, having previously been on loan. Leading British designer Tom Davies began depositing his archive with us in 2010 and we have been the lucky beneficiaries of substantial donations of material from the likes of Polaroid UK, Lafont Paris and Kirk Originals, amongst others.
News of the availability of new items of special interest is always welcome and expert advice can often be provided. The Museum was in store for six years following the College's change of premises in 1997 and a major documentation exercise was begun in August 1998 to list and photograph each item. A selection from the collections has been placed on display in a small exhibition that is open to College Members and the general public by prior appointment with the Curator. Objects are also loaned to other museums and the Curator can lead College building tours, host handling sessions or deliver talks and illustrated presentations to groups.