What we do

The museum’s role is to promote the optometry profession and raise public awareness of its past and present importance to society, through conserving and caring for our collections, as well as our exhibitions, talks and presentations and learning and research services.  

The British Optical Association Museum is fully accredited in the Accreditation Scheme for Museums and Galleries in the United Kingdom. 

Collections development 

We add several hundred items to our collection every year, mostly through the generous gift of donors and rescuing important heritage when businesses close. We must ensure that we do not collect unnecessary duplicates and that we have the means and space to look after the things we do accept. 

If you would like to offer something to the museum collection, please email museum@college-optometrists.org with information on the item and your contact details.  

Please do not send anything to us until we have agreed to accept it. 

Care and conservation 

The museum has an ongoing programme of object repair and restoration. It has also taken steps to improve storage conditions, with the aim of preserving the collections in the best possible condition, ever mindful of the inevitable processes of decay. 

Learning and research

We are constantly researching the objects in our collections, aiming to establish or verify facts (such as maker or date) or build our understanding of their provenance and how they were manufactured or used. This gives us a growing appreciation of their significance. We share the results of this research through our online database, blogs, academic and press articles, and by means of specialist tours, public talks and lectures or bespoke object handling sessions.  

If you have an historical story to share or can tell us anything more about objects we possess, we’d love to hear from you – email museum@college-optometrists.org 

Talks and presentations

The museum curator is available to give lectures at academic conferences or talks to organised groups on such subjects as the history of spectacles, contact lenses, artificial eyes or the British optical industry, fashions in designer eyewear and sunglasses, women’s eyewear, the psychology of glasses wearing, or the professionalisation of opticians and the development of the optical profession in the UK. A donation is requested where appropriate.  

Contact the Curator to discuss a talk

Genealogical searches

We offer an historical enquiry service, are pleased to recommend additional resources to assist external researchers and to carry out genealogical searches in our records on behalf of family historians. email museum@college-optometrists.org to make an historical enquiry. 

Exhibitions 

The Museum provides a number of permanent exhibitions around the College building. These are constantly refreshed in order to show case new acquisitions or to highlight collections with relevance to current issues of concern. We also try to have at least one temporary exhibition running at any particular time. These may reflect significant anniversaries or fresh approaches to interpreting the collections, for example through an artist-in-residence. 

We are currently holding two exhibitions within the museum, which can be visited once we re-open. 

Frame Us (Little Brother) 

This pop-up display features the collection of theatrical costumier and prop-provider Simon Murray. Central to this are sketches of glasses solicited by Simon from the many film and television celebrities he has met in his career. 

Rebuilding Lives  

An exhibition on the work of the St Dunstan’s charity and its successor, Blind Veterans UK. 

The museum occasionally has online exhibitions, as well. We are always keen to hear of suggestions for topics to cover in the future. We are currently updating our online exhibitions on National Health Service spectacles ahead of the 75th anniversary of the NHS in 2023, and on Braille ahead of the bi-centenary of its invention in 2024. 

Loans

We are happy to consider requests to lend objects to other accredited museums for temporary display purposes. In recent years, we have lent items to the Guildhall Art Gallery, Charles Dickens Museum, Fairfax House in York, Boughton House, the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, the National Glass Centre in Sunderland, Museum Milavida in Tampere Finland and the Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary Exhibition that toured American cities before terminating in Paris. Occasionally items may be released for filming by television companies. 

Oral historical recordings

We are currently establishing an oral history archive relating to the professions of optometry and dispensing optics. It was a privilege to record an interview with our Founding President, Dr Philip Cole, shortly before his death. We also recorded a podcast with Dr Susan Blakeney when she stepped down after twenty years as the College’s Optometric Adviser. We are keen to hear from potential interviewees who would be prepared similarly to share their memories with us. Please contact museum@college-optometrists.org, if you would like to discuss this further.