Web Gateway

Welcome to APERTURE the web gateway for optical history sites. This page provides an opening onto the rest of the web for sites with content relating to the science and history of optics or ophthalmic antiques.

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Museums You Can Visit

United Kingdom

Apart from the British Optical Association Museum at the College of Optometrists in London (that's us), you can also visit the following, listed in order of relevance to the subject...

The only other truly significant collection in Great Britain relating to ophthalmic optics which is open to the public. Unfortunately the much-loved Optics Gallery on the 3rd floor closed in 2006 to make way for the relocation of the Launch Pad Kids activity area. A small number of optical items (mainly microscopes and telescopes) are on view in the Science in the 18th Century Gallery whilst there are a few ophthalmic exhibits to be found in the Wellcome Galleries for the History of Medicine. Further items, including the Dunscombe Collection, are held in the reserve store at Blythe House, Olympia, to which researchers can sometimes gain access but to which public group visits have been suspended. To compensate for this their online provision has recently been expanded with the history of medicine website Brought to Life (described below in the Virtual Museums section).

The Human Biology Gallery includes displays about the visual cortex and in Section J a somewhat aged but fun display on visual perception and optical illusions. The exhibit consists of interactives but no original objects.

A significant collection of scientific instruments amongst which you can find hand magnifiers, spectacles, optometric equipment, microscopes, telescopes, astronomic and chemical apparatus. This website also provides access to the rete e-mail list for those with a special interest in the subject of historic instrumentation.

A collection of scientific instruments dating from earliest times to the present with optical reference collections available to visitors in 'open-storage' drawer system. The collection includes Gregorian reflecting telescopes, mineral viewers, binoculars, spyglasses and prints. Also the Heywood Collection of microscopes and two replicas of Newton's telescope. The website was updated in July 2006: As well as receiving an overall new look, the site now contains a brand new section, named 'Explore', giving in-depth information on over 60 objects from three key areas of the Museum’s collection: astronomical instruments, microscopes and teaching models.

The NMS (incorporating the Royal Museum) in Edinburgh possesses a large number of high quality scientific instruments and the Frank Collection of microscopes. It used to be a 'must-see' for the optical enthusiast but, unfortunately, recent changes to its displays make it far less interesting than it used to be. The reserve collections include spectacles and other optical equipment.

Leeds museum with reserve collections relating to spectacles, optometry and ophthalmic surgery. Their hearing aid display may also be of interest to historians of sensory impairment. 

Whilst in Yorkshire don't miss the reconstruction of a Victorian optician's shop, Thomas Cooke & Sons, as part of York Castle Museum's Kirkgate display. This 1950s exhibit, pioneering in its day, is historic in its own right.

This small local history museum in East Yorkshire features a reconstruction of an optometrist's practice, for which much of the equipment was donated by our College member, John Keay. Items include a perimeter, near point rule, illuminated test chart and domiciliary bag.

At one time this small local history museum included a display case relating to a local optician, but note that the 'displays are continually changing'. Nevertheless, look out for cameras and other medical items.

Visit the only surviving home of the great scientist and optician, just yards away from the BOA Museum! Tours are led by a costumed interpreter and his life story is told through multi-media projections onto the bare panelled walls. Certainly different.

The Americas
 

A small museum in San Francisco, run by the American Academy of Ophthalmology Foundation (now known as Eye Care America), which has sponsored a particularly innovative travelling exhibition programme, most notably on animal eyes. The permanent museum display, within the headquarters of a professional body, reopened in May 2003 and the current Director is Jenny Benjamin.

The main optical collection in Canada, formerly known as the Museum of Visual Science and Optometry. The website was redesigned during the Winter Term of 2002 and now includes images of the exhibition, items from the collection, some well known optical illusions, a database and 'Hall of Frame'.

Visitors to the headquarters of the American Optometric Association (AOA) in St Louis, Missouri, may view exhibits of selected items from the Museum collection in the first floor Archives area.  The weblink also leads to a number of 'virtual' galleries.

Comprising the collection built up over forty years by Mel and Julia Rapp, the museum, still under development, mounted its first exhibition from October 2015 on the subject of 'Behind the Cat Eye Glasses'. The museum's address is 788 College Street and the current web link is to the museum's Facebook page.

Founded in 1990 as part of the library service of the Escuela de Optometría, including antique eyeglasses, contact lenses, ophthalmic equipment, books and photographs. Open to the general public.

A specialist collection of antique and historic telescopes, microscopes, lenses and cameras with instruments from England, France, Germany and the USA representing the work of the world's most respected instrument makers from the 17th to the mid 20th centuries. See also their expanding virtual museum notable for its multiple images of instrument components with some simple but clever animations to show their manner of operating.

This is a long-term project headed by ex American Optical Company (AO Co) employee Dick Whitney. The website contains extensive historical content and an associated but small permanent display may now be visited in the town of Southbridge, Massachusetts, close to the iconic former AO factory.

Upstairs on the first floor (or as Americans call it, the second floor) is the J. W. Rosenthal Collection of spectacles. The main museum on the ground floor ('first floor') is also well worth seeing as it is on the site of America's first ever licensed apothecary. Turn up in time for a guided tour if you possibly can.

The Museum of the American Printing House for the Blind is dedicated to preserving and presenting the fascinating educational history of blind people and the historic contributions of the American Printing House for the Blind for the benefit of the visually impaired, educators of the visually impaired, and the broader community. This commendable museum in Louisville, Kentucky is notable for its collection of mechanical braille writers.

Opened in America 12 October 2002, the Johnson-Shaw Stereoscopic Museum is home to a collection of stereoviews, lantern slides, historic documents, books and equipment manufactured by the Keystone View Company, the largest manufacturer of stereoscopic views in the United States, and formerly located in Meadville, Pennsylvania.

Go upstairs to find The Dittrick Medical History Center, which is comprised of the museum, archives, and collections of rare books, artefacts, and images. The Center originated as part of the Cleveland Medical Library Association (est. 1894) and today functions as an interdisciplinary study center within the College of Arts and Sciences of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. It boasts a splendid display on diverse medical topics. The microscopes are in a room leading off from the library and the ophthalmoscopes are on the balcony in the main exhibition room.

There are lots of cameras on display here in a modern museum opened in 1989, developing an earlier facility founded in 1949, making it the oldest photography museum in the world. The museum is attached to one of the finest period houses in the swanky district of Rochester, New York (a town with strong links to a number of famous optical companies such as Bausch & Lomb as well as Eastman Kodak). George Eastman lived here until he topped himself in 1932 and the house was restored to a very high standard in 1990.

Founded in 1951 by Corning Glass Works (now Corning Incorporated) as a gift to the American nation for the company’s 100th anniversary, The Corning Museum of Glass in New York State is a not-for-profit museum dedicated to telling the story of a single material: glass. One section of the permanent exhibition concerns Optics. See here two lifesize figurative sculptures of the microscopist Van Leeuwenhoek and the optician Lipperhey. Learn about glass lenses and the optical properties of various types of glass. The museum also has a small collection of spectacles although these are not currently on display.
 

Europe

 

Italian public museum high up in the Dolomite mountains, where a spectacle-making industry has existed since 1878. The Museum of Spectacles was established in 1986 at the instigation of Signor Vittorio Tabacchi, the president of Safilo Group and has recently moved to the Via Arsenale. Located in a remote but beautiful village, but worth seeking out as one of the most extensive displays of its type in the world with over a thousand items to view. (Website in Italian: Go to 'Collezione' to see pictures of spectacles, cases, opera glasses, lorgnettes, monocles, optical fans, spyglass walking sticks etc., and even snuff/tobacco boxes with inset optical devices) or go to 'Curiosità' to see a selection of their best items.

The private Safilo company museum at the headquarters building in Padua's Industrial Zone was established by the former Company Chairman, Signor Vittorio Tabacchi, as a memorial to his father. It boasts a number of early items as well as material with celebrity associations and it used to be possible for those with a genuine interest to visit it, subject to arrangement. Following recent upheaval at the highest levels of the company the current status of the museum is in flux, though a new curator has been appointed and we hope to be able to publicise the revised contact details soon. In the meantime the Safilo Galleria is a very detailed virtual museum website in English and Italian.

High up in the Dolomite mountains, housed in the former stable block of an Italian palazzo, this is the private company museum of industrial giant Luxottica. Visiting is by special arrangement only and the website is primarily a virtual museum

After the War the famous Carl Zeiss company split in two. This started out as the museum of the East German branch, based in the historic town where it all began. Perhaps still the world's foremost optical museum in terms of the quality of its displays. Now managed by the Ernst Abbe Foundation, the museum features a good range of ophthalmic instruments as well as visual aids. 

The museum of the West German branch of Carl Zeiss. This used to be the poor relation of the museum mentioned above, but has been the subject of considerable investment in recent years. It now promises over 1000 exhibits from Napoleon's opera glasses to a photo taken during the original moon landing using a Zeiss camera.

French museum in the Jura mountains relocated to the town hall square in 2003. The collections feature some (but not all) of the famous Pierre Marly collection whilst the exhibition programme has a strong emphasis on current frame design.

Germany's premier science museum includes an extensive optics gallery featuring spectacles and early contact lenses as well as ophthalmic instruments. Elsewhere in the museum is an interesting display on optical glass.

This small but well put-together display of spectacles in the former Physics and Physiology building at Ramistrasse 69, together with various other items of ophthalmic interest including votive offerings in the form of an eye, ocular prostheses, contact lenses and Otto Haab's eye magnet was taken over by the Institute of Evolutionary Medicine as of January 2015 and announcements are awaited as to the development of a new 'Medical Museum' on the same site.

The university museum in the city where Snellen invented the test chart. There are some world class collections of ophthalmic instrumentation, sadly mostly in storage, as is the Weve Collection of spectacles, but the displays are still well worth a visit. There is also  themed Eye Hotel in the former ophthalmic hospital (the Ooglijdersgasthuis) if you want to make a stay of it!

One of the largest and finest specialist medical museums in the world, occupying distinguished premises in the diplomatic area of the city, this collection includes displays of spectacles, test charts, trial cases and other items of ophthalmic interest opposite a reconstructed pharmacy. A nice feature of the museum is its support for contemporary artists; topics that would otherwise be unrepresented in the museum displays are covered though the use of modern paintings, reproductions of portraits etc.

A superb exploration of the world of the magic lantern and other optical entertainments such as stereoscopes, the camera obscura and visual illusions. Housed on the top floor of an Italian palazzo in Padua but well worth the walk up the stairs. The website is bilingual.

Taking communication in its widest sense this museum, based on the private collection of Signor Fausto Casi, features material relating to the transmission of visual information including spectacles, vision aids, televisions, cameras, optical illusions and cinematic heritage. (The link is to a copy of the museum's bilingual publicity leaflet).

The Institute and Museum of the History of Science of Florence has undergone a renovation involving a complete redesign of its exhibition areas and displays. It reopened on June 11, 2010 under the new name of Museo Galileo and exhibits include the great man's telescope.

This museum has specialist collections in costume. Visitors won't find the spectacles and eyewear on permanent display but they are available to researchers. The museum hosted a major temporary exhibition 'Glorious Glasses - Spectacle Fashion' from September 2016-May 2017.

The newest entry to the world of optical museums, also known as the Madeira Museum of Optics. This opened in September 2017 and is a combined museum and shop run by father and son Rui and Sérgio Aguilar (Rui, an engineer, had been collecting since the 1960s). There are approximately 2000 items on display, mainly cameras but also including telescopes, stereoscopes, ophthalmoscopes (bearing in mind this is Europe, they are described as being 'medical') and test charts.

We list this venue last as it blurs the distinction between museum and shop. Its former owner, the original collector, famously committed suicide and the auction that followed his death is still remembered as one of the great collecting opportunities of all time. You can see what was kept upstairs in this traditional Dutch house, close to the Dam Palace. [Update 2018: We understand that, as of 2017, this museum has permanently closed].

Asia

 

Newly opened on 6 June 2006 (China's National Day for Eyecare), this museum in the Zhabei district, the Chinese capital of spectacles, uses interactive games, short videos and cartoon characters to guide visitors around. The displays concentrate on the health of one’s eyes, the technology required to make spectacles and what is to be found in a typical optician's premises. There is an interactive virtual laboratory and games allowing visitors to test various aspects of their eyesight. There is a display of spectacles from the 19th century onwards as well as many modern examples with information about the local manufacturing industry. There is also a reconstruction of an opticians from the 1920s, some of the tools of which are apparently still used by Chinese today.

This began as the personal collection of the President of the Tokyo Optical Co. Ltd (founded 1883). 'Megane' means spectacles in Japanese...and they take the subject really seriously.

Another Japanese shrine to that most important of facial accessories, sponsored by the local Fukui Optical Association.

 

Australasia

 

The Museum and Archive is named in honour of Cyril Henry Woodford Kett FBOA, FSMC (1890-1971) who was one of the five people who signed the Memorandum and Articles of Association of the Australian College of Optometry in 1939. He donated numerous items of historical interest to the College that provide the foundation of the Museum. The collection formally started in 1970 and now comprises annually changing exhibitions in the Schultz foyer and Nathan Library. The museum is open to the general public.

The conjoint RANZCO/RVEEH museum, formed in 1996 from collections started in 1959 has a small number of displays and a burgeoning website covering such topics as the spectacle story, the ophthalmoscope, intra-capsular cataract extraction and the measurement of intraocular pressure. Although actively seeking to build up its collection, like many ophthalmic museums its activities are presently concentrated upon the development of virtual interpretation. Since 2011 the collection has been curated by Dr David Kaufman.

 

Virtual Museums

 

Our own museum's virtual guides and exhibitions comprise the oldest established specialist website devoted to antique spectacles and ophthalmic heritage. The site was first launched in 1998. Then, based on six years' of research, the MusEYEum was relaunched in 2004 and again, with a new format, in Autumn 2005. Our aim is to become THE authoritative source of ophthalmic historical information on the web. it is the only website of its type to be subject to complete peer review meaning that researchers may rely on its content for accuracy and up-to-date information.

Our museum was delighted to collaborate with Safilo spA to improve this tremendous image-rich online resource drawing upon the famous Tabacchi collection.

Ever-expanding content-rich site of an American retired ophthalmologist, Dr David Fleishman, now containing over 300 pages of content and in excess of 5400 fully described images drawn from international public and private collections. The site aims to cover the development and significance of the optical lens in its broadest sense, embracing its coverage in history, science, culture, religion and art. The site also includes some interactive games and a fun feature by Michael Lebby on Wearing Antique Spectacles. Amongst many more things we could mention it also provides a section on 'neat discoveries', 'interesting topics', profiles of major optical museums, translations of historic documents and images of spectacle-themed stamps, coins and medals drawn from various private collections.

Superb Russian site providing chronological account of spectacles, pince-nez and oriental spectacles, copiously illustrated with examples from the optical museum (Il Museo Dell’ Occhiale) at Pieve di Cadore in Italy. Note, however, that the monocular devices featured in the section called 'monocles' would more normally be described by English-speaking historians as 'quizzing glasses'. (Note: June 2007 - the English version of this site had moved. Let us know if you find it!)

Major online resource for medical historians at all levels including (perhaps especially) school pupils, provided by the Wellcome Collections for the History of Medicine at the Science Museum in London. The 'Techniques and Technologies' section includes entries for 'artificial eyes' and 'ophthalmoscope' but other objects of ophthalmic interest may be discovered using the search box including an optometer and various opticians trade cards. More objects and images are being added to this site on an ongoing basis.

General history of spectacles and lenses, including their manufacture. Includes a small gallery of 'Spectacles in Art'. (Austrian-based website in German).

Profusely illustrated site managed by a private collector, including telescopes, microscopes, spectroscopes, focimeters, colorimeters etc...even a bottle of 1920s Canada balsam! (Website in German).

Virtual museum of the Portuguese Society of Ophthalmology, featuring items of historic equipment and links to articles on the national story. (Website in Portuguese).

Instruments from the collections of the University of Nebraska, Department of Physics and Astronomy, including an 'Optics' section.

Search under the 'optics' category to discover nearly sixty instruments used in teaching at this Japanese school from approximately 1923-1950, including optical benches, stereoscopes, spectroscopes, spectacles for X-ray use and prismatic devices. After abolition this school was incorporated as part of Kobe University. (Flash-based Japanese website in English version).

Dr Allan Wissner's site describing and illustrating microscopes from the late 18th century to the early 20th century.

 

Web articles on the history of Ophthalmic Optics

 

An alternative account of the development of spectacles from the point of view of Mr C.N. Chua, Specialist Registrar and a practising ophthalmologist from Oxford. See also his account of The Ophthalmoscope

Illustrated summary of contact lens developments based on the BCLA's Pioneers Project, presented by optometrist Andrew Gasson FCOptom

An account of the famous German optical firm.
 

Specialist Societies

 

Flourishing society, founded in 1982, for enthusiasts of spectacles, opera glasses, eyebaths and many other forms of optical heritage. You don't have to be a collector yourself to enjoy the club's informative newsletter and varied programme of visits.

US counterpart to the OAICC but many Americans enjoy belonging to both organisations. Comprises members 'who appreciate, conserve and collect items relating to the ophthalmic sciences'.

City of London Livery Company granted its charter by King Charles I in 1629 and one of the founding bodies of the College of Optometrists in 1980. The Company's distinguished membership reflects the full extent of the optical and ophthalmic worlds as well as many unrelated professions and has met at Apothecaries Hall since 1946. It is still active in the direct training of optical technicians and receptionists and conducts extensive charitable work in the field of vision care. The Company kindly hosts a museum page devoted to its historic and subject links with the BOA collections.

The Scientific Instrument Society 

The Scientific Instrument Society (SIS) was formed in April 1983 to bring together people with a specialist interest in scientific instruments, ranging from precious antiques to electronic devices only recently out of production.

The senior international microscopical society, counting in its distinguished membership microscopists from all over the world.

Founded in 1865 in memory of the surgeon and microscopist John Thomas Quekett (1815-61), the Club is second only in seniority to the Royal Microscopical Society, but the first members deliberately chose to call themselves a 'Club' rather than a 'Society' to emphasize the 'amateur' nature of the membership - which is particularly open to beginners. The Quekett Journal of Microscopy has continued an unbroken tradition since 1868.

American-based society for telescope enthusiasts with an emphasis on astronomy. Includes a 'Virtual Museum' tour.

Disclaimer

The College of Optometrists accepts no responsibility for the content or accessibility of these sites. Many of the museums listed require an appointment in advance of a visit. Commercial sites are not included.

If you detect a broken link, please email us.

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