Museum Collections

At present 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.

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Explore these pages about the museum collections

MusEYEum Online Catalogue

Welcome to the online 'objects' catalogue of the British Optical Association Museum. Here you can search for both museum artefacts and archives.

Archive Collection

In this section of the museum website you can learn about some of the interesting historical documents in our collection.

Historical Books Collection

The College's collection of rare and historical books is known as Historical Collection 1. It is preserved primarily for historical reasons with old items still useful to our working library being classed as Historical Collection 2.

Collections Development

Care to donate something? Not sure if it fits our remit? Can you insist something you give is displayed? (No, incidentally). Is there a danger we might get rid of your generous gift? The answers are all to be found in our formal collections development policy (what used to be called the 'acquisitions and disposals policy') which doubles as a rather handy description of the collection's various categories.

Appeals for help

Even specialist museums don't know everything. On this page we pose our own queries. We would value your help in identifying and dating these items. Maybe you have a story about using such an item, or a photograph tucked away. Maybe you know how it works or could even supply us with a copy of the instructions! Any results will feed into our detailed cataloguing exercise.

Care and Conservation

The Museum is proactive in assessing the condition of the objects in its care and taking intervening action to safeguard them and prevent their further deterioration. Sometimes this may only require an improvement to their packing materials. At other times it necessitates a programme of restoration or repair.

Famous Objects and displays

The Museum possesses the spectacles of various famous personalities including Dr Johnson, C. P. Snow and Ronnie Corbett, 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 oil paintings, all on some optical theme, 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?

Tools of the trade

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.

Contact Lens Collection (CLC)

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, Hydron, Rayner Ltd and Bausch & Lomb (UK) Ltd. Objects from abroad, most notably the former Czechoslovakia, make this collection of far wider importance. We even have Leonardo di Caprio's contact lens! The Norman Bier Archive was donated in 2010 and his associated personal collection of contact lenses, artificial eyes and low vision aids was transferred to the museum from City University in August 2013.

Ocular Hygiene

The Peter and Jean Hansell Collection of Eyebaths, donated by the late Dr Jean Hansell in 2012, is surely the finest of its type in any public collection.

World of Eyeballs

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. It's why a tv broadcast once described us as a World of Eyeballs.

In January 2006 tv presenter Nigel Farrell visited the Museum to feature the collections for his programme Off the Beaten Track, part of ITV's regional output. The piece was broadcast in the London area the following June and includes views of the College exterior, Sutcliffe Room (since refurbished!), Print Room and one of the museum stores.

Nigel tells the story of the 1889 Automatic Sight Testing Machine, the Army Spectacle Depot's launch into artificial eye making and the chance discovery of the museum's unique Scarlett-type spectacles in 1990, which he recreates even though this actually took place in our previous building at Knaresbrough Place...but why ruin a good story?