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.

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Question posted August 2019

This is not an eyebath, although a donor half thought it could have been. (Suggestions as to what this shape of vessel should properly be called would be welcome, as it might help us dispose of it). It is a piece of what is often called 'crested ware' and there is supposedly one example of a crested ware eyebath in existence. Can anyone enlighten us further about that? Better still, could you provide one for our collection? Crested ware items are usually white with a coat of arms of a city or town. Some are practical items and others are just novelties. Various manufacturer's names appear on them.

Renlow book

Question posted January 2014

Can anyone tell us anything about Dr H. Renlow, author of the original version of The human eye and its auxiliary organs (1896) which was subsequently revised, apparently that same year, by John Browning. Was the original in English...or German (as the Swedish translation by N. A. Nilsson implies)? Was Renlow himself English as claimed on its website by the Met in New York? And was Dr N. A. Nilsson the same as the Nobel Prize winner of that name?

Question posted April 2009 (updated August 2019)

BOA Plaque of unknown date

You might be surprised at how little we know about this item. In fact we are featuring it in the hope that someone out there may be able to tell us more. It is a plastic plaque bearing a transfer printed representation of the BOA logo, first designed in 1895. Various attempts were made to feature the logo on signs and old photographs of optician's premises sometimes show these. At a time when anyone could set up in business as an 'optician' (the term was not legally protected before the Opticians Act of 1958) responsible practitioners were often anxious to include a visible indication of their status as a qualified professional. Some must have employed local sign writers. Others used ready-made insignia supplied by companies such as James B Sly the London engravers, designers and stationers who not only produced and framed the professional certificates of the BOA, SMC and IOO but also supplied customised letter heads, dry stamps and business cards. The particular plaque illustrated here is undoubtedly twentieth century and was certainly mass-produced as several examples have passed our way in recent years. A few years ago we even tried to buy one on eBAY since, although it bears 'our' logo and must presumably have been officially sanctioned by our predecessor body at some time, we had no example in our museum collection. We are now pleased to announce that a retiring College member from Norwich has donated his father's specimen of this plaque. In order to catalogue it correctly we are thus all the more anxious to establish its date. Our former Secretary, the late Mr Peter Smith, thought it pre-dated his involvement with the Association (from the mid 1960s) but the material, possibly perspex, suggests a post-Second World War date. Very similar versions painted on glass were certainly available at least as early as the 1930s (and donations of the same would be very welcome). Who made these and when, what did they cost and how many professionals bought one? Answers, hints and clues would all be received gratefully.

Question posted April 2009

Mystery object

Please can anyone identify this mystery item with twelve flexible metal spikes. It was found in the context of some optical workshop equipment in the East of England, but what was it for? Is it even optically-related?

One suggestion is that a small crucible could be placed above a candle set within the spikes, but the heat source would be insecure as there is no fixing for it. What else could be accommodated within the spikes? A large lens?

The base is steel and the plate (which is irregularly shaped) beneath the spikes is brass. The whole assembly could be screwed to a bench...or a wall...or even the ceiling????


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