Neil Handley

The first modern-day professional curator.

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Neil Handley in 1998

Neil Handley is the current Curator of the BOA Museum and the first full-time museum professional to hold the post. He joined the College in August 1998, the year after its move to 42 Craven Street and inherited a museum in boxes with only a minimal number of items (almost exclusively pictorial) on display. Appointed originally as 'Museum Documentation Assistant' he ran the BOA Museum Documentation Project which produced the first full inventory of the collection since 1932. In 1999 he was appointed 'Curator' and went on to open the first display of the museum for six years (in the Sutcliffe Room, November 2003). He was also responsible, with Carol Hayward, for setting up the Museum's first website after the College site was brought in-house in 1999, having previously been hosted on its behalf by the Bradford University. The 'MusEYEum' a virtual museum website-within-a-website was established at Neil's instigation in 2003 and has now been fully integrated into this website, the 'MusEYEum' name now being reserved for the museum's social media activities and online catalogue.

Neil worked previously at the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine at the University of Manchester on a project to plan the future for museum-quality collections within the various scientific and medical departments. The collections, then in the Stopford Building, included some spectacles. Prior to this he was Exhibition Officer at the John Rylands Library. He also worked for shorter spells at other museums in Manchester, Salford and the Isle of Man as well as for an interactive exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, just a few hundred yards from Craven Street.

Neil was awarded the Associateship of the Museums Association in 2002 and was one of the first 17 museum professionals in the country to gain the AMA+ qualification in May 2007. He has served as a Museums Association Mentor for younger curators and is now an AMA Professional Reviewer.

Neil was elected Chairman of the prestigious London Museums of Health and Medicine (2011-14), widely considered within the profession to be one of the most dynamic and go-ahead museum specialist networks. He oversaw that organisation's first strategic review for fifteen years. He is also a past President of the Ocular Heritager Society of America (2019-2020), a past Vice Chairman of the Scientific Instrument Society and became a Fellow of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (FRSA) in 2012.

The Curator is available for lectures and informal talks off-site as well as guided tours of the museum gallery and College Meeting Rooms. Considered to be an authority on ophthalmic history he can also advise on items on optical and optometric heritage including their identification and dating.

Front cover of the book Cult Eyewear 2011

Neil has contributed to a number of books on the history of the subject, significant contributions being a chapter on artificial eyes for the book Devices and Designs (2006) and the major German publication Treasury of Optics (2012). He spent much of 2009 and 2010 writing a book on Cult Eyewear, the first serious analytical study of the historical development of branded fashion spectacle frames, published by Merrell on 27 September 2011. He also co-authored, with David Cartwright, the second volume of the College History, The College of Optometrists: A History 1998-2015, published in October 2015. He has also written articles for journals as diverse as Optometry in Practice, Contact Lens and Anterior Eye, Ophthalmic and Physiological Optics, From the Master and Wardens (newsletter of the Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers), Ophthalmic Antiques (journal of the Ophthalmic Antiques International Collectors' Club), Hindsight (historical jounral of the American Academy of Optometry), Gewina (Dutch Journal for the History of Science), Antiquarian Horology, Journal of the History of Anaesthesia Society, Dental Historian and Pharmaceutical Historian.

Contact the Curator by email

Or follow him on Twitter @neilhandleyuk or Instagram