Museum FAQs

Expand the list below to see some frequently asked questions about the museum and the history of optometry and ophthalmic optics...

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Museum FAQs

Can I visit the museum?

Yes, anyone can visit the museum or request to view items from the reserve collections, but unlike many museums you do have to book an appointment in advance. All visits are supervised so you can request a guided tour, even if you're on your own. You can find out more about visiting the museum including opening hours and how to book an appointment in the Museum visiting pages of this website.

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Can you identify/date my old spectacles/ophthalmic instrument?

We're always willing to try. Send us a photograph or transmit a digital image by e-mail and we'll do our best to help you. Include a note of any lettering or markings on the sides or bridge and some approximate dimensions. We can also comment upon other optical devices, ophthalmic instruments, cameras, contact lenses, eyebaths, artificial eyes etc. We regret we cannot offer financial valuations.

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Didn't Marco Polo observe spectacles being worn in China?

No he didn't. Despite the claims in many secondary sources there is no mention of spectacles anywhere in Marco Polo's account of his travels. Almost certainly spectacles were introduced to the Orient some years later by Western merchants. The Chinese did, however, pioneer techniques of lens grinding that may have assisted the early European spectacle-makers.

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Do you want my old spectacles/ophthalmic instruments?

We are still collecting, though new acquisitions derive mainly from gifts these days. Only rarely are we in position to purchase an item. If alerting us to an item you think might interest us please take time to compile a proper description so that we can make an informed decision. When making us a gift you transfer legal title to us and relinquish all further rights over the object(s). For our part we undertake to store and preserve all new acquisitions in perpetuity and will always record the details of the source of the donation. We cannot, however, undertake to display all donated items at all times (if at all) or accept gifts with conditions attached.

 

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Tell me about the College building!

We are indeed privileged to occupy a Grade II listed structure. It is actually two houses - numbers 41-42 Craven Street. Number 41 is a typical Georgian terraced townhouse c.1730 with alterations dating from circa 1792 (when the top floor was raised). It is the only house in Craven Street with segmental window arches. The street was laid out by Henry Flitcroft as part of the Craven family's development of their Brewhouse estate, but neglect and wartime bombing brought about a decline in status. In the 1980s the block was renovated by Tarmac PLC and No 42 Craven Street is almost completely new.

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What are the oldest surviving spectacles?

An incomplete pair of rivet spectacles discovered under the floorboards of a German convent have been dated to circa 1400 AD. In 2000 a complete pair, probably of very early date, was excavated in the Dutch town of Bergen-op-Zoom. In England, a fifteenth century pair of spectacles (c.1440) was found near the banks of the Thames at Trig Lane in 1974 and is now on display in the Medieval Gallery at the Museum of London.

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When and where were spectacles invented?

Around 1270-1285 AD, most probably in the Veneto region of Northern Italy. For a more in-depth discussion as to why we can't be any more precise see our authoritative webpage on the invention of spectacles. There was probably never a single 'Eureka' moment.

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