Sporting eyewear

Today, sports vision is a specialist area of optometry, but eyewear has been used in a variety of sporting and exercise contexts for longer than you might imagine....

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Fancy a swim?

Detail from woodcut engraving of coral divers circa 1590

Detail from 'Coral Divers'
an early 17th century print by Cornelis
and Ioan Galle, after a design of c.1590
by Joannes Stradanus

This is widely believed to be the earliest representation of swimming goggles. This coral diver is wearing round glass eye protectors which may or may not have had some optical property to help him see the reefs below the surface. It has been suggested that the artist had never seen goggles before attempting to draw them.

Amusingly a former curator had slightly misconstrued this print and labelled it 'a race of bespectacled amphibians'

Modern swimming goggles and diving masks can be glazed if required to a wearer's prescription.


Anyone for tennis? 

You could just wear a peaked cap, but some sun shades have been advertised as more suitable for protecting the eyes. The 'Portia' anti-glare shade was promoted in the 1930s as 'optically perfect'.

Portia antiglare shield

The Portia Anti-Glare Reading Shade, model D.427. S.B. Ltd, 1930s. This green transparent shade with elastic headband was intended for various purposes including men's sport, though the museum does not possess the ladies' tennis model D.430/460 which was merely translucent.

Bearing in mind the instability of plastic film materials of the time it is reassuring to be told on the packet that this is non-flammable!

Cycling goggles


I want to ride my bicycle

Special spectacles were made for cyclists from about the 1890s as the new craze for bicycling took off. This early 20th century pair has a light-weight metal frame, firm 'knocked-on' bridge and wire curl sides attached to adjustable side visors of a fine wire mesh. They helped keep the wind as well as grit out of the rider's eyes and were also promoted as anti-fly barriers to prevent insects flying into your face. We think they'd make you end up looking like a fly yourself. Smoked and tinted lens versions were available in yellow and green. 

Novelty bicycle spectacles

We don't think this other pair would have been much use!

It's a novelty spectacle frame of twisted white metal wire in the form of a bicycle with white plastic covers on the tyres, seat and handle bars, c.1990?


The Referee Needs Glasses!

Mr W. E. Bowes was the first spectacle-wearing referee to be registered by the Football Association after they changed their regulations in 1941. Bowes also played cricket for Yorkshire and England.

J. F. Mitchell wore spectacles in goal for Preston North End against Huddersfield Town in the 1922 FA Cup Final.

Scotland World Cup Sunvisor

Scotland World Cup Sunvisor, 1998

In 2006 research sponsored by the College of Optometrists discovered that one in four football fans would struggle to watch the World Cup clearly on TV or live in the stadium because of their poor eyesight. We were looking for something in the museum with a World Cup theme and thought we'd cheer up our Scottish members with this official 'Scotland' World Cup Sunvisor from the tournament held in France in 1998. We had to look back that far because Scotland 'did nae qualify' for any tournaments held since.

And what an appropriately international object it is! It is a souvenir of a sporting event held in France, representing the national team from Scotland but manufactured under licence from FIFA by an English company and if you read the small print you discover it was actually made in Taiwan.

With its shatterproof polycarbonate lens the object had a longer projected lifespan than some of the beer glasses at the tournament and its UV400 protection against ultraviolet rays was a sensible precaution against the bright sun entering the stadium, as well as a useful barrier to cry behind as Scotland went down 2-1 to Brazil and 3-0 to Morocco whilst salvaging a 1-1 draw with Norway. At least the Tartan Army had some cool shades to wear on the first plane home.


In your sights

Shooting spectacles

Look closely at this pair of shooting spectacles by the Automatic Sight Testing Co of London, with a steel frame, W-bridge and curl sides. The broad round eyes give an unimpeded field of vision. A smoked lens serves to occlude the wearer's left eye. An iris diaphragm in the right eye assists with precise targetted vision.

Monocular shooting lens

The monocular shooting lens has a round white metal frame and hinged stem with double ball joint and butterfly screw, ending with a screw-thread. It can be attached to the brim of a hat or peak of a cap.  

Hunting features prominently as a theme within the collections. Hounds and deer frequently appear as decoration on spyglasses, magnifier handles and carved spectacle cases.


On the Piste  

Uvex 'Clima-Zone' ski mask c.2000

Uvex 'Clima-Zone'
ski mask c.2000

Ski masks like this one contain an air stream double lens anti-fog system incorporating a small internal fan. They offer 100% anti-UV protection.

Today some brands covers both specialist goggles and designer sunglasses aimed at sporty customers. For example, the Vuarnet eyewear brand was named after a French Olympic ski champion.

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