British Optical Association Museum

A collection to record the heritage of the ophthalmic and related optical professions was established by the British Optical Association in 1901.

Consisting originally of antique spectacles, this has now broadened into a comprehensive three-dimensional archive of vision-related material embracing such topics as sight-testing, ophthalmic dispensing, optical instruction, extreme low vision and the national Contact Lens Collection (CLC).

In 1980 the BOA Museum was passed into the charge of the newly established College of Optometrists (of which the Company, together with the disbanded BOA, was a founding body). The Museum has maintained a close link with the Company ever since. Most of its curators, including the current one, have been Liverymen.

One of the museum’s display rooms, the Sutcliffe Room, includes a corner dedicated to the WCSM and the museum’s archive includes a small but growing number of documents that complements the Company's own archival records at Guildhall Library. These include menu cards, photographs and certificates. Additional donations to the museum are welcome and prospective donors should please contact the curator in the first instance.

All Freemen and Liverymen, as well as the general public, are most welcome to visit the museum at the College in 42 Craven Street during weekday office hours, though strictly by prior appointment. Visiting Details here. Together with the BOA Museum, Apothecaries Hall is a member of the London Museums of Health and Medicine.

Tel: 020 7766 4353
Email: museum@college-optometrists.org

Exhibits

The museum displays are changed regularly. The items illustrated below - which relate to the history of the Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers - will not necessarily be on exhibition but visitors may always make a special request to see them.

Portrait of Peter Dollond (Master of WCSM 1774-81 and again 1797-8 and 1801-2)

This important portrait of Peter Dollond (Master 1774-81 and again 1797-8 and 1801-2) is on long-term loan to the museum from Dollond & Aitchison Ltd. The portrait, by J. Hoppner (1758-1810), was engraved as a print by Asperne circa 1800 with the addition of a telescope in the background. The BOA Museum also possesses a copy of this print from 1820.

World's oldest pair of spectacles

World's oldest pair of spectacles with sides, c.1730, matching the pattern of Edward Scarlett (Master 1720-1)

Astronomy by Carlo Pelligrini ('APE') - a Caricature print

Astronomy by Carlo Pelligrini ('APE'). Caricature print from Vanity Fair of Sir George Airy, carrying a walking stick and wearing a pair of oval spectacles. (13 November 1875). Airy was made an Honorary Freeman of the Company that year as a token of esteem for ‘one who has made such noble use of the instruments the manufacture of which is so identified with this craft’ and who is thought to have been the first to utilise cylindrical spectacle lenses to combat astigmatism.

Mirror - printed with Arms 'Fellow of the Worshipful Guild of Spectacle Makers, London - A blessing to the Aged'

Framed mirror overprinted with arms and the words 'Fellow of the Worshipful Guild of Spectacle Makers, London - A blessing to the Aged'. The decoration features a pair of hinged spectacles, prisms and a measuring instrument. A Gift to the Museum from Mrs P Hebditch in memory of Lawrence Hugh Hebditch - an optometrist who began practising in the 1930s.

Menu card for a Company dinner in 1891. On the table that night was Turtle Soup, Thick and Clear, John Dorys and Pelissier Sauce, Fillets of Turbot à la Joinville, Fried Smelts, Lobster in Cases à l'Americaine, Lark Puddings, with Mushrooms, Truffles, &c. Suprème of Capon à l'Ecarlate, Saddles of Mutton and Cauliflower au Gratin.

London Stone, engraving by J. B. Allen, Early 19th c.

The London Stone, engraving by J. B. Allen, Early 19th c. One of over 500 antique prints in the museum's collection. In the seventeenth century the Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers used to 'visit' makers, smashing their sub-standard products on the London Stone in Cannon Street.

Silver spectacles with turnpin sides

Silver spectacles with turnpin sides of the 1820s from the workshop of Robert Brettell Bate (Master 1828-9).

Commemorative medal made to mark the 350th anniversary of the company Charter

Commemorative medal made to mark the 350th anniversary of the company Charter granted by Charles I on the 16th May 1629. The obverse features the arms of the Company (1979).

Photograph of the contact lens pioneers 1982 of the Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers

Photograph of the contact lens pioneers Peter Madden and Randolph Layman outside the premises of MCL Services Ltd, together with the Master (Richard Thorpe), Wardens (Sir Richard Meyjes and Michael Rawlings) and Clerk (Colin Eldridge) of the Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers (1982).

WCSM Diploma of Fellowship Certificate

WCSM Diploma of Fellowship Certificate awarded to the famous O. D. Rasmussen for passing the Visual Optics and Sight-testing examination of the WCSM. Rasmussen practised optometry in China. The WCSM's choice of border illustrations to represent optics is interesting for being largely astronomical in subject. They include: Huygens' Aerial Telescope 17th c., Modern Equatorial Telescope, Great Pyramid Observatory, Modern binocular microscope, Hooke's monocular microscope 1665, Browning's Spectroscope, Crooke's Radiometer, a Roentgen Tube and the Oxford University Observatory. (20 December 1929).

Trade card used as an instrument case label by W.H.E. Thornthwaite who was elected to the Court of the WCSM in 1891 He represents part of the 'Great Awakening' in which the livery company rediscovered its craft. In 1897 he successfully proposed that the WCSM should run its own examinations in ophthalmic optics. He was also First President of the Optical Society in 1899.

Photograph of the Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers at Clothworkers' Hall, 20 April 1932

Group photograph, seated at tables of a dinner of the Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers at Clothworkers' Hall, 20 April 1932. The Clothworkers' Hall was completely destroyed by a Luftwaffe bomb nine years later.