An Eye-opening Experience at the British Optical Association Museum

An Eye-opening Experience at the British Optical Association Museum

Yesterday, I was excited to make my first visit to the British Optical Association Museum in London. I was guided through the exhibits by the very welcoming and knowledgeable curator, Neil Handley MA, AMA+, FRSA.

The collection is vast and varied. There is so much I am eager to explore in further detail over the coming months as I start work, in earnest, on my Modernist Spectacles project. There is also an amazing library which I shall be installing myself in whenever I get the chance.

One object that caught my eye (pun very much intended!) is this automatic sight testing machine from c. 1890. According to the Curator, you could find these machines in almost every railway station as the maker had done a deal with WH Smith whose stalls, as the shops are today, were a popular stop-off for commuters wanting to pick up the latest popular reading materials, be that magazines, newspapers, or books.

This machine highlights the subjective and embodied nature of the act of reading; it draws to our attention the fact that each reader has a different lived-experience of the text, as we each perceive the words differently, with regards to how we literally see the words as well as how we interpret them. The machine also shows us that the link between eyesight and reading in the late 19th century was commercial as well as social, cultural, and medical.

I will be revisiting this captivating collection in the near future and hope to work closely with the museum as my research progresses.

2 thoughts on “An Eye-opening Experience at the British Optical Association Museum”

  • It is the most beautiful optical museum of Europe. You will enjoy your research and ask Neil everything you want to know, he knows it all!

    • Yes – it is truly a stunning and inspiring place. I am eager to engage with both the museum and Neil more closely as my project progresses.

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