Preserving optometry’s heritage, one frame at a time

November 24, 2015
Archives & Museum of Optometry’s 2,000-spectacle collection helps interpret profession’s and AOA’s history.

The Archives & Museum of Optometry holds a collection of 2,000 donated spectacles, including one pair believed to have been worn by Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Many doctor of optometrys' offices boast large optical departments. Hundreds or even thousands of frames are not unusual. But no collection is quite like the one housed in AOA's Archives & Museum of Optometry.

The Archives & Museum, located at AOA's headquarters in St. Louis, Missouri, is a partner of the Optometric Historical Society, as well as a beneficiary of Optometry Cares®—The AOA Foundation. Its collection consists of 2,000 pairs of donated spectacles. Some of the spectacles, a few of which date back to the 1700s, have been on display in the lobby of the AOA's headquarters building. But next year, the goal is to catalog all of them. And to do that, the Archives & Museum needs support.

Behind the lenses

The collection holds a spectrum of unique spectacles. There are four-lens spectacles, with spare lenses that wing out from the lenses in use at the time, often featuring lenses of different colors. One pair features a pair of clear, round lenses and another tinted—a precursor to flip-up sunglasses. Another features two pairs of green-tinted lenses, one pair darker than the other, which could have been worn while operating one of the antique, cast-iron machines—also part of the Archives & Museum's collection—that previous generations of doctors used to diagnose their patients.

There also are hand-made frames, hand carved, according to documentation, by a doctor for his wife.

And then there's a pair of small, octagonal-shaped lenses on a wire-rim frame that came with a note reading, "These spectacles were believed to have been worn by General Robert E. Lee."

For the Archives & Museum staff, the next step is to trace the object's history to determine whether those spectacles were indeed worn by the legendary U.S. military officer. According to staff, the spectacles are of the correct type to have been worn during that time period.

To give these objects the future they deserve, their history has to be preserved. And you can help with that effort.

Donations to the repository, as well as membership in the Optometric Historical Society, allow the Archives to continue its efforts to identify, document, preserve and provide access to unique materials.

Take pride in optometry's history and impact its future

Consider making a donation to support the Archives & Museum of Optometry through Optometry Cares—The AOA Foundation.

Become a member of the Optometric Historical Society, or renew your current membership and commitment to preserving optometry's history.

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