A Day at the Chateau by Jean Marie Devriendt

For those of you who do not know who Dr. David is, you will get to know him in the next couple of sentences. For those of you who already are familiar with the American collector David Fleishman, who during the last couple of years invented, organized, and presented the world renowned website called www.antiquespectacles.com you will all stand in amazement after you read and learn what follows below."

His search and his strive for making this website better and larger, and more and more specific, or is it specialized, is phenomenal, and I must confess I look up to that kind of collector whom with a never-ending enthusiasm, tries to find out as much as possible about one certain item he is interested in.

The members of the Ophthalmic Antiques International Collectors Club, who took part in the Club outings to Hannover 2005 and Italy 2006, or who attended the 25th anniversary of the Club in 2007, have seen how passionate he is, and how he again and again asked and wondered where the eyeglasses cases in the Heymann Collection have gone to, as after all those years they seemed to have vanished into thin air.

David even carried with him large copies of photos from the 1911 book about an exhibition in Paris some years before that lady died, just to show what the cases look like.

Well, he did it! He found them! On his own? With the help of some other people? Sheer luck? He did not tell me; All I know is that one evening, somewhere in February 2008, I received a phone call from my American friend David, asking me to guess who was on the line and also asking if I was free to listen and perhaps talk to him for a couple of minutes.

He explained what he had found out, and also that he would send me pictures taken at the chateau, but pictures too blurry to determine exactly what was inside them.

And YES, from then on, I was in on it.

He asked me to be his eyes and to have a look at a certain amount of instruments, in fact to be more specific, cases, spectacle cases to be even more specific of which nobody knew of their existence, and of which he strongly believed that they were part of that very famous Heymann Collection, of which so many people thought they had disappeared.

Mme Michèle Bimbenet-Privat, curator at that chateau, in fact the national museum of Renaissance in Ecouen near Paris, was so very kind after a couple of emails, to invite me to visit her beautiful chateau and let me have more than a close look at all those cases.

Tuesday 15.04.2008 was THE day. I took off from Oostende at 05.30 and after one stop I arrived at the chateau by 09.00 in the morning.

It was a sunny day, and the chateau on top of the hill looked like a fantastic picture. Getting nearer and nearer the chateau went out of sight and upon arriving in the centre of Ecouen the chateau was almost unfindable. But it was still there and after a tour of the village(?) , and following the signs I arrived at the chateau.

On arrival, Mme Bimbenet – Privat showed me to a room where I was allowed to work freely, examining what I had come for and making photos of something I dared not even dream of.

In fact Mme Bimbenet - Pivat had nicely organized a small box containing some 20 or more spectacle cases, to start the day, and after that box another one was shown. In the afternoon, two more boxes were taken from the reserves where I was allowed entry.

Being a collector of opera glasses, I thought to complete that visit in a couple of hours and then be on my way back to Oostende by noon.

I had even prepared a stand to make life easier for me, and then display one item at a time.

When seeing that first box, I immediately started to make digital photos and found out that most of the cases also housed old spectacles.

Proof was given to me that all of these case belonged to the Heymann Collection, and whilest not super interested at first (since no opera glasses were in sight), I gradually became more and more excited. Call it multiple mental orgasms if you want to, but after a while I felt over the moon by seeing and being able to handle all these cases, and of course, make photos of them. I had never handled whalebone spectacles before, nor had I handled leather spectacles, let alone some Masterpieces and of all the cases presented to me that day, some I had only seen in photos in books, but none of them I had seen ‘in the flesh’. Oh how I would have loved to polish that silver case and the spectacles in it numbered 21.073.

In total I handled 73 cases almost all containing spectacles.

I managed to make over 500 photos of the front and back of each case, spectacles in the case, and also the little notes, probably written by Mme. Heymann herself, packed into those cases.

What I thought I would be able to manage in a couple of hours instead took me all day, and I left the chateau very over-excited at about 17.00 Hrs, to get back in Oostende without a stop at 20.00 Hrs. No time to eat this time, immediately onto the computer, and the downloading photos from my camera. After a look at those photos, I sent a couple to David and by 22.00 Hrs.

I had an also very excited David on the phone, wondering if all cases belonged to The Heymann collection, and of course if I had the proof of the origin of those cases.

Take my word for it, the cases are from the Heymann Collection, I have seen the register with the explanation, the description of each case, and also where it came from, and sometimes even out of which collection it had originated before it arrived into the Madame Heymann Collection.

Almost one hundred years after being originally donated to a museum, the cases had a very interested visitor. Oh lucky me!

Thank you,
Jean Marie Devriendt


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