The Madame Heymann Optical Collection - Rediscovered

Old eyeglass cases from the collection of the Madame Heymann in Paris, American Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Ophthalmology, Chicago, Cleveland Press, 1915. This particular image stimulated great interest for more than 80 years because this collection totally disappeared back in 1925.
Old eyeglass cases from the collection of Madame Heymann in Paris, American Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Ophthalmology, Chicago, Cleveland Press, 1915. This particular image stimulated great interest for more than 80 years because this collection totally disappeared back in 1925.
Extraordinary group of carved wooden eyeglass cases in a storage drawer, the single image that alerted the observer that the lost Heymann Collection had finally been discovered in 2008, Musée National de la Renaissance in the Le Chateau d'Ecouen, France
Extraordinary group of carved wooden eyeglass cases in a storage drawer, the single image that alerted the observer that the lost Heymann Collection had finally been discovered in 2008, Musée National de la Renaissance in Le Chateau d'Ecouen, France (Learn more about some of these in the “World Class Objects” chart below)
Antique magnifier, made of Mother of Pearl, two figures - male on the left and female on the right, holding a globe on their back (putties, small angels without wings), circa 1820-40, Musee Carnavalet. Very unusual.
Antique magnifier, made of Mother of Pearl, two figures - male on the left and female on the right, holding a globe on their back (putties, small angels without wings), circa 1820-40, Mus
ée Carnavalet. Very unusual.
Carved ivory case for two pairs of wire-nose spectacles, designed in the form of a book with sundials showing Italian hours on the front and back covers, possibly made in Nuremberg in the 17th century, Musée National de la Renaissance in the Le Chateau d'Ecouen, France. This object was noted on the RMN website which also led to the collection in storage at the Chateau. There are two accompanying nose spectacles. (Learn more in the “World Class Objects” chart below)
Carved ivory case for two pairs of wire-nose spectacles, designed in the form of a book with sundials showing Italian hours on the front and back covers, possibly made in Nuremberg in the 17th century, Musée National de la Renaissance in Le Chateau d'Ecouen, France. This object was noted on the RMN website which also led to the collection in storage at the Chateau. There are two accompanying nose spectacles. (Learn more in the “World Class Objects” chart below)
Masterpiece spectacles in a case dated 1687, one of only three private collections in the world which has a pair of these hand-crafted horn-framed optical treasures, the Heymann Collection, Musée National de la Renaissance in the Le Chateau d'Ecouen, France
Masterpiece spectacles in a case dated 1687, one of only three private collections in the world which has a pair of these hand-crafted horn-framed optical treasures, the Heymann Collection, Musée National de la Renaissance in Le Chateau d'Ecouen, France (Learn more in the “World Class Objects” chart below)

The information and pictures presented here would not have been possible without the extreme dedication of Jean-Marie Devriendt and Alexis Vanlathem who separately drove to Paris to meet with prominent curators in order to take hundreds of photos for the start of this research. Their devotion of time and energies over a several year period has been deeply appreciated.

This webpage was also assembled with the wonderful assistance of Dr. Charles Letocha, Roberto Vascellari, and Werner Weismuller. Curators Michèle Bimbenet-Privat from the Musée National de la Renaissance, Roselyne Hurel from the Musée Carnavalet, and Sophie La Gabrielle from the Musée de Cluny also deserve our special gratitude for giving up time from some their regular responsibilities in order to help with this endeavor. Finally credit is due Carla and Paul Aangenendt, Gail Bardhan, Nadia Braham, Frank Barraclough, Dr. Jay Galst, Dr. Patricia Haas, Mr. Roland Hesse, Reva Hurtes, Sara Schechner, Udo Timm, Lilla Vekerdy and Jean-Paul Wayenborgh.

Rachel Brishoual and Anne Forray-Carlier of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Catherine Delacour of the Musée des arts asiatiques Guimet, Alain Pougetoux of the Château de Malmaison, Marie-Hélène de Ribou and Béatrice Coullaré of the Musée du Louvre, and Pierre Vidal of the Musée de l’opéra were all helpful with this research work. Many thanks to all of you.

The Slideshows (16) plus Three Key Charts  

+ Larger Font | - Smaller Font


The Madame Heymann Collection of Optical Objects is no longer missing. Always considered the Holy Grail in the world of those who collect optical objects, this pre-eminent collection included (especially) early hand-carved wooden cases and their associated original eyeglasses. This discovery occurred mostly during late 2006-2008 while research was being conducted with the curators of several prominent French museums. The result is that the vast majority of Heymann’s fabulous multi-million dollar collection has now been uncovered. A personal trip to Paris in October 2010 was then successful in uncovering additional items from the original collection.

It is so exciting to present this collection for the first time along with the history of the many individual great objects Heymann assembled. The viewing public has not seen any of these objects since before 1925. Everyone’s combined efforts here were significant and what has been missing for almost 85 years can now be shared and certainly appreciated once again. The reader should first of all understand that Madame Heymann was in 1911 the author of the greatest book on the history of eyeglasses and she is the only female on our Honor Roll of Distinguished Persons.

Once again research has been proven to be rewarding too besides just being fun and stimulating work. Not every object illustrated in her book has surfaced and additional leads are currently being pursued. So this key webpage remains a work on progress.


Madame Alfred Heymann was born Alice Babette Schloss in August 1844 but little else is known about her very early life. Alice’s parents were Henry Schloss (1803-1849) and Sara Pierrette Schaye (1805-1901). After a wedding to Alfred Heymann on April 12, 1865 the couple rented a residence at 20 Avenue de L’Opera but they also owned a fine home in St Cloud just west of Paris. Alfred’s parents were Samuel Heymann (1776-1830) and Marie Levi (1799-1848). Both sides of the family had fairly substantial assets and Alice’s husband Alfred (Abraham) became a fruit trader who often brought home exotic fruits. Alice and Alfred’s friends around Paris, near the end of 19th - beginning of 20th c., were important aristocrats, famous musicians, and well-known writers. The couple had three children; Réné Samuel Henri Heymann born in 1866, Mary Valérie Heymann born in 1868, and finally Lucien Heymann who was born in 1872 but who tragically died in 1891.

After Alfred passed away in 1897 Alice devoted the vast majority of her time pursuing and collecting fine optical objects. Her search extended far and wide. She travelled and studied extensively and thus became a truly passionate collector who organized a sizeable number of the most attractive relics she could acquire.

Alexis found something which can explain for us the reason WHY Alice assembled this exceptional collection. We know that she had an uncle “commissaire-priseur” in Paris (man who regulates auctions). But also note, by her marriage certificate (photo), that she lived with her parents at 12 Rue Chauchat in Paris. This address corresponds, still today, with the address of the largest auction house of Paris - Auction Drouot. At the time, proven with photographs, it was already an auction house. The family probably lived on the second floor. In 1852 there were fourteen apartments for sale on 2 floors. Mrs Schloss was married in 1865 so we now believe that she did not have to go too far away to see every day beautiful antiquities. And she was thus in first cabin. (loge: in French). We can even imagine that the building could have belonged to somebody in her family. …maybe even to this famous uncle? This entire explanation is now strongly possible.( Thank you Alexis).

She developed “studious experience” and was therefore able to “sniff out” at least several hundred uncommon and unusual optical treasures. Madame Heymann strongly believed that the artisan who first created eyeglasses around the year 1286 was just as important as Christopher Columbus!! In addition she considered many of her best eyeglasses cases from the 16th to 18th century to be “little masterpieces”. Her collection also included a large group of ornate spyglasses, optical fans, tobacco containers, optical charms, scissors-glasses, monocles, perfume flasks, and all sorts of other assorted unusual objects. She even gathered some non-optical rare collectibles too.

Madame Heymann knew that tubes without lenses for viewing had been used as early as the year 1000. Once high quality optical lenses were added to these tubes in the early 17th century in order to create various-sized telescopes she looked upon that as an “admirable invention”. She located some of the most fantastic spyglasses in existence and some of these were later given to the Musée d Louvre and Musée des Arts Décoratifs following her death in 1925.

Around the turn of the 20th century some of her wonderful objects were included in an exhibition associated with the Carnavalet Museum in Paris. Her nicest optical objects were in the exhibition of Les Lorgnettes, part of the much larger 1900 Universal and International Exhibition of Paris. That exhibition, curated by Jean Robiquet (1874-1962), however did not actually take place at the museum itself. Jean Robiquet started working at the Carnavalet in 1897 and he soon became the museum’s curator. He later rose to the position of Director of that museum between 1919 and 1934. Robiquet was the individual who authored and also created the brochure for the 1900 display of Heymann objects.

The title page of that brochure reads as follows: Musee Retrospectif de LÉxposition Universelle et Internationale de Paris en 1900 Les Lorgnettes par Jean Robiquet Conservateur-adjoint du Musee Carnavalet; Extract du Rapport des Musées Centennaux Classe 86, Accessoires du Costume. (Saint-Cloud Imprimerie de Belin frères).

The 1900 brochures are very rare indeed and only four copies are currently known to exist. One resides in a private collection in The Netherlands, another is in an Italian collection, and the third is part of a German collection; the fourth is at the Bibliothèque de France (in Paris). Each copy has nineteen pages including a few fully-illustrated pages. Several pages are somewhat similar to the larger illustrations which appear in Heymann’s famous 1911 book. From one page the reader learns that the collection had nearly 50 optical charms, a dozen tobacco containers with optical devices, and there were at least three dozen fans. Of mention finally, a postcard from Madame Heymann herself was discovered inside one of the copies of this exceedingly rare 1900 brochure. This postcard with its handwritten personalized message may be unique.

Madame Alfred Heymann continued to hunt down and acquire relics and finally around 1911 a large group of wonderful objects became part of an exhibition associated with the Carnavalet Museum in Paris while some of her best spyglass lorgnettes were exhibited over at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. That same year Madame Heymann published Lunettes et Lorgnettes de Jadis, [Paris, J. Leroy]. This rare book was based mostly on her own collection. One of her major goals was to please those who were attracted to historical objects of the past. Only 300 copies of this book were printed and any original example remains quite elusive and desirable. Only about 50 examples have been located to date, thanks to the dedicated research of Carla and Paul Aangenendt.


In 1911 Madame Alfred Heymann published Lunettes et Lorgnettes de Jadis, [Paris, J. Leroy]. This rare book was based on many of her greatest objects. Her purpose was to point out particularities and to help those who might want to study the history of “these little things”. Another goal was to present a study of anachronisms.

An exhibition was also held at the Musée de Cluny, officially known as Musée National du Moyen Âge. At the same time Musee des arts Decoratifs had two windows filled with little collectibles, 18th and 19th century lorgnette spyglasses from the collection. It is thought that together with the publishing of this book these events all occurred together around 1911-12. Only 300 copies of this book were ever printed and any original example in fine condition remains quite desirable. The publisher sold them enclosed in a cardboard slipcover. Books with this original slipcover still present and intact are very scarce indeed.

Paul Aangnendt from the Netherlands is a highly respected and long time member of the OAICC who did a search of this rare book at museums worldwide and in the hands of private collectors. Only about 50 examples (just over 15% of the original copies) have actually been identified but likely more of them exist. Here are the numbered ones that have been traced so far: 3-6-8-17-22-35-43-47-56-58-62-66-68-69-72-81-87-88-93-97-110-114-115-118-123-141-149-151-153- (or 156 or 158 difficult to read)-164-168-176-181-183-184-187-190-191-196-198-201-214-220- (or 229 difficult to read)-224-227-238-254-262-265-271-284-285-286-294-300. Copy 35 was sold in Oct. 2005 but it is not known to whom; copy 43 was offered for sale in February 2009; copy 181 was offered for sale by Perret in Geneva in Oct. 2006. Paul is still researching this subject so people are invited to contact him directly when they have an example not mentioned above. Here is Paul Aangenendt’s email address to use

As you can realize all of the copies are numbered from 1 to 300 however one example does exist in a prominent German collection which is different from the rest. Rather than a numbered copy, instead the name of a specific person is printed in that place. This copy states “Exemplaire Imprime Pour Mademoiselle Paule Bayle”. Paule Bayle, born in 1875, seemed to be in the art business and worked in the arts décoratifs. The supposition is she was in contact with Mrs Heymann when she gave her collection to arts décoratifs Another example was signed to Monsieur Rene Heymann who was one of Madame Heymann's sons. One other numbered copy deserves our highest respect and that is copy #114. Its existence only became known in October 2010 while visiting Paris and during an appointment to meet Heymann’s great grandson Roland Hesse. He showed us the only known copy of the book that was handed down in the actual family. With its original slipcover and in excellent condition it was a great experience to actually hold this treasure book in one’s hands.

Preface V
Introduction xi
FIRST PART ----- GLASSES ----Lunettes
Chapter 1 The Loupe ----Glasses 1
Chapter 2 The Cases for Eyeglasses 25
Chapter 3 The Anachronisms 33
Chapter 4 The Role of Glasses in Emblems (Symbols – Crests) 41
Chapter 5 The Opticians 51
Chapter 1 The Origin of the Lorgnette 1
Chapter 2 The Lorgnette of the 18th century, Its Role in the Theater 11
Chapter 3 The Lorgnette of the 18th century, Its Form, Its Decoration 21
Chapter 4 The Lorgnette of the 19th century 31
Chapter 5 Literary Productions (novels, fables, etc.) having something to do with optics (1493-1898) 49
Chapter 6 Several Names of Opticians until the year 1800 51
Chapter 7 Some Licenses on Patents (beginning 1791) 53

This book is a very scarce survey on the history of eyewear. There are about 155 pages is all with 25 plates of which four are full-page color gravures. There are over 200 additional smaller illustrations if all of them are counted. More than half of these illustrations are pictures of paintings and prints rather than actual optical aids. Most of them are ascribed to a particular museum or other site. Pictures were apparently well-selected because Madame Heymann wanted them to be “instructive” for anyone who handled the book.

The book is quite well-written but is presented entirely in French. The six-page Preface at the beginning was written by Georges LaFenestre (1837-1919) who was Curator at the Louvre; member of L’Institut de France with high authority; renowned professor of art history; art critic and also poet. The end of the book includes pages of references, lists of optician’s names, eyeglass patents, and indexes.

In conclusion Heymann’s book makes her collection famous while at the same time the collection will now make her book more famous too. The review and evaluation of all the pages of this book has initiated several leads to other collections since not everything illustrated is from the Heymann Collection. Rare and unusual objects from other museums have also led to the discovery of collections of artwork and objects which are of interest to this research and the resulting educational website.

One significant example can be presented here. Near the top of page 29 Heymann in French describes what she believed to be the greatest optical object ever. It had been in the collection of Felix Doistau and it was on loan to the Musée du Louvre. The two solid gold eyeglasses in a solid gold and enamel case may possibly be the example we have seen as part of the Rothschild Collection, currently in London at S.J. Phillips. No other solid gold glasses in a gold and enamel case are known to exist in any other collection from all this research (so far).

This proves that the Heymann book continues to serve as an extremely valuable resource for Mrs. Heymann therefore deserves our sincerest thanks and credit for providing images and information about other historic optical objects, thus helping to further expand our general base of knowledge.


Within a year of the book’s publishing and the exhibition an illustrated article appeared in the L’Art Decoratif magazine (Volume 28: July – Dec. 1912). The eight pages were written by Maurice Testard.

The American Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Ophthalmology, edited by Casey A. Wood, MD and published in 1915 by the Cleveland Press, had one particular section “History of Eyeglasses and Spectacles”. This included information about the Edward Bull Collection and on page 4908 there was a photo with about fifty “eyeglass cases” from the Madame Heymann Collection. No one knows who took that black and white poorly-focused photo and also where it was taken. But that single picture has stimulated lots of interested people to search and wonder. It has been the source of much frustration because this represented a huge assemblance of fantastic early carved (mostly wooden) eyeglass cases. In addition a nice group of unusual little magnifiers are seen all in a single row.

Then in May of 1919 a one page article with illustrations appeared in the monthly French magazine Femina.

Finally a December 1931 two-page article could be seen in the weekly French newspaper Le Patriote Illustre. From this one learns that the Heymann Collection had been bequeathed to the Musée de Cluny.


In 1990 Amsterdam optician and collector of all things optical Jans Teunissen traveled to Paris and in particular to the region of Saint-Germain des Prés. While walking along the Rue de Seine he found some small French antiquarian book shop, or something like that, with a French Madame as owner. Inside she must have had dozens of boxes, or hundreds of boxes with all kinds of pieces of papers, or old newspapers and trading cards, etc. One such old box must have had contents of optical interest with various papers associated with that subject. A “yellowed piece of paper with about 20 carved wooden spectacles cases” had writing on the backside which said “CLUNY 1938” and this obviously peeked his curiosity.
Following this lead Teunissen soon learned from the oldest Musée de Cluny employee that a collection of eye boxes was originally there but it had been divided up after the Second World War. He made arrangements to next visit the village of Ecouen where the boxes had been sent. There at the museum in the Chateau he was presented with two wicker baskets with pieces of paper and about forty 16th and 17th century spectacles. All the spectacles cases had their original contents of spectacles. Unfortunately Jan had the impression that this collection was part of the legacy of a “Monsieur le Conte” who had given a few thousand objects to the museum.

Jan Teunissen had been a respected optician who often times between 1983 and 1990 had published articles in the professional literature of his field. In this instance he wrote for the monthly optical journal Oculus, specifically the Volume 33 dated November 1990 issue. This illustrated two-page article was titled “Een Brillenvondst in Frankrijk” which translates to “A Spectacle Find in France”. At the end of the article he summarized his experience with the description as “a party for the collector, but at the same time a discouragement. Until now I haven’t read or wasn’t able to find any writings about this top collection in the literature. When the collection arrived in the castle it had been transported to the cellar, because of a lack of space!!”

It is thus so unfortunate that Teunissen did not have any prior knowledge of the 1911 Heymann book discussed above with all its pages of lovely illustrations. Otherwise he would have connected the dots way before us and our report here would be very old and quite uninteresting news by almost twenty years.


Dr. Charles Letocha is a renowned ophthalmologist from York, Pa who has studied optical history for a few decades. He is also the very good friend who has helped with all sorts of areas of this website. With his research a German journal from the 1960s surfaced and it listed eleven countries with the locations of some significant optical collections. Charles shared that list with me in 2006. While I was already aware of most of the entries, several new names appeared. Specifically for “Frankreich” (France) there were two new leads for me to pursue with this research. So I proceeded to contact the Musée des Arts Décoratifs first and soon afterwards the Musée Carnavalet. I guess the rest of the story is about to become history.

(1) Musée des Arts Décoratifs: On June 13, 2006 contact was made with curator Jean-Luc Olivié at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. In the initial email I wrote, “I understand that you have objects from the collection of Madame Heymann. Your museum was listed in an article “Versuch einer ersten Zusammenstellung von Brillensammlungen" in Europa and Ubersee by Dr. Horst Alexander William. This was in the German literature about the year 1969 and part of the article is attached. Heymann’s collection was featured in her famous book Lunettes et Lorgnettes de Jadis, J. Leroy, Paris 1911. Her eyeglass case collection was later described in the early 1920’s as the finest in the world.”

From Jean-Luc I soon learned that there were twenty or so items from the 18th -19th century which had been donated in 1925 by Abraham (Alfred) Heymann, widower of Alice Babette Schloss (Madame Alfred Heymann's maiden name) who died in Paris on April 1, 1925. Some of these objects were illustrated in her book as plates V and VII, the colored ones from the preface of the 1911 book and part of her collection had been on view at the museum.

Two weeks later I was referred to the museum’s Director Madame Béatrice Salmon. Eventually I learned that everything was in storage. Finally I spoke with Rachel Brishoual, Responsable de la Photothèque. She kindly responded in June of 2008 and even emailed me thumbnails of over seventy-five objects there at the museum. I was encouraged to make contact with another curator Mrs. Anne Forray-Carlier. She eventually agreed to permit my very good collector/friend Alexis Vanlathem to drive there from his home in Lens, Belgium for an appointment on July 6, 2008. Alexis would represent this website and all of the research surrounding it. Alexis was fortunately permitted to take digital photos of all the objects in storage but those images remained “for private use only”. Fortunately his photos were permitted to be shared with me because of all this research. During his visit an extremely rare “enamel and gold perfume bottle with spyglass and watch with key, in its original case” was also noticed in one of the glass cabinets on public display (one of only two that I know of in the entire world). In addition a couple of optical fans appeared that had been illustrated in earlier Heymann photos. The description of his adventures is now available. Alexis’s fascinating story captures his entire experience at this museum and it was also published in the Special Edition July 2010 of the OAICC Newsletter.

From the Vanlathem photos I can now provide the following description for the reader. More than seventy Heymann objects exist at that museum in Paris. This group includes two optical fans, four necessaire lorgnettes (similar to compendium), three optical charms and five other optical trinkets. The majority of the artefacts are ornate spyglass lorgnettes, four incredible ones made of ivory, several made of painted porcelain, several bejewelled, and several that are nicely varnished. They are all quite beautiful and attractive. There is an unusual accordion-style lorgnette, circa 1825-27. There is at least one jealousy glass, one lorgnette with a watch and finally one very extraordinary tobacco container. Some of the museum’s very best objects can be seen in Plates IV, V, and VII. In addition many of them are scattered throughout the other pages of the second section of Heymann’s illustrated book.

The collection of Heymann objects at this museum is not readily available to all the worldwide visitors to this website. But for anyone who visits Paris, a pre-arranged appointment to see these treasures could be a worthwhile experience. In October 2010 I met Alexis and we visited this collection together. It was amazing to view everything in storage and our special thanks again to Anne Forray-Carlier for her kindness and devoted time.

(2) Musée Carnavalet: Heymann’s book itself has small notations below many of the object illustrations including the name Musée Carnavalet. So I spoke with curator Roselyne Hurel on June 20, 2006 and eventually learned of a collection of small opera glasses (about 20 lorgnettes), some back to the 18th century. Later Roselyne kindly sent images of a few objects which had been donated to the museum by Heymann back near the turn of the century. Four beautiful images were shared initially and I placed a few onto the website. Then I was able to help arrange for Alexis Vanlathem to travel to this museum also. He kindly offered to go there for this website project and to work directly with Roselyne. She cooperated totally and an appointment was set up for July 17, 2008 so that digital photos could be taken. As you can see they are wonderful and they comprise one entire slideshow.

Another small drawer existed with a group of magnifiers and scissors-glasses. They were finally digitized in October 2010 and a slideshow has been added with all these newly-discovered specimens. The description of Alexis’ original adventure is available too. Alexis’s fascinating story captures his entire experience at this museum and it was also published in the Special Edition July 2010 of the OAICC Newsletter.

(3) Musée National de la Renaissance: On September 6, 2007 I first contacted Michaël Caucat, Responsable du service des publics et de la communication. This was the Musée National de la Renaissance located in the Château d'Ecouen. In the course of a few short conversations with him and with curator Michèle Bimbenet-Privat I learned that they had a collection of objects all stored away in their depot area. I emailed, “I understand that in you have a collection and one of your finest objects is E.Cl.21026, Bésicles et leur etui (ivory) (C) Photo RMN - ©René-Gabriel Ojéda which appears on the Réunion des Musées Nationaux website”. RMN is based out of Paris and it shows art objects at French museums. I wanted to learn more about this case as well as the other optical objects there. The ivory case had a theme of astrology carved onto its surface and at about the same time my friend Harvard curator Sara Schechner had written to me since she was searching for objects related to early sundials. So here was a rare example to excite both of us.

Eventually a few simple (unfortunately blurred) photos were taken in the storage area and I quickly realized this was only the 'tip of the iceberg' to a much more fantastic collection. So I tried hard to coordinate a courteous meeting between my very good collector/friend Jean Marie Devriendt from Belgium and curator Michèle Bimbenet-Privat. Jean Marie kindly offered to go to Ecouen for me and the description of his adventures is now available. Jean-Marie’s fascinating story captures his entire experience in Ecouen and it has also been published in the Special Edition July 2010 of the OAICC Newsletter. His devoted effort working side by side with Michele was beyond incredible as you shall see in the two resulting slideshows and also the key chart above. We learned that Michele has the wonderful (and also very envious) responsibility of all those inventory objects from E. Cl. #21022 - #21095. And the great majority of those extraordinary cases also have eyeglasses inside, some even two pair! I too experienced this incredible collection in October 2010 when I met Jean-Marie there and we had the wonderful cooperation and assistance again of Michèle Bimbenet-Privat.
Dr, David, Curator Michèle and Jean-Marie in front of half the collection
Dr, David, Curator Michèle and Jean-Marie in front of half the collection.
(Hover with your mouse to see a larger image.)

(4) Musée de Cluny: A 17th century carved eyeglass case appears on page 30 of Part One of Madame Heymann’s book with the name Musée de Cluny below. So on February 20, 2008 I called and spoke with Chief Curator Sophie Lagabrielle. Sadly I quickly learned that they 'don’t have that case'. However, Heymann objects had been exhibited there at the museum possibly in 1931 (which was after she had died!). Further research soon revealed that 'Mr Alfred Heyman had bequeathed to the Museum of Cluny in 1925 a part of his collection of bésicles (n° inventory Cl. 21022 to Cl. 21095)'. The body of these objects are of the 'cans' or 'holsters to besicles' (eyeglass cases made of various materials: wood, leather, ivory, tin, copper, mother of pearl,. ..), dated back to the XVIIe and XVIIIe centuries: these were deposited to the museum of the Renaissance of Ecouen around 1988. What remains at the Museum of Cluny is a méreau (or médaille) corporate body of the opticians dated back to the XVIIe or XVIIe s. (inv. Cl. 21095).'

Since this one object was so extremely important I conferred with world authority Dr. Jay Galst of New York. We decided that it would be best to have this object professionally photographed by RMN so all the details, both front and back, could be displayed on the website and also in Jay’s soon to be published book with co-author Peter van Alfen, PhD. Ophthalmologia In Nummis will be a comprehensive catalogue of any coin, token or medal related to ophthalmology. RMN was contacted and the two photos were purchased (at even reduced rates) for our mutual educational projects.

I visited Sophie at this museum in October 201 and a photo was taken of me holding this incredibly rare token that also must have been particularly treasured by Madam Heymann herself.
Dr. David holding the 16th Century token, one of only two known of this type.
Dr. David holding the 16th Century token, one of only two known of this type. (Hover with your mouse to see a larger image.)

(5) Museo dell'Occhiale: All of the illustrations denoting objects not in her collection are attributed to some other museum or prominent private collection. Nearly a dozen great objects which appear in her book and which were originally in her collection are now part of the incredible optical museum in Pieve di Cadore, Italy. The Museo dell'Ochiale Collection in that Italian city is probably the greatest museum collection of all, based on what I have seen. Some of the finest objects are so unusual and so rare that one has to assume that they were one of a kind, not made in pairs. It is believed that these Heymann objects during the early 20th century somehow went to the Bodart Collection of Brussels and thus travelled on to the museum in Pieve di Cadore. As mentioned before this pathway will be researched further in the future.

(6) Musée du Louvre: listed in her 1924 will; Basically the Louvre does not have any collections of eyeglasses or eyeglass cases. Contact had originally been made with Mrs. Béatrice Coullaré. Eventually she and Isabelle Balandre did further research and learned that eleven Heymann objects did exist in storage at the museum. These were mostly extraordinary spyglasses, some of the best to appear in her 1911 book. Originally 37 objects had been donated to the museum but only eleven were apparently accepted back in 1925. More information was gathered regarding some of the prominent donators to the museum and facts included in the 1924 Heymann legal will then surfaced. This led to a short list including several additional museums which received relics following her death in 1925. An October 2010 visit to Paris had to include a visit to the Louvre. It was Marie-Hélène de Ribou who kindly brought these eleven objects out from storage for some evaluation and some “for personal use only” photos. We hope that further research will continue in the future including checking with the National Archives to see what other facts might be available.

(7) Musée des arts asiatiques Guimet: listed in her 1924 will: Conservateur Catherine Delacour showed us the two circa 18th -19th century Chinese carved wooden boxes with original nose spectacles inside which Heymann had gifted to this museum. The carvings each tell a story which will be shared on the slideshow.

(8) Musée de l’opéra: listed in her 1924 will: Pierre Vidal, curator, helped us locate Garat's glasses (Inv. Mus. 636), Gretry's lorgnette (Inv. Mus. 480), and Rubini's fan (inv. Mus. 637).

(9) Château de Malmaison in Rueil-Malmaison: listed in her 1924 will: Alain Pougetoux, Chief Curator and Anne Bouin, Documentalist also cooperated with our research. The spyglass and case with “NB” (Napoleon) and also the unique fan with stars (of the legion d'honeur). and a portrait profile of Napoleon, both appearing in the 1911 book, were kindly digitized by Alain for this work.

(10) Musée du Conservatoire de Musique: listed in her 1924 will: Discussion with Assistant to the Director Brigitte Cruz-Barney, led to productive conversations with curator Dr. Philippe Bruguière. They have no optical objects however Heymann did donate four Guimbards (also known as Jew Harps). These are considered likely the oldest musical instruments in the world and hopefully a photo or two will eventually be shared with this website

So in conclusion: We have learned a great deal about the Madame Heymann Collection, so far. It seems to be composed of at least:


Anyone who looks at the objects included in the numerous slideshows above will quickly realize their high quality and extreme caliber. Every example is desirable even for the most comprehensive museum or private optical collection. In her book Heymann described “modern eyeglass cases” (of the time) as not having the original charm or creativity of the ancestral ones which instead had meaningful detail. So imagine how excited Heymann became as she located each of these collectibles, with their magnificent artwork.

The actual eyeglass cases themselves, each and every one, represent incredible works of craftsmanship. Some of the relics are truly spectacular. These objects are so rare and artistic they stand out and deserve our appreciation. Several of the best are religious in nature, both front and back. Madame Heymann believed that these particular cases may have originally belonged to the high clergy because the cases depict scenes from the life of Christ.
News regarding the discovery of many of the missing Heymann objects has started to spread. Advanced collectors worldwide have already started to be amazed to see these historic relics, known previously only in her renowned 1911 book. And many do not even appear in that book and are therefore totally unknown until now.

For this chart examples have been included that are believed to be the very finest of all. The selection process has not been easy and some people may have chosen other objects. Perhaps some collectors might wish to include every single example.

These antiques deserve to be considered amongst the most outstanding optical treasures in existence….the BEST of the BEST, in my opinion. Enjoy, learn and also try to imagine what Madame Heymann must have felt as she held each one of these in her own hands perhaps 100 years ago.


Small portions of the Heymann Collection still appear to be missing. Some of the unusual spyglasses (lorgnettes) seen on the colored plates in her book have not yet been located. Hopefully these are in storage at one of the other smaller museums in the vicinity of Paris. Where are those nearly three dozen fans in all that were mentioned in the 1900 exhibition catalogue? Two are located at Musée des Arts Décoratifs and one appears in storage at the Château de Malmaison, and one other with provenance is at the Musée de l’opéra. One surfaced in the Vanlathem Collection and it was noticed just by chance. Does the staff at the Musée de l'éventail (Fan Museum) in Paris have any knowledge of these fans that would be associated with the Heymann name?

Madame Heymann’s great grandson Roland Hesse has one particular fan which his grandmother had given especially to him. The history was that she had received it on her 16th birthday as a gift from her mother, Madame Heymann herself. It was signed by many of the most famous patrons to the opera as well as some of the more renowned singers of the day. A daughter-in-law to Madame Heymann by the name of Marianne Heymann-de Flahaux was also very distinguished and she evidently lived in Paris in 1959, at 8 Avenue de Bertie-Albrecht. But this is more than 50 years ago so quite possibly no one resides there anymore. Maybe someone can eventually research the name Heymann in the files there at one of the government agencies in Paris, including the National Archives? Maybe the original obituary of Madame Heymann or Dr. Alfred Heymann could be located? Dr. Patricia Haas is another descendent and her kind assistance has been useful since she has done some genealogy on the family. This research will continue.

Where are all the nearly dozen tobacco containers with optical devices? We now know that the Musee Du Tabac D’Interet National (Tobacco Museum) in south in Bergerac, France has none of the missing tobacco containers. Where are the best magnifiers, the ones from her book, on page 3 and page 21 (two examples), also several which appear in the photo from the 1915 Encyclopedia? One from the 17th century has a horn frame and also its original case. Heymann was proud to own about fifty optical charms and yet only a few have been seen in the Art Decoratifs storage area. So where are all the rest of these? There were ten perfume flasks and nearly all are missing. In addition she describes seven “primitive” binoculars (given dates 1826 – 1838). What even happened to all of these?

It has been suggested that unappreciated objects are likely buried in storage at some other smaller museum(s) around Paris? What else was in her collection that does not even appear in her book? We may never ever know the answer to this very key question? But it is fun to wonder and speculate and hope. Other leads should arise in the future and then further research may provide additional answers to all these questions.


Madame Alfred Heymann was an advanced French collector from the late 19th and early 20th century who devoted much time to enriching her optical collection. She remained quite devoted to all the available scientific and historic knowledge of the time. Missing since 1925 much of her collection has now been uncovered all in storage at a group of prominent museums mostly around Paris. There has never been and there never again will be a finer group of historic eyeglasses and eyeglass cases than what you have now learned about. By far this is the #1 optical collection in history.

Béatrice Coullaré and Isabelle Balandre (at the Musée du Louvre) along with Sophie La Gabrielle and Nadia Braham (at the Musée du Cluny) provided useful information for my work regarding and this missing collection. From the meeting of national museums in Paris 1989 it was learned that Les Donateurs du Louvre mentions Heymann’s name on page 231. There was also an important publication about Cahiers Edmond & Jules de Goncourt, No. 7, 1999 – 2000 including pages 144-154 which presented key material about some of the museums specifically mentioned in her Feb 1, 1924 will. These leads have now been vigorously pursued.

Personally to be at least partially instrumental in the discovery of the Madame Heymann Optical Collection has definitely been one of the most exciting experiences of my entire life. This research remains fascinating and I have had the kind assistance of a wonderful group of individuals (collectors/historians/curators) who have become even better friends than before because this has been a team effort. Our combined time and energy has been rewarded and hopefully it will lead to further discoveries and an ever-increasing recognition of this amazing collection (and perhaps others) there in museums around Paris.

Hopefully more study will occur regarding some of the greatest individual objects that have resurfaced, especially some of the eyeglasses and hand-carved cases in the Chateau in Ecouen. Measurements of the lens powers and further analysis of the early glass lenses will be useful. In addition some of the frames have symbols and date marks that must be identified.

Perhaps an attractive coffee-table book will be created and published in the future to further spread the information and many of the images of these incredibly historic specimens. I also wish someone will eventually translate the original 1911 Heymann book from French into English so more people around the world can enjoy everything included in those wonderful pages. This should be accomplished some day by somebody. Of course the book probably featured her best objects. But one significant question remains. No one really knows how large her entire collection was at its maximum size.

Finally I hope a high level of energy and true appreciation for what has taken place here becomes the impetus to gather these objects together from museum storage. Then a larger and much greater public display and exhibition might eventually occur. Will an interested public ever be granted the opportunity to see and appreciate all of these treasured objects? Will the prominent museums of Paris ever try to organize and assemble something for the public to see? I hope so.
The Heymann Collection could be featured along with great antique optical objects from other famous collections including the now-recognized Rothschild and Felix Doistau Collections. Certainly optical collections are underappreciated and maybe they too have been (temporarily) lost to history. A great exhibition organized at a major French museum in or near Paris would be well-attended. Optical objects like these deserve the highest level of recognition and in my opinion visitors from around the world would then benefit from the sight and knowledge of the fabulous Madame Heymann Optical Collection, at a minimum. This research remains a work in progress. Thank you very much.
David A. Fleishman, MD

Home ] Introduction & News ] History & References ] Identification & Preservation ] Public Collections & Virtual Museum ] Interesting Topics ] Education & Games ] Links ] About Us ]