World's Finest Public Collections

Spectacle collections are available for public viewing at various sites throughout the world. Below is a list of where you might go to see groups of these wonderful artifacts related to our eyesight. We have tried to make it as complete as possible, but if you know of any other public places kindly inform us and we will amend this list. Spectacles are usually not on public display, even in large institutions and special arrangements might have to be made in advance to see what each museum has. Therefore it is advisable for any visitor to call ahead. Also the smaller museums may have reduced hours. Some museums and institutions already have detailed websites with useful information and images posted. You are encouraged to visit these websites first in order to decide which public collections you want to see in person. In addition, you’ll discover what other items they have which might interest you.

Certainly it would be impossible to name the numerous museums from all over the world with artwork relating to antique spectacles. But be assured that it is a wonderful experience to discover an early pair of spectacles in a painting or drawing. Pre-1800 examples are uncommon, so it is fun to discover an early example just resting in someone's fingers, hanging out of someone's pocket, or simply lying on a table. Especially with Medieval or Renaissance Art, it can be rewarding to locate any spectacles or even just their empty case. Keep your eyes open and you might be amazed at what you might notice.

We also want to mention that at least here in the United States most of the local community historical societies have received donations of a variety of articles related to eyewear, and it is enjoyable to examine these items too.

Art nouveau lorgnette with diamonds, circa 1890, American, Museum of Vision and the American Academy of Ophthalmology, San Francisco
Art nouveau lorgnette with diamonds, circa 1890, American, Museum of Vision and the American Academy of Ophthalmology, San Francisco, The Harriet S. and J. William Rosenthal M.D. Collection
Bow spectacles with slit bridge, 16th-17th century, Copyright: The College of Optometrists, London
Bow spectacles with slit bridge, 16th-17th century, Copyright: The College of Optometrists, London
Indian nose spectacles in sandalwood, 17th century, Optisches Museum Jena, A Spectacle of Spectacles Exhibition Catalogue
Indian nose spectacles in sandalwood, 17th century, Optisches Museum Jena, A Spectacle of Spectacles Exhibition Catalogue
Galvanic spectacles, last quarter 19th century, University of Waterloo, Ontario
Galvanic spectacles, last quarter 19th century, University of Waterloo, Ontario
Enjoy other fine examples at the bottom of this page
AUSTRIA Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna (Fabulous artwork and significant eyeglasses)
Technisches Museum, Wien
AUSTRALIA Kett Optometry Museum
BELGIUM Museum Walraversijde, Province of West-Flanders, Belgium
CANADA Museum of Visual Science and Optometry, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario
Redpath Museum, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Ethnology Collections (by appointment only to see several pair of 17th century Sinhalese spectacles in their original painted case)
CHINA Shanghai Glasses Museum
CHANNEL ISLANDS
Jersey Museum, Jersey (By special appointment only)
FRANCE Musee de l’Instrumentation Optique Biesheim
Musee Carnavalet - Musee de L'Histoire de Paris
Musee des Arts Decoratifs
Musee National des Techniques, Paris
Musee de la Lunette - Viseum, Morez (the Collection Essilor-Pierre Marly)
Musée National de la Renaissance, Ecouen, France
GERMANY Bavarian National Museum
Brillenmuseum, Brillenhaus Wilke, Hamburg
Deutsches Hygiene Museum, Dresden
Deutsches Medizin Historisches Museum, Ingolstadt
Deutsches Museum, Munich
German National Museum, Nuremberg
Institut fur Geschichte der Medizin und Pharmazie, University of Kiel
Kunstgewerbemuseum, Berlin, Germany (wonderful historic objects in storage)
Museum fur Ur-und Fruhgeschichte, Freiburg (location of earliest spectacles case in the world)
Institut für wissenschaftliche Kontaktoptik, Ulm, Germany
Museum of the Cloisters, Wienhausen (location of  the earliest spectacles in the world)
Rathenow Museum, Rathenow
Optisches Museum Jena (Ernst-Abbe-Foundation)
Carl Zeiss Optical Museum, Oberkochen
ITALY Galleria Guglielmo Tabacchi – Safilo (Padua, Italy) (by special appointment only)
Il Museo dell’Occhiale , Pieve di Cadore, Belluno (abundant imagery), also at http://www.eyewear.net/asso/museo
Institute and Museum of the History of Science, Florence
Luxottica Museum, Agordo (by special appointment only)
Museo Storico Nazionale dell'Arte Sanitaria Lungotevere in Sassia 3 - Rome, (Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9.00 to 12.00)
San Pantaleo, Rome (by appointment only to see the spectacles of Saint Giuseppe Calasanzio)
Santa Maria in Vallicella, Chiesa Nuovo, Rome, Italy (by appointment only to see the spectacles of Saint Philip Neri since the special rooms are ordinarily closed)
JAPAN Iris Megane (Museum of Eyeglasses), Shibuya-Ku, Tokyo
Shirayama and Tokyomegane Archives and Gallery of Eyeglasses (S-T-A-G-E.), Tokyo
MEXICO Frank Devlyn Optical Museum, Mexico City
Museum of the Hospital de la Luz, Mexico City
THE NETHERLANDS Archeological excavations exhibition, Zwolle
Nationaal Brilmuseum, Amsterdam
Museum Boerhaave
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
University Museum, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands (Weve Collection of Spectacles, by special appointment only)
SOUTH AFRICA Cape Medical Museum, Cape Town
The H.S. Raybauld Collection, Natal Museum, Pietermaritzburg
SOUTH KOREA Seoul National University Museum, Seoul
SPAIN Museum of the History of Medicine, Barcelona
Museo Lara, Ronda
Museu Frederic Mares, Barcelona (Their collection is a hidden treasure)
SWEDEN The Nordic Museum, Stockholm
SWITZERLAND History of Science Museum, Geneva 
Museum of the History of Medicine, University of Zurich
The Medical History Institute of the University of Bern (Images of spectacles from the Otto Hallauer Collection will soon become available)
Ramstein Collection, Basel
UNITED KINGDOM Blair Castle, Blair Atholl, near Pitlochry, Scotland
British Museum, London
Lancaster City Museum, Lancaster
Museum of London, Barbican, London Wall, London (On display "Swan Stairs" rivet spectacles and "Trig Lane" to be added in the future)
Museum of the History of Science, Oxford
Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester
Royal Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh
Thackray Medical Museum, Leeds
The British Optical Association Museum, London
The Royal College of Ophthalmologists, Regents Park, London (mostly ophthalmic instruments)
The Science Museum (two collections), London
Victoria & Albert Museum, S. Kensington, London
Warwick-Castle, Warwickshire (a marvelous medieval room - Kingmaker with two wax figures wearing early spectacles)
Whipple Museum of the History of Science, University of Cambridge, Cambridge
UNITED STATES The Alamo, San Antonio, Texas (to view their leather-framed spectacles)
Atwater Kent Museum, Philadelphia, Pa. (by special appointment only)
Bascom Palmer Eye Institute – Norton Library, Miami Florida
Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology, Boston, MA (to see the collection of the Optician's Association of America)
Bernard Becker, M.D. Collection in Ophthalmology and Optics at the Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO (a very comprehensive book collection)
Chester County Historical Society, West Chester, PA (by appointment only to see nearly three dozen McAllister spectacles)
Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg, VA
Concord Museum, Concord, MA (by special appointment only)
Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT (by special appointment only)
Field Museum, Chicago, IL (Tibetan eyeshades and many Chinese cases)
Franklin Institute, Philadelphia, Pa. (replica of Ben Franklin’s bifocals)
Friedenwald-Romano Library, Wilmer Eye Institute, Baltimore, MD
Groton Historical Society, Groton, MA (by special appointment only to see two leather framed spectacles)
Historic New England, Boston, MA (their large collection is only available for research purposes)
International Library, Archives and Museum of Optometry of the American Optometric Association, St. Louis, MO
International Museum of Surgical Science, Chicago. IL
Library of Congress, American Treasures Exhibition, Washington, DC (two pair of Abraham Lincoln Spectacles)
Monticello, Charlottesville, VA (by appointment only to view spectacles that belonged to Thomas Jefferson)
Museum of the Confederacy, Richmond, VA
Museum of Vision, Eyecare America, San Francisco, CA
Műtter Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA
Mystic Seaport, Mystic, CT (by special appointment to see the nice collection of Eskimo snow goggles)
New York Historical Society, New York, NY
Ohio State University, College of Optometry, Columbus OH (contemporary spectacles of famous people - politics and Hollywood)
Old Sturbridge Village, Sturbridge, MA
Optical Heritage Museum, American Optical, Southbridge, MA (in the process of being brought public again)
Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA (unfortunately, their large collection is currently not available for public viewing)
Pilgrim Hall Museum, Plymouth, MA
Shelburne Museum, Shelburne, VT
Smithsonian’s American Museum of History and Technology, Washington, DC
A. Political History Collection
B. Division of Science, Medicine, and Society
Virginia Historical Society, Richmond, VA (to view the Patrick Henry spectacles and the Thomas Sully painting – the remainder of the collection by special appointment only)
Cockade fan of pierced horn with cut steel pique work and a spyglass in the central pivot, France, circa 1800, Museum of Fine Arts-Boston, The Elizabeth Day McCormick Collection
Cockade fan of pierced horn with cut steel pique work and a spyglass in the central pivot, France, circa 1800, Museum of Fine Arts-Boston, The Elizabeth Day McCormick Collection
Royal Vienna eyebath, polychrome, circa 1770, New York Academy of Medicine
Royal Vienna eyebath, polychrome, circa 1770, New York Academy of Medicine
Three Nuremburg spectacles, first quarter 18th century, Connecticut Historical Society Museum, Hartford
Three Nuremberg spectacles, first quarter 18th century. The parts resting on the nose are wound in silk thread. Connecticut Historical Society Museum, Hartford
Leather spectacles in original wooden case, mid 17th century, Pilgrim Hall Museum, Plymouth
Leather spectacles in original wooden case, mid 17th century, Pilgrim Hall Museum, Plymouth

All images shown here were published with permission of the named institutions who maintain the copyrights and ownership of the images and items pictured.


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