Coins, Tokens and Medallions

The Zeiss Optical Museum in Germany (Ernst Abbe Stiftung) is known to have one of the greatest collections of vision aids in the entire world. In addition to this, they acquired a fine group of coins/medals which had been collected over a forty year period by Albert von Pflugk. After his death in 1946, the group of coins/medals was integrated into their collections and then resurfaced when Helga Beez of the Zeiss Museum published the article “Die Brille auf Munzen und Medaillen” in 1994.

Albert von Pflugk was born in 1866 in Germany. He went on to become a practicing ophthalmologist in Dresden, researcher, professor, historian, author, developer of strabismus surgical procedures, and even the co-publisher of a major ophthalmic journal. While attending the X International Congress in Ophthalmology in Lucerne, Switzerland in 1904, he became especially impressed with the Josef Brettauer collection of coins and medals relating to ophthalmology and also the Hallauer collection of spectacles. Viewing these collections gave von Pflugk the stimulus to begin collecting himself. He became an avid collector of visual aids of all kinds, as well as related prints, engravings, books, coins, and medals. His wife was an enthusiastic helper who did much of the historical research work.

At the XIII International Congress of Ophthalmology held in Amsterdam in 1929, von Pflugk was a major presenter and he co-authored the famous catalogue of this exhibit. He gave the most informative glimpse into the developmental history of spectacles of his generation, authoring many articles on this subject. One work, in particular, is now considered to be a classic,”Uber Brillenmunzen and Medaillen.” published in 1921.

The von Pflugk optical collection was one of the most extensive collections of its time with an incredible variety of objects. His collection of coins, tokens, and medals showing spectacles was divided into two parts. There was a group of pieces which depicted spectacles as an optical instrument, and there were also pieces which depicted spectacles as a symbol.

Beginning with examples from as far back as the 16th century, Von Pflugk acquired a diverse collection which is still intact today in the Optisches Museum, Jena. New specimens have been issued since and unpublished old ones have been discovered. Spectacles were demonstrated on a number different types of numismatic pieces from many different countries. This topical field continues to grow and makes for a challenging hobby which can supplement our knowledge of the history of spectacles. . But Dr. Albert von Pflugk can be thanked for his original research and collecting ability. He was truly the consummate collector, historian, ophthalmologist, and numismatist.

Below are some of the more significant pieces in his collection along with wonderful examples from other private collections.

(Adapted with permission from a lecture given by Dr. Jay M. Galst of New York City, N.Y. This was presented to the Cogan Ophthalmic History Society Meeting on March 23, 2001 at Stanford University Medical Center, Stanford, California.

(Adapted with permission from a lecture given by Dr. Jay M. Galst of New York City, N.Y. This was presented to the Cogan Ophthalmic History Society Meeting on April 7, 2002 at Arden House, Columbia University, Harriman, New York

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