The Edward Scarlett Trade Card

(Move your mouse over any of the objects in the trade card below to see a magnified image.)

Set of drawing/mathematical instruments, “compendium”, in shagreen flip-top case (the set is also called an etui). Magic Lantern, ancestor of the modern slide projector which has become the PowerPoint projection machine in the 21st century.  In those early years the slides were originally called magic lantern slides. A lodestone (magnetite – the magnetic mineral form of iron) holding up a large iron weight "Scarlett-type spectacles", the type he supplied, whether or not he invented them. Icosahedron, part of a set of regular polyhedra (Platonic solids) on stands (probably solid wood)--i.e., pedagogical mathematical models (along with #6, 22, and 24) Octahedron, part of a set of regular polyhedra (Platonic solids) on a pedestal--i.e., pedagogical mathematical models (along with #5, 22, and 24) Reading (magnifying) glass hinged to retract into its case Pol"emoscope (invented by Hevelius in the 1630’s) and what became the Jealousy glass in the 18th century A three-draw telescope, possibly of card and vellum with lignum vitae fittings.  It is likely terrestrial although we can’t really be 100% certain. Cistern barometer with thermometer (probably wooden) also called a Stick barometer) Camera obscura, a popular sketching instrument.  A lens in the draw tube and a mirror at 45 degrees to the horizontal focused the image onto a ground glass screen on the top of the box. A piece of paper was put onto the screen and the image was copied directly. Bulls eye lens with hardware to attach to a microscope stand (to throw light on specimen) /or/ magnifying lens hinged to clip to hold specimen. A “Lieberkuhn” reflector for a microscope Large magnifying lens with an ivory and wood "stage", maybe hand-held on which to position an opaque specimen.  It seems you could slide the specimen back or forth on some pin or forceps that would protrude from the ivory screw in the wooden track. Viewing telescopic tube of some sort or an eyepiece for a microscope 3 draw telescope with a multi-tiered eyepiece, similar to #9 but in the closed position.  It is likely terrestrial although we can’t really be 100% certain. Screw-barrel microscope with compound body (special improvement over the Wilson screw-barrel type) attached to a tripod stand via a side-arm Trumpet-shaped spyglass (small telescope), perhaps with two draw A typical microscope slider Trumpet –shaped telescope.  This illustration might also be an ear trumpet (hearing trumpet) used to direct sound into the ear of a hearing-impaired person.  However the small end looks like a trumpet mouthpiece (or eyepiece) and not like something shaped to fit into the ear. Usually ear trumpets had a small end designed to fit into the ear canal. Equilateral triangular glass prism used in optics to obtain dispersion, total reflection, or simple deviation of light rays. Isaac Newton used instruments of this type for his famous experiments on the separation of white light into a polychromatic spectrum. Magnifier that folds into a case Tetrahedron, part of a set of regular polyhedra (Platonic solids) on a pedestal--i.e., pedagogical mathematical models (along with #5, 6, and 24) Eyeglass case, but the screw heads are questionable Cube, part of a set of regular polyhedra (Platonic solids) on a pedestal --i.e., pedagogical mathematical models (along with #5, 6, and 22) Magnifier with trefoil handle Large magnifier (with convex lens) on a stand, with a ball and socket joint or it could be a speculum mirror which could be convex or concave. Oval reading (magnifier) glass that folds into a case Scioptic ball (probably made of fine wood) fashioned in a square frame with holes for fixing screws at the corners - This has a set of lenses on opposite sides of a round ball set into a window shutter; it brings light at different angles into a darkened room for optical experiments. Each side of the ball contains a cell fitted with a low-magnification lens. From the Museum of the History of Science Website (click to visit their website) Bow bridge nose spectacles, probably leather-framed with a grooved arch, although slit bridge may be another possibility.  Note the position they are given, right in the middle of the three ovals of text. Was this type of eyewear still his staple trade despite the more innovative spectacles relegated to the mid right side margins?

The Newly Discovered Bodleian Library Version, 1714-1727

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Image credit:
(A) Douce Adds 139 (766), Bodleian Library, University of Oxford and (B) to the British Optical Association Museum at the College of Optometrists since both very kindly shared large high resolution greyscans in order to present this evaluation and comparison

Very special personal thanks is extended to Neil Handley, Curator at the BOA Museum, whose extensive knowledge in the broad field of optical history is quite amazing. This page was also created with the kind assistance of Josie Lister, Sheila O’Connell, Sara Schechner, Karsten Gaulke, Peter de Clerc, Dennis Simms, Dr. Charles Letocha, Marv Bolt, Paolo Brenni and Adrian Whicher, and of course webmaster Lee Berkowitz.


The Edward Scarlett optical trade card is, appropriately, considered to be one of the most significant pieces of printed ephemera in existence. Its specific importance in ophthalmic history is due to the fact that it constitutes the earliest advertisement for side arms on spectacles. For well over four hundred years eyeglasses had rested only on the nose. Scarlett’s trade card (circa 1728-30, or perhaps now datable a little earlier) illustrates hinged temple pieces which are short, straight and have spiral endings (finials). These finials pressed against a moderately large area of the head in the region of the temple as well as on the nose, providing greatly improved stability for the wearer. Very soon these spirals were most likely modified to become the large ring ends seen on early temple spectacles, examples of which are to be found in many public and private collections.

Scarlett’s trade card is of extreme rarity and, up until recently, only two examples were generally known to exist, one at the BOA Museum and the other at the Science Museum, both in London. A third example was uncovered, however, following research in 2007 at the British Museum Department of Prints and Drawings. The most fortunate discovery of a note in papers held there led to the wonderful example at the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford which differs from the other two. Scarlett’s trade card will be analysed and discussed below and also demonstrated on the slideshows that follow. The three featured examples have the illustrations of nearly thirty scientific objects in the peripheral field making this trade card one of the most visual ones ever printed. It also has three roundels of text each with nearly the same message but in a different language, English, French, and Dutch.


Edward Scarlett, the elder (sometime before 1677 – 1743), was apprenticed in 1691 to Christopher Cock of Long Acre, a member of the Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers. Scarlett was made free of the Spectacle Makers Company in 1705 when he first opened his shop called the Archimedes & the Globe on Dean Street, near St. Anne's Church, Soho, London. He then became Master of the Spectacle Makers Company in 1720-22. John Marshall had been optician to the reigning monarch so when he died Scarlett was then appointed in 1727 to become "Optician to his Majesty King George the Second". He was a distinguished and highly respected optician and he remained at his shop until his death in 1743.

The son, also an Edward Scarlett (perhaps 1702 - about 1779) was apprenticed to the father beginning around 1716 and then worked at the same address until about 1770. The son was made free of the Company in 1924 and became Master of the Spectacle Makers Company in 1745. He made microscopes and telescopes and is also recorded at an additional address on Maxwell Street beginning in 1749, the Spectacles, second house from Essex Street, near Temple Bar, in London.


Edward Scarlett Senior may not have been the actual inventor of spectacle sides but the available evidence definitely indicates that he was the first to advertise them. Only a single genuine early example of the glasses survives today in the public domain and just a few other examples (likely dated later in the 18th century) have been located. That single most famous treasure exists at the BOA Museum in London (modern catalogue #LDBOA1999.1308). It was discovered almost by accident, during work in the museum basement, then at Knaresbrough Place in 1990. Fortunately the Curator at that time, Hugh Orr, had sufficient expertise to recognise their significance and their authenticity has since been confirmed by Ronald MacGregor as well as other international experts. Scarlett’s shop promoted this type, thus they are known as the 'Scarlett-type'. Contrary to what is occasionally reported neither Scarlett the father nor Scarlett the son ever claimed to have invented the side arm nor did they ever patent this new feature.

Hugh Orr later wrote an article for the OAICC Newsletter, Ophthalmic Antiques, entitled “Antique Collector’s Dream”. He described one of his main tasks when beginning to recatalogue the BOA Foundation Museum collection. He had been working with a mixed parcel of rusty iron and steel spectacles, astigs, folders, etc. which had been set aside as of no value. To his astonishment he saw the pair with short spiral sides, covered with pieces of velvet. The lenses (+1.25 RE, +2.50 LE) were cracked and “the frame had seen better days”. But these were Scarlett-type spectacles, and certainly the sort of discovery that only comes once in a lifetime. It was Orr’s greatest find because he knew that Scarlett had been the first to advertise spectacles with sides (temples) and thus was felt to quite possibly be their inventor.


Another important development stemmed from the work of Edward Scarlett, the senior. The rough measurement of lenses and the prescribing of power by focal length probably began with the Florentines during the 15th century. Then Augustinian monk Tommaso Garzoni actually measured lens curvature in the final quarter of the 16th century. The famous 1623 book by Daza de Valdes explains his method of grading lenses by degrees corresponding to decades of age from 30 up to 80. Some of these systems provided fairly exact designations but others were instead just based on the relative need or approximate age of the wearer. Glasses typically had been classified roughly as for ‘older people’ or for 'younger people’s sight’. Daza de Valdes, in particular, used a method which could be considered quite accurate by today’s standards. Then about one hundred years later our Edward Scarlett became the very first optician to gauge and number spectacle lenses according to their focal length (relative power denoted in inches) and then he would MARK that number on the frame. These Scarlett Focus Marks provided a wider range of optical lens powers for people needing eyeglasses. Spectacle making had been somewhat of an art before his time; now with Scarlett’s “new method” this would become a more precise craft."

On his trade card Edward Scarlett advertised that he 'Grindeth all manner of Optick Glasses (and) makes spectacles after a new method, marking the Focus of the Glass upon the Frame, it being approv'd of by all the Learned in Opticks as [the] Exactest way of fitting different Eyes'. The older Edward Scarlett maintained a high standard of leadership in carrying out the optical laws of the City of London. He and his son also collaborated with the well-known mathematician John Hadley (1682-1744) who was a then Vice President of the Royal Society. That collaboration gave the Scarletts insight into advanced methods employed by scientists for measuring lenses. This likely is what had led to the development of Scarlett’s Focus Mark.

In the Weekly Journal, 23 May 1724 the following appeared “Last week was shown to the King (i.e. George I, 1714 - 1727]), Prince and Princess … a curious piece of Dioptrick Painting by the ingenious Mr Edward Scarlett, optician to Their Royal Highnesses, famous for his late Improvement of fitting spectacles to weak eyes by the focal length of the glass”.

The majority of the spectacles created between 1724 (when this “improvement” was announced to the king) and 1743 (when Scarlett senior died) were Nuremberg style nose spectacles. Folding varieties were also made. It would not have been easy to place the focus number on a typical Nuremberg frame of the day. Therefore some years later we assume that it became much more practical to simply etch that focal length number on the glass lens itself, although we do not know if Scarlett was the first optician to actually begin this practice.

Also in the late 18th century other marks (30, 40, 50…100) were sometimes noted on the sidearms of eyeglasses. The higher the number marked on the frame the more likely a lens of that strength would provide improved vision for a person nearly that age. All these developments were reviewed in the excellent July 1951 article in The Optician written by Otto Ahlstrom curator of the Stockholm United Opticians’ Museum.

In addition to what is detailed above, The Science Museum label on their now dismantled display from their former Optics Gallery specified that it was the younger Scarlett who was involved in speculum mirrors. It is commonly stated that amateur astronomer Samuel Molyneux (1689-1728) revealed the results of his experiments in optics to 'Edward Scarlett' some time between 1724-1728 but it is not entirely clear to which Scarlett that referred. We might safely assume that some references to 'Edward Scarlett' in the 1720s and 1730s are to the business of that name and not specifically to the senior or the junior individual.


Three examples are presently known to exist:
1) Bodleian Library, University of Oxford – Information gained while doing research in the Prints and Drawings Department of the British Museum fortunately led to the discovery of this paper treasure. Now believed to be 1714-1727. Douce Adds 139, item 766. Size 10 ½ x 8 ¼ inches.
2). British Optical Association Museum of the College of Optometrists, modern catalogue number LDBOA1999.242 - This example is somewhat faded but it is also unique since it had apparently been used as a handbill dated 1756. It has been signed by Scarlett the younger on the reverse and this is believed to be an original signature, not one signed by another staff employee.
It is reprinted in the 1932 BOA Museum and Library Catalogue by J.H. Sutcliffe and E.S. Chittell, opposite page 296.
3). Science Museum London – This example had been on display in the museum’s Optical Gallery, but unfortunately this was dismantled during 2007. It is reprinted in the important 1971 H.R. Calvert M.A. book Scientific Trade Cards in the Science Museum Collection. Appearing on page 44 and denoted as catalogue # 339 it is marked as Science Museum inventory 1934-120. Size 11 3/8 x 9 3/8 inches.


The main points of difference between the newly surfaced Bodleian example and the previously known BOA Museum / Science Museum version are:

1). The Royal Arms have a different appearance
2). Below the Royal Arms appear the French words ‘Dieu et mon droit’, but only on one of the versions.
3). In the left upper oval (roundel) the text names two different members of the reigning Royal Family.
4). In the lower oval the Dutch text varies with one version being shorter than the other.
5). The BOA version is less well defined even when compared to the Science Museum example

In one of the catalogues at the British Museum Department of Prints and Drawings, there is a photograph of the trade card of Edward Scarlett in the Douce Collection at the Bodleian Library. Notes are written by Sir Ambrose Heal (1872-1959) on the mount of this photograph…. .Heal 105.88 [N.B. This card refers to the Prince and Princess of Wales so must date to before June 1727 when the Prince (George) succeeded to the throne as George II].

There are also notes by Ambrose Heal on the mount of a photograph of the trade card of Edward Scarlett at the Science Museum, South Kensington. Since the card refers to George II it must date to after June 1727. Heal even suggested the trade card may originally have been produced as early as 1710, but the lettering on this example had to be after June 1727.

Peter de Clercq is a Dutch-born independent writer, researcher and officer of the Scientific Instrument Society. He was asked to evaluate the two trade cards. His response, “I have compared the Scarlett trade card from the Bodleian library (let's say item A) with the one illustrated in H. R. Calvert, Scientific Trade Cards in the Science Museum Collection (1971), plate 44 (item B) and which I understand is also in the collection of our good friend Neil Handley. The Dutch text in item A is a hilarious attempt at translation of the English and French texts, overlong and a real muddle. Presumably someone with a command of the Dutch language got hold of it and advised Scarlett, resulting in the much shorter and correct text in item B. This to me seems convincing evidence that item A is the older of the two.”

On the BOA Museum / Science Museum version George II is mentioned. This means that the earliest date it possibly could be is 1727. The BOA version is even less well-defined than the Science Museum example; therefore it may have been printed even later, supported by the fact that it is dated on the back as a 1756 handbill.

The Bodleian version's Royal Arms have to be post 1714 because of the bottom right quarter which is divided into three showing two lions on a field, and in the lowest part a galloping horse, the symbol of Hanover. We do not know how quickly the Royal Heralds operated in devising the revised arms...George I ascended the throne in August 1714. Prince George (the future George II) was appointed Prince of Wales on 27 September 1714 so the trade card must post-date that month. He became King on 11 June 1727.

The Bodleian version mentions the Prince and Princess of Wales. This relates to the future George II, appointed Prince of Wales in 1714 by which time he was already married. The Bodleian version is also better engraved, therefore probably closer to the original. It could likely be 1714-1727. The nice thing about that is it could potentially change the currently held date for the invention of spectacle sides.


London optical instrument makers advertised their craft through trade cards and pamphlets. These tradesman’s cards or, more shortly, trade cards were usually printed on one side of a card or, more often, just a sheet of paper. They help provide wonderful evidence for the social development of an opticians’ profession. They also are a useful source for the history of science and can sometimes help us date instruments (or inventions like the first hinged sides for eyeglasses – “Scarlett-type”). Many of the makers were members of the Worshipful Company of Spectacles Makers. Each maker also had a projecting sign (frontispiece) by which his business was known. A great many of the optical instruments offered for sale during Edward Scarlett’s working days appear on his very rare trade card, a third example of which has now been uncovered. There appear to be two quite distinct versions. Scarlett’s trade card was probably updated as soon as the royal titles changed, in 1727; therefore that remains the earliest approximate date of the Science Museum / BOA version. This newly uncovered Bodleian version seems to be earlier, from 1714-1727, potentially bringing forward the date of invention of spectacle sides by up to thirteen years and confirming their invention, in any case, to no later than 1727.

The optical instruments illustrated on these trade cards were meant to be objects of beauty as much as they were intended for utility. For all these reasons the Scarlett trade card is considered by many to be a wonderful potential teaching tool for anyone interested in this historical subject. We have analyzed the text of the card and the images of the instruments are also presented below, given a title along with some useful description. We hope that you can learn about the wide variety of optician’s wares (scientific instruments) available during those early days of the 18th century, in London. Comments and corrections are certainly welcome.

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