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Welcome to the Ophthalmic Antiques International Collector's Club!

All images courtesy of the Ophthalmic Antiques International Collectors' Club. Image above is of 'Additive Spectacles, with fold-over reading segments.'

Here at Retropeepers, we love glasses of all shapes and sizes – the more unusual, vintage and unique the better! But we are not the only ones, the Ophthalmic Antiques International Collectors’ Club are obsessed with all things optical and next to some of their 200 strong membership, our collection pales into insignificance! It is a fascinating world which we wanted to share with you, so we caught up with the Chairman of the OAICC, John Dixon Salt to find out all about it.
John SaltJohn Dixon Salt  at the British Optical Association Museum viewing a member of the public's items during London Open House

Can you tell us about yourself and when/how your interests in ophthalmic antiques began please?
For many years, after qualifying as an ophthalmic optician, career and family occupied time and funds until (as I suspect many collections started) a patient donated their parent's old spectacles and suddenly - similar to forever spotting a car similar to one you had recently bought and never previously noted - I began to see other frames in junk shops or on the internet and a collection began.

Opthalmic Antiques Association frames

EBay was a major factor, as it was 'open' twenty-four hours a day, which was a boon for someone then working six days a week. The good thing about this hobby is that it need not be expensive, as a reasonable collection can be built with items costing from £10 - £20, and the yearly auction held by the Ophthalmic Antiques International Collectors' Club (OAICC) is always full of bargains. Did I make mistakes? Oh yes, but that is how you learn. These were discovered after joining the OAICC, whose members proved not to be the intimidating and cliquey group I had imagined, but instead taught me not to buy everything that came my way. I continue to make the odd mistake though!

Can you tell us more about what the OAICC is? What kind of work do you do?
The OAICC was founded by the late Derek C. Davidson in 1982 on behalf of all those who are interested in collecting the material evidence for our optical past. There are over 150 members from many countries including the UK, Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, South Africa and the United States of America. The members are a diverse bunch, ranging from amateur and professional - schoolteachers, accountants, curators - each interested in their own aspect of optical antiques, which means we have a large knowledge base: Members give talks to the WI, help with exhibitions within local museums and act as volunteers at the British Optical Association Museum in London - which is the world's oldest optical museum. So basically, we love to share our passion and knowledge with anyone and everyone.
Opthalmic Antiques Magazine
Ophthalmic Antiques, the magazine of the Association

We also have regular visits and excursions are to museums and private collections, both in the UK and abroad. The Club celebrated its 35th Anniversary in 2017 and issued the 150th edition of its quarterly Club Journal Ophthalmic Antiques in January 2020, so there is lots going on!

You have members from all over the world and must have seen some amazing collections. What are some of the most unusual pieces you have seen?
Little beats the excitement of seeing, and more importantly, handling something only previously read about such as the Venetian face screen seen on one of the Club trips: Imagine a large piece of tinted glass in a wooden frame with a handle similar to a hand mirror, this was hung on the gondola to protect the gondolier from the glare of the sun in the same way as we use the car visor today. The Venetians also used outsize sunglasses with a dark green tint and with silk side protection known as Goldoni glasses. 
chicken goggles!

Memorable items range from early spectacles made from horn, leather and bone to more modern pieces such as chicken goggles (Yes, really, and still used today in the USA) and the Frame for London made from material mudlarked from the Thames.

That sounds incredible! The club travels all over the world looking at collections – can you tell us about some of your experiences doing this?
Not only do the organised visits give the chance to socialise with far flung members, sharing ideas and picking brains, but they also allow us to view items in reserve storage which are rarely, if ever, on display.

One of the many memorable trips was to Paris in 2013 to view the Madam Heymann collection of early cases in carved wood, porcelain and ivory and many other materials. The Collection had been recorded in her privately published book Lunettes et Lorgnettes de Jadis in 1911 but was deemed 'lost' shortly after. Thanks to the efforts of a couple of our members, who traced the bulk of the collection split between a number of Paris museums and the Chateau Ecouen, where they had lain poorly stored with their significance unknown to the curators. Following protracted negotiations, we were able as a group to view these wonderful and extremely rare items held at each site, before they were returned to storage and probably not seen again for many years to come.

A full list of Club visits can be found on the OAICC website which includes visits to the reserve collection of the Science Museum located in Blyth House, and the historic Algha Works on the Isle of Dogs, where frames have been handmade for many years.

I see that the OAICC offers an identification service. Can you tell me about some of the mysteries that have been solved?
Many are simple questions such as how old are Aunty's old specs or lorgnettes that were found in a drawer - we have access to trade catalogues from 1850 onwards - while others confuse even some of our experienced members, such as the oddity shown here...
nasal catheter spectacles to administer oxygen

While many people will be familiar with the WW2 military issued spectacles for use under a gas mask, this was finally identified as the privately purchased version worn outside the civilian mask - a rare expensive option at that time.

gas mask glasses worn over mask

Wow, amazing! If people are interested in joining or getting involved, how do they do so?
Easy, contact us by email antiques at or through the OAICC website for a warm welcome, quarterly journal and the opportunity to join the organised meetings or visit individual members collections, for a yearly subscription of £20 for UK members.

If you would like to find out more, check out OAICC .

Notes: The Heymann book was a limited run and is a collectible in its own right. Her method for collecting some of the items is reported to be dubious but I have no concrete proof.

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