The British Optical Association Museum or MusEYEum is in the heart of London, about 30 seconds from Charing Cross and 100 meters from the National Gallery. Yet it lies hidden on the small Craven Street where you see more delivery trucks for NEXT drive by than lost tourists on a hunt for some eye knowledge. The Association is located in an inconspicuous small town house. You have to ring the bell to get through the black door and at reception a lady phones the museum curator to inform him of your arrival.
When I booked the appointment two days before I hadn’t realized what a personal tour of the museum I would be getting. In 40 minutes the curator Neil Handley guides me through the two rooms that hold parts of the 20,000 artefacts-strong collection – the Victoria and Albert museum for optical fanatics.
The museum promotes optometry, a relatively young medical practice, through eccentric fashion artefacts and curious contraptions. Design students come to explore the vast collection of spectacle models; others come to look at and be looked at by the impressive artificial eye collection. The displays are organized into cases of various themes. One of the first ones – the “international case” – harbors an eclectic mixture of stuff, for the lack of a better word. This stuff, from patron saint models to nutcrackers, is undoubtedly linked to optometry by its history or imagery. What I fail to fully appreciate is the science of optometry. What is the structure of an eye? How do optometrists use their machines? What are the benefits of optometry as a medical practice?
…commentary notes that take reading glasses to decipher…
While I get utterly carried away with trying on frames from every possible time-period, a fun activity furnished by a full drawer with a mirror on top, I find myself wondering what all the perfectly intricate instruments might be for. With commentary notes that take reading glasses to decipher, I would have appreciated perhaps a little more detail during the tour on the countless measuring devices on display.
The, in my case, private tour – a luxury I fully appreciate – focuses on what attracts the most people: (sun-, opera-, spy-) glasses, cases and other knickknack as well as bizarre paraphernalia used by hobby botanists, party entertainers (if looking at a fleas is what you appreciate doing while eating your roast) and bird keepers (chicken sun glasses anyone?).
…nothing less but a feast for your eyes…
The MusEYEum is a lovely little gold chest full of optometry jewels that should be visited (if only for the costume drawer!). If you do go, I would recommend asking for some more scientific explanation of optometry – it looks like one of the more obscure and exciting medical practices. But if you simply are a fan of your dad’s John Lennon’s or your mother’s YSL’s, you will find nothing less but a feast for your eyes waiting just down a little side street off Charing Cross Road.