• Sneak Peek: Spectacular Spectacles Exhibition

    May 8, 2021

    Author: Jenny Benjamin, Director, Truhlsen - Marmor Museum of the Eye® & The Stanley M. Truhlsen, MD Director of Ophthalmic Heritage

    Two women look at a museum display of eyeglasses. The museum gallery has green walls and the green wall behind the women reads Spectacular Spectacles in white letters. The other walls have historical images of eyeglasses printed on them. One woman wears a yellow sweater and has long dark hair. The other woman wears her dark hair in two braids. She is pointing towards a lit case of eyeglasses.

    The Truhlsen-Marmor Museum of the Eye® is home to nearly 4,000 aids to vision including eyeglasses, contact lenses, goggles, monoculars, binoculars, and telescopes. We are featuring this collection in our temporary exhibit, “Spectacular Spectacles,” which explores how eyeglasses work and the unique designs of eyeglasses and sunglasses since their invention in the 13th century. You may enjoy seeing a sneak peek of the exhibit on-line. 

    This intricate collection will be on view for a finite period of time in the museum’s temporary exhibit space. Be sure to catch it in person when the museum opens its doors this summer.

    The museum has been collecting vision aids since its inception in 1980. One of our first supporters, Dr. J. William Rosenthal, was an avid collector of eyeglasses. He even wrote and published a book on the subject in 1994. Those who were lucky enough to be invited to his home recall that his collection took over his entire house, with eyeglasses stuffed into each drawer and in every closet. One visitor told me that they even found pieces of the collection in the bathroom vanity!

    A black book cover with white letters and an image of eyeglass lenses attached to a gold handle. The cover reads: J. William Rosenthal, MD, Spectacles and Other Vision Aids: A History and Guide to Collecting.

    The Harriet and J. William Rosenthal, MD, Collection is easily one of the jewels of the Museum of the Eye™. Not only figuratively, but literally as several pieces were hand-fabricated using precious gems and metals. A favorite piece of Dr. Rosenthal’s was a lorgnette, pictured on the cover of his book, “Spectacles and Other Vision Aids.”

     Lorgnettes are eyeglasses, most often readers, that have one long handle rather than temple or side pieces for the ears. In most specimens, the lenses fold into the handle, making it a double-duty protective case as well as a holding device.

    A pair of gold eyeglass lenses attached to a gold handle sits on a gray background. The handle has a decorative border and an image of a woman's face in profile. There is a small diamond inlaid in the woman's hair. The lenses and handle are connected by a hinge.

    They could be quite utilitarian but many examples in the museum’s collection are highly decorative, as is the case for the Rosenthal piece — an art nouveau creation dating between 1890 and 1910. Its frame is . The handle has and diamonds ornamenting the hair. The tip of the handle has a small ring through which a chain of gold and pearl is attached, making this piece not only eyewear, but jewelry that would have been worn as a necklace when not being used.

    The museum has over 150 lorgnettes in its collection. At one time they were so popular that a book dedicated to decorum declared, "Is quite clear that the whole world of fashion has all of a sudden become so afflicted with short sightedness as to render the use of [lorgnettes] universally necessary!" 

    The museum looks forward to sharing this piece and so much more in our array of exhibits.