The annual meeting of our Academy in San Francisco this fall promises to be especially memorable with a preview of the Truhlsen-Marmor Museum of the Eye, details of which can be found in this and the previous issue of Scope.
Dr. Walter H. 'Terry' Marshall's ocular collection includes antique ophthalmic products.
With the rich history of our profession and the vast array of instruments and devices that have come and gone, there is fertile soil for museums as well as personal collections. Many of us undoubtedly have various collections of eye-related artifacts. I have enjoyed collecting antique eyeglasses, although my humble little collection pales in comparison to the remarkable collection of our colleague, Walter H. “Terry” Marshall, MD.
For many of us, our hobbies or avocations began or at least picked up later in life when the demands of our practices eased off, allowing more time to pursue additional interests. But Dr. Marshall and his wife, Jean, have been collecting antiques all of their 56 years of marriage.
In fact, it began on their honeymoon, when they found a “sad old iron.” They both love old things and have numerous collections – “his, hers and theirs” – and have been involved in multiple historic preservation projects over the years. Even where they have lived and worked are relics of the past. The office in Gainesville, Fla., where Dr. Marshall worked for 33 years, was in a restored 1882 Victorian house. He also restored a former 1899 country store as a satellite office in Melrose, Fla., and they presently live in an 1880s home.
But, of all Dr. Marshall’s collections and preservation projects, the most amazing is his optical collection, which includes exam instruments, spectacles, trade signs and catalogs, advertising and many examples of medical quackery. And, again, it began very early in his career.
After earning a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering and his medical degree, both at the University of Florida, he completed his internship and a nephrology fellowship at Duke University Medical School before serving in the Army for two years. He then returned to the University of Florida for his ophthalmology residency, and it was during this time that he acquired his first eye-related antique.
It was on a trip to Maine that he found a circa 1920s Spencer Optical Ophthalmoscopic Test Lens, a self-test device to help individuals determine the lens power they need from a selection of over-the-counter eyeglasses. Despite his vast collection in the decades to follow, he says he has never seen another like it.
Antique eye wash kit from Dr. Walter Marshall's colllection.
In 1981, Dr. Marshall, who was just five years out of his residency, accepted the advice of his mentor, Melvin Rubin, MD, and took his “dog and pony show” on the road. By now he had a considerable collection of ocular artifacts.
“And so,” Dr. Marshall recounts, “we hitched a small trailer to our Ford station wagon and headed out for Atlanta and the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s annual meeting.” Upon arriving, they were instructed to follow the exhibitor’s path to the World Congress Center parking area.
“We felt like the Griswolds, parking our Ford between the 53-foot semitrailers,” he continues. “Using artifacts from my collection, we recreated a turn-of-the-20th century eye doctor’s office in the booth. To my surprise, I was interviewed by Jeff Levine on the then recently created CNN news program during its coverage of the meeting.”
As Dr. Marshall’s collection grew over the years, he developed a special interest in medical quackery, for which he has numerous advertisements and trade signs, many in the form of large eyeglasses. He is a founding member of the Ocular Heritage Society, where he has given many presentations. He is also a member of the Cogan Ophthalmic History Society, where he has also spoken, and the Ophthalmic Antiques International Collector’s Club. His presentations have had intriguing titles such as “Dr. J. Ball’s Eye Cups,” “J. Stevens Cornea Restorer,” “Neu Vita Oculizer,” “Natural Eyesight System” and “Eye Vitalizer.”
Since his retirement in 2015, Dr. Marshall has been able to spend more time with his hobby, photographing and cataloging his collection. He plans to donate some artifacts to the University of Florida Department of Ophthalmology. In 2018, the History Channel featured Dr. Marshall on its American Pickers television series in an episode called “An Eye for Picking.”
To see more of his work, in addition to the illustrations in this article, you can watch the television feature, Season 18, Episode 57, on YouTube.
As a member of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, Dr. Marshall also served on the Museum of the Eye Collection Committee and plans to donate some of his artifacts to the Academy.
As you visit the Academy’s Museum of the Eye in San Francisco in years to come, you may well see some of Dr. Marshall’s amazing life work.