British Optical Association Museum

Pair of spectacles resting on their case
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Now in its second century, The British Optical Association Museum, founded 1901, is a collection comprising over twenty thousand outstanding items of ophthalmic and optical interest, covering the history of opticians and vision aids. The Museum was entrusted to the care of the College of Optometrists in 1980 and continues to be recognised as the oldest and one of the best specialist optical collections in the world.

Venue Type:

Museum, Archive, Association or society

Opening hours

The two permanent museum exhibition rooms (Sutcliffe Room and Giles Room) may be visited by members of the general public, strictly by advance appointment.

We are able to accommodate visitors between 9.30-17.00 from Mon-Fri (excluding public holidays). Last appointment 16.30. Accompanied children are welcome but please bear in mind that this is a working building. All visits are supervised by a member of Museum staff who will be pleased to answer your questions or supply further information on any relevant historic topic. The Gallery is quite small. An average visit lasts around 30-45 minutes.

The museum rooms are too small to be suitable for group visits larger than twenty five persons, but larger sized groups may be split. Call us to discuss the logistics!

Closed: Weekends, public holidays, certain other days when College events are taking place.

Admission charges

Admission Free - donations invited.
Tours of College building also available: £5.00 per person


  • Museums Association

The collection includes over 2000 pairs of spectacles, from the seventeenth century through to the twenty-first, as well as historic examples of other optical devices and aids to vision including scissor spectacles, folding eyeglasses, pince-nez, lorgnettes, magnifiers, quizzing glasses and monocles. The Museum owns the only known pair of Scarlett-type temple spectacles in the world (c.1730), a rare collection of fans, mostly having "spy glasses" in the handles, and a distinguished set of porcelain eyebaths. The Museum possesses the spectacles of various famous personalities including Dr Johnson, C.P. Snow, Ronnie Corbett and Dr Crippen. The collection of twenty two oil paintings on optical themes has recently been restored and catalogued in association with the College's near neighbour, The National Gallery. Our magnificent Print Room (which features on our meeting room tours) is hung from floor (nearly) to ceiling with fascinating portraits, caricatures and satires by the likes of Stradanus, Cruikshank and Gillray - all with an ophthalmic or optical theme...but can you always tell what? The Museum is particularly strong in its holdings of optometric instruments, a fact that distinguishes it from many of the other optical museums in the world which often tend to concentrate on eyewear alone. It collects the equipment used by ophthalmic opticians (optometrists) in conducting the professional eye examination, such as test charts, ophthalmoscopes and keratometers - even a 1930s optician's chair with a built-in refraction unit! Two particularly prized objects are a small Egyptian amulet depicting the "Eye of Horus", which experts date at between 600 and 400 BC and a sixteenth century statue of St Odilia, one of the patron saints of those suffering from ophthalmic disease. Other highlights include some 160 glass eyes illustrating external diseases and plastic casts showing malformations of the eye, several Snellen and Shell artificial human eyes (which replace enucleated eyes), ripe crystalline lenses which have been extracted from human eyes and an example of the clear intraocular replacement currently used in cataract surgery. The BOA Museum is home to an internationally significant Contact Lens Collection (CLC) which has been built up from a number of sources and is under active development. The CLC was augmented recently by gifts from Cantor & Nissel and Bausch & Lomb (UK) Ltd.
The Museum implements a formal Acquisitions Policy and the collections are ever-growing, albeit expansion these days is mainly due to gift. In 1996 the collection was presented with two pairs of the world's lightest spectacles. They were handcrafted in Denmark, with frames of air titanium containing no screws, rivets or solder, and each pair weighs 3 grams. The spectacles were awarded the Golden Trophy in the Grand Prix of Technology held in Paris in 1994. In 2002 American Optical donated a number of objects and archival items relating to BAO and companies they had taken over including such historic names as J & H Taylor, UK Optical and M. Wiseman & Co Ltd.
As well as the BOA collection the Museum also holds a number of interesting items on deposit from the former museum of Dollond & Aitchison Ltd. The Boots Opticians Collection was donated to the College in 2003, having previously been on loan to the Museum. News of the availability of new items of special interest is always welcome and expert advice can often be provided. The Museum was in store for six years following the College's change of premises and a major documentation exercise was begun in August 1998 to list and photograph each item. A selection from the collections has been placed on display in a small exhibition that is open to visitors by prior arrangement.

Collection details

Archives, Coins and Medals, Fine Art, Medicine, Personalities, Social History

Key artists and exhibits

  • Optometric instruments
  • Ophthalmoscopes and retinoscopes
  • Keratometers and ophthalmometers
  • Scissor spectacles
  • Folding eyeglasses
  • Pince-nez
  • Lorgnettes
  • Magnifiers
  • Quizzing glasses
  • Monocles
  • Scarlett-type temple spectacles
  • Fans, mostly having 'spy glasses' in the handles
  • Porcelain eyebaths
  • Spectacles of Dr Johnson, C.P. Snow, Ronnie Corbett and Dr Crippen
  • Prints by Stradanus, Cruikshank, Hogarth and Gillray
  • Paintings by Della Vecchia, Vandergucht, Mudge, Horsley, Houston, Elmer
  • Statue of St Odilia
  • Snellen and Shell artificial human eyes
  • Contact Lens Collection

British Optical Association Museum
The College of Optometrists
42 Craven Street
Greater London


Museum website


Museum E-mail


Museum Direct Line

020 7766 4353

College Switchboard

020 7839 6000


College Fax Number

020 7839 6800

All information is drawn from or provided by the venues themselves and every effort is made to ensure it is correct. Please remember to double check opening hours with the venue concerned before making a special visit.