Research Ramblings: 19th Century Eyeglasses and the Museum of Vision, Part 1

It’s been a while since I’ve rambled about research. Mainly because my current WIP is a myth retelling that doesn’t require the historical accuracy that Cynisca and the Olive Crown did. However, the WIP’s first draft is completed, and I’m looking ahead to my next project: a historical middle grade set in the U.S. North right after the Civil War.

This is not an era I’m well acquainted or enamored with. Ancient Greece and Japan have been my preferred settings. However, I discovered a historical figure whose life resonated with me, and because she lived in the mid-1800’s, that’s where I’m going. As such, my Goodreads list now includes a bunch of American history non-fiction.

The thing about this time and place is that the historical record is larger and much more complete than my ancient settings. That translates into more details I need to get right, and one of those details is glasses.

My main character wore glasses. A contemporary mentions it in a description of her. It’s a detail that could work as a plot point, but using it requires knowledge of the state of eyewear at the time. However, while I found pages and pages about the clothes of the era, there’s not much about glasses. Finally, in frustration, I did a Google search for “eyeglasses museum.”

And the Museum of Vision popped up.

Yes, folks, the American Academy of Ophthalmology has a museum dedicated to ophthalmologic history. In addition to online resources, it has galleries at the academy’s national headquarters in San Francisco, which is within driving distance of my home. But while it is open to the public, appointments are required. So I called the listed number, which put me in touch with museum director Jenny Benjamin.

As it turns out, I am not the first writer to call Jenny regarding eyeglasses history. Once I explained what I was after, she offered to email me the information I was looking for and spare me a two-hour trip into the city. And she did! Plus she answered a string of follow up questions and was super nice about it!

So if you’re looking for information on old-time glasses, go to museumofvision.org. If you can’t find what you’re after on the website, give them a call. I’m sure they can help you out.

As for the questions I posed to Jenny, I’ll share them and her answers in Part 2.

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One response to “Research Ramblings: 19th Century Eyeglasses and the Museum of Vision, Part 1

  1. Pingback: Research Ramblings: 19th Century Eyeglasses and the Museum of Vision, Part 2 | Keeping It In Canon ...mostly

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