British Optical Association Museum - Atlas Obscura

British Optical Association Museum

The world's oldest optical museum is an odd collection where the exhibits look at you. 


In two small rooms in the basement of the College of Optometrists, there’s a museum of odd ocular artifacts. It’s a surreal place, where the collection seems to look at you more than you’ll look at it—particularly the large case of glass eyes.

The contents of the British Optical Association Museum are an odd sight to behold. Visitors can expect to find an eclectic assortment of anything related to eyes. You’ll see items like Dr. Johnson’s spectacles, an eye of Horus, National Health Service eyewear, saints holding eyeballs, celebrity contact lenses, eye-washing cups, the late Queen Mother’s collection of glasses, and anti-henpecking shades for chickens.

You’ll also learn why the optometrists’ symbol is a turtle, and about the ghosts that are said to haunt the museum.

The museum is named for an organization that no longer exists: the British Optical Association (BOA), founded in 1895 as the first professional body for ophthalmic opticians (optometrists). In 1901, the BOA started its museum as a way to record the development of corrective eyewear. The earliest collection was comprised of mostly spectacles and visual aids, but soon expanded to include instruments and artwork related to ophthalmic practices.

The museum bounced around a number of times in the 20th century. In 1980, the BOA merged with rival bodies the Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers and the Scottish Association of Opticians to form the British College of Ophthalmic Opticians, which today is known as the College of Optometrists. Keeping the BOA brand, the museum continues to collect almost anything to do with the eye.

Update as of March 2022: The museum is undergoing refurbishment and is currently closed until spring 2023. The museum is planned to reopen on September 10, 2023, as part of Open House.

Know Before You Go

The museum is only visitable by appointment, Monday though Friday from 10:00 to 5:00, but it does guarantee the visitor a personal tour. Appointments can be made via the museum website. The curator will email to confirm dates and times.

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December 22, 2017

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