Optical Heritage Museum Staff

Thanks to our friends at the Optical Heritage Museum and ZEISS who generously agreed to share their news and intriguing articles with you through 20/20 Pro to Pro.

June was a particularly busy month, most notably by the arrival of international television phenomenon, Antiques Roadshow. Our very own Jeanine McElroy and Debbie Schiro represented the museum by bringing a number of valuable and historically significant items for appraisal. Our appraised collection featured a selection of optical frames (including a 300-year-old pair), some original McAllister Gold Frames and even an ancient optical book. While we didn’t make it to TV, our collection still was assessed, and we learned many interesting things about our collection. Each item is on display and can be viewed by visiting the museum in Southbridge, Massachusetts.

These goggles, (highly likely AO) released in 1943 had been in development since before WWII. They were designed to help spot camouflaged items and feature colored lens tints and ventilated side screens on a leather mounting. The design became more of a novelty item as they didn’t work too well.

This triple folding lens has remained a mystery at the museum for some time. The manufacturer is unknown, and it’s thought to have been made circa late 17th century, the design features a nickel frame and green tint lenses with two additional lenses which flip over. The green lens was designed to provide safety for glass blowers, however as with most unusual designs at the time, became somewhat of a novelty device.

These McAllister gold frames are a statement piece among American Optics. The museum has had a long running history with the McAllister family and were proud to bring a pair of original frames to the Antiques Roadshow. A burst mark was present on the frames, representing “gold material” and likely 12-karat. This frame was kindly donated to the museum by Ruth Pollack.

These unique goggles were designed by the Inuits to block the sun’s glare in the snow. Both appraisers who valued the item stated the material was made from mastodon bone, found in the Tundra and is likely over 15 thousand years old. Ted Trotta (tribal arts expert) claimed these pieces were not made with the intention of deceiving the buyer, but likely to appease to visitors who wanted a traditional item from the area. These specific frames were likely produced some time in the 20th century because had they been older, we should have seen more wear - they were meant to be worn.

These Chinese artifacts were originally thought to be from around the 17th Century, however we were proved wrong. Kindly donated to us from Ruth Pollack, the glasses and round are dated circa early 20th Century with the glasses made from horn. Likewise, the lacquered frame box was originally considered an ancient item, however the engravings (notably in the garments) were thought to be a little too "flowing” to have come from an earlier period. The wood design, while intricate is likely a cheap reproduction.

This optical book was part of the original AO library and “may” have been gifted by ZEISS employees during one of the many visits AO Executives made to Germany (between 1907 - 1912). These drawings were very time consuming to create, given the detail involved. The appraiser also noted how difficult these drawings would have been to print, which also added to the overall value.