Dr. Edward Charles Bull

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In the course of gathering information regarding this website, notable individuals from eleven different countries have already been selected for having distinguished themselves with major contributions to this field of study. These twenty-two people now comprise our Honor Roll of Distinguished Persons to whom this website is dedicated. It is exciting to announce that number twenty three has now been located and information regarding the life of Dr. Edward C. Bull will be presented below.

(Adapted from information and images received through a wide variety of sources. This list includes his two surviving daughters Louise Herman and Mary Mason of Pasedena, California (A sizable portion of the materials for this webpage was kindly supplied by them), Christies of South Kensington, William Camp, the Los Angeles Natural History Museum, Dr. Gilbert Cohen, Dr. William Rosenthal, the Optometric Historical Society, The 1915 Encyclopedia of Ophthalmology, Dr. Alan York, Eric Muth, and Ronald MacGregor.)

BACKGROUND

A very significant collection of antique spectacles and related vision aids was offered earlier this year by Christies of South Kensington. Sales in both April and June attracted much attention worldwide since numerous unique items were being offered to the public for the first time. The major pieces of this collection had been accumulated by Dr. Edward C. Bull between 1889 and 1930.

Edward Charles Bull was born in 1871 in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada as the youngest of thirteen children. His family had arrived from Dublin, Ireland in the early 1830s and Bull’s relatives still to this day exist in Hamilton. Bull's father Richard was a representative for the Hartford Insurance Company and also became treasurer of the Hamilton Museum Association. One generation earlier, Richard's father George Perkins Boothsby Bull had been publisher of the Hamilton Spectator. George P. B. Bull had immigrated to Canada during a period of some troubles between Protestants and Catholics back in Ireland. At that time he may have libeled a Catholic priest. Ironically another of George P. B’s grandson’s was Dr. George Joseph Bull (Edward’s oldest brother) who later converted from Anglicanism to Catholicism. He even wrote a short leaflet in 1908 about his conversion calling it simply "How I Became a Catholic".

During his youthful years Edward was nicknamed “Ned” and then some years later in 1899, he opened the optometry branch office of E.B. Meyerwitz (pioneer American optician) in Paris, France. Seven years later in 1906 he opened a second Meyerwitz branch office in London, England. Bull traveled much in Europe during those years and slowly and selectively acquired a large portion of his collection. Later he returned to the United States and in June 1912 The Southern California College of Optometry and Ophthalmology awarded him a degree. (Interesting however Bull does not appear in the 1904-1984 index of the James Gregg book on that college, nor does his name appear in the list of 1912 graduates on page 511 of Gregg’s book).

Dr. Edward Bull practiced as an optometrist in Pasadena, California between 1912 and 1927. He became naturalized in Los Angeles in 1921. At this time he enjoyed collecting arrowheads, stamps and coins, and also acquired much knowledge of birds. He was quite interested in Boy Scout work in England and also in Paris where this organization had originated. In addition, he lectured and attended a few classes at Oxford, Birmingham University. He was devoted to the education of youth and was instrumental in getting the Pasadena City Schools to set up art appreciation and music appreciation programs in the elementary schools. In May 1927 he was hired as curator of the Junior Museum at the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History in Los Angeles and worked there until Feb. 16, 1931 when he died from a sudden heart attack while at work. His collection of spectacles was exhibited there at the Los Angeles Museum for many years even after his death.

His obituary described him as “an internationally recognized optometrist who had one of the most complete and historic collections of eyeglasses from all sections of the world. As a lover of birds he also persuaded his father-in-law to present to the city a collection of rare birds then valued at $ 5,000.” In Central Park, the city built a large aviary for these birds. Finally regarding the Science of Optometry he was “recognized as one of the best informed men in the world”.

Bull made a thorough study of the subject of American eyeglasses and presented the early development of the industry in a series of contributions to the Optical Journal. One additional article on St. Jerome “The Patron Saint of the Opticians” was published in 1911. He also made a presentation entitled “A Voyage into the History of Spectacles,” at the 1926 American Optometric Association Convention in San Francisco.

On a personal note and regarding his own family, Edward had a wife and three children, two daughters and a son. His daughter Louise is currently 93 years old and Mary is an active and vital 89 year old. As noted earlier Edward’s oldest brother was Dr. George Joseph Bull who was also a noted celebrity. He was born in 1848 and later devoted years of study to become an eye surgeon in Paris in 1886. He wrote The Visual Effects of Refractive Error (48 pages) and also the book Lunettes and Lorgnettes in 1870. George was on the staff of the Sorbonne Ophthalmology Laboratory along with Landholt and others under the direction of Dr. Emile Javal (1839-1907), from the French Academy of Medicine. Some optical equipment was even named after George including the Bull Cross and the Bull Ophthalmometer. He was considered the most famous ophthalmologist of his time in Europe and treated eye problems and prescribed glasses for the royalty of Europe and also the Pope. While in England he was even offered knighthood which he declined. George was married twice; his first wife (they divorced in 1883) was Sarah Jeannette Wesson, daughter of Daniel Baird Wesson (of the Smith & Wesson firearms company formed in 1852). The Wesson Revolver had been invented by Daniel Wesson. Some of their descendants still live in Massachusetts, in the Springfield area and some around Boston. Edward’s wife’s teacher’s sister married George Bull in Paris, as his second wife in 1898. She also had taught in a school for the blind and devoted much time to the young artists of Paris. George died at the age of 63 in 1911.

THE COLLECTION

Edward Bull began collecting antique vision aids in 1889 when he became associated as a practicing optometrist with his oldest brother George, the ophthalmologist at 4 Rue de la Paix, Paris, France. Edward later became the manager of C.M. Dickey, Optician to the King in London. This gave him the rare opportunity to secure interesting and unusual specimens. He searched for years through the museums and old spectacle shops of Europe and America. Supposedly Edward set up an optical booth at the 1892-3 Columbian Exposition adjacent to the building where they had the Chinese exhibit. Later he was able to secure the world renowned Chinese Spectacles Collection from the Chinese Exhibition at either the Paris Exposition in 1900 or the 1905 San Francisco Fair. The “rare old crystal lenses having tortoiseshell rims were supposed to endow the wearer with occult powers” (stated from the quarterly bulletin of the Los Angeles Museum April – May – June 1937). The Chinese pieces may also have been shown in 1912 in San Francisco International Exposition.

Bull’s knowledge and his collection were recognized in the American Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Ophthalmology Chicago, Cleveland Press, 1915, edited by Casey A. Wood, M.D. , C.M. D. C. L. Dr. Bull was considered to be one of the earliest of the American spectacles collectors, his collection aided in developing the section “History of Eyeglasses and Spectacles” pp. 4894- 4953. His diploma from Southern California College of Optometry and Ophthalmology June 1, 1912 became the front cover of the Optometric Vision Care Council (OVCC) The Optometrist magazine for April 1973.

He was an ardent and avid collector and accumulated a very significant group of objects, some quite unusual. One of the more significant parts of his collection was a group of a dozen early 18th century bow spectacles made of leather and steel. Most of the lenses were missing but they had all been located in a single drawer in an optical shop in Europe, and probably had cost him very little about 100 years ago.

Dr. Bull also accumulated biographies of Ben Franklin because Franklin was “father’s hero” since he had worn glasses and had created bifocals. “Franklin was his favorite!” stated one of the daughters and there were several early examples of Franklin style split-lens bifocals in the collection.

Some years after Dr. Bull passed away the collection was placed in storage and there it remained for over three decades. Finally in Oct. 1976 the family hired Dr. L.D. Bronson (1907-1994) of Sherman Oaks, California to appraise and then offer the collection for sale. So in Jan 1977 it was appraised by him for over $ 120,000. Bronson had sent a flyer announcing his book Early American Specs to every American optometrist suggesting that he was a world’s authority. He also wrote an eighty-five page supplement to Early American Specs which contained his rapport with the Bull Collection. The collection was then advertised in Optometric World Nov. 1976 and Mar 1977 with photos but there was no response to this ad.

The collection was then discovered by optometrist Dr. Alan York when he placed an ad in the American Legion Magazine looking for examples to purchase for his own collection. Bull’s two daughters contacted him and there was some correspondence. Dr. York, an advanced collector and also an authenticator of the antique spectacles for the Smithsonian, became a prospective buyer. Later another advanced collector Dr. Gilbert Cohen was offered the collection. However it continued to remain unsold.

By May 1984 many inaccuracies had been noted in the description of the material finally being returned to Louise and Mary. In particular 55 items were still missing having a total value of $ 10,975. The designation “L1090” had been written on many of the key objects in the collection and this notation also was on some of those missing pieces (in a way this was fortunate because it helped [and still helps] to identify some of the most significant objects from the collection). Litigation finally ensued and both sides sought legal representation. Herbert “Buddy” Abrams, Los Angeles lawyer represented the Bull family (3 siblings) and Michael Donner, Encino California lawyer worked for Bronson. A jury trial was scheduled to begin in October 1986 but there was an out-of-court settlement before this could proceed into the courts.

Between 1985 and 1986, perhaps it was also offered to the International Library Archives and Museum of Optometry in St. Louis. Then by Dec. 86 optician Eric Muth entered the picture and offered to buy the collection in order to donate it to the Smithsonian. There was a “promissory letter with the intent to donate substantially” perhaps as many as 550 pieces. In 1986 the collection was reappraised by Muth and the figure was now over $ 450,000. William Camp finally then became involved in July 1987 with the assistance of Muth. A deal was consummated in Aug 1987 and Camp finally bought the entire collection. It was to be donated to the Smithsonian over a period of several years. Camp then spent several thousand dollars more to purchase items from Dr. Bronson’s own collection, at least three of which had the Museum ID # L1090 which made these parts of the original Bull Collection. These objects had been missing and another group of nearly a dozen items were also located and they were purchased by Camp from Bronson.

About 634 pieces in all had been promised (as a donation) to the Smithsonian but this apparently never occurred. The National Museum of American History of the Smithsonian apparently decided to “pass” on everything. This was a severe disappointment to the entire family because apparently not even one of the objects from Dr. Edward Bull’s Collection ended up at the Smithsonian.

After almost 20 more years the collection (having now become part of the larger fine quality collection of William Camp) was finally offered in mid 2004 to Christies. Hence it became the William L. Camp Jr. Spectacle Collection which was broken up into a larger section offered in April 2005 and a smaller part offered in June 2005. One final point of note, there was a rare Bautain opera glass sent over to London but this was not labeled as ivory. Apparently it was confiscated by the English government and cannot be tracked. (I often wonder what ever happens to rare antique objects like this opera glass!).

In conclusion, objects assembled by Dr. Edward Bull nearly 100 years ago have been sold thru Christies and are now dispersed into collections around the world. The new owners of each historic object can be pleased because their actions have helped the hobby to grow and expand. Dr. Bull will always be recognized for his lifetime devotion to this subject and all his significant contributions to our fundamental base of knowledge regarding Antique Spectacles.


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