Optisches Museum Jena

front of hand carved wooden case, 17th c
Front of hand carved wooden case, 17th c

box for Nuremberg spectacles, mid 18th c
Box for Nuremberg spectacles, mid 18th c

earliest known eye testing equipment, Johann Paul Hirn, optician, Munich, c. 1780
 Earliest known eye testing equipment, Johann Paul Hirn, optician, Munich, c. 1780
book with baleen spectacles in the front cover, 1719
Book with baleen spectacles in the front cover, 1719
Chinese glasses, silver, original (unusual) case, 19th c
Chinese glasses, silver, original (unusual) case, 19th c

2-OBJECTS ON DISPLAY, Slideshow #1
3-OBJECTS ON DISPLAY, Slideshow #2


Visit their website; Optisches Museum Jena (Ernst-Abbe-Foundation)

(This page has been translated into Russian Click here to see this translation.)

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Adapted from a presentation by curator Karin Gjudjenow given to the OAICC on September 10, 2004
Also adapted from the introduction by Joachim Toppler in A Spectacle of Spectacles, Exhibition Catalogue and from Eric Muth’s Vision Aids in History.

One of the finest collections of antique vision aids and instruments in the world is housed in Jena, Germany. The Optisches Museum there has a fascinating and significant history. Three great men who were destined to make optical industry news joined together and what has emerged is both wondrous and spectacular.

Carl Zeiss (1816–1888) was born in Weimar, became a mechanic, and established a mechanical workshop in Jena in 1846. His business was to found one of the world's leading precision and optical engineering enterprises. The talented mechanic started by making microscopes and at that time he was the sole owner of his workshop. In 1866 the physicist Dr. Ernst Abbe (1840–1905) from the University of Jena joined the firm initially as a consultant. Having formulated the theory of microscopic image formation in 1871-72, Abbe's work brought forth new and more superior microscopes. Thus the company was able to prosper in a unique way, which led to a continuous improvement in technology and quality of instrument making. In 1876 Abbe became a full partner to Zeiss and the company sold its 3000th microscope and five years later it opened new production areas. After 1888 the famous scientist took on the complete responsibility for the further development of the firm. In 1893 Abbe constructed prism binoculars and soon became world-renowned for this product line. In 1897 the Zeiss Company produced its first of many astronomical instruments.

Otto Schott (1851–1935), whose father owned a small plate glass factory, moved to Jena on the initiative of Abbe and set up a glass technical laboratory there. With the support of the Prussian Government the Schott Jena Glass Works were established in 1884 and the shares of Schott's partners, Carl and Roderich Zeiss and Ernst Abbe, then merged into the Carl Zeiss Foundation. This foundation promoted the basic ideas of Ernst Abbe in 1889 and comprised the Zeiss Works. Then from 1919 onward it became the complete Schott Glass works.

Ernst Abbe published the statutes of the foundation in 1896, which guaranteed many benefits for the employees. These statutes marked a milestone in German social history because many social rights later became part of general social legislation and wage agreement regulations. All workers benefited and an example was therefore established and set for other countries to later follow. Schott developed optical glass with totally innovative optical properties and put glass manufacturing on a more scientific footing. In 1919 he transferred his share holdings in the glass works to the Carl Zeiss Foundation. Since 1850 Rathenow and other German cities had been manufacturing millions of utilitarian spectacles which the world’s population was easily able to consume.

The Carl Zeiss Jena workforce began to make an expanded range of optical instrument around 1890. In this start-up phase, the Zeiss scientists Professor Hermann Ambronn, Dr. Henry Siedentopf, Dr. Hans Boegehold and Dr. Moritz von Rohr contributed strongly to the collections of various instruments. Eventually the company had assembled a remarkable stock of microscopes, telescopes and spectacles.

In June 1922, the Optical Museum was set up as a Carl Zeiss Foundation facility. In October 1924 this museum was moved to a newly-erected building in Carl Zeiss Square. During the 1930's and 1940's the Carl Zeiss Foundation acquired the important collections of spectacles formerly owned by eminent Dresden ophthalmologist Professor Albert von Pflugk and also by Richard Greef. After the death of Moritz von Rohr the direction of the museum passed to the responsible hands of Dr. Hans Boegehold. This particular collection was restricted to the use of but a few select people for research purposes.

To protect the entire collection from the effects of the Second World War, it was stored in the neighborhood of Jena. The storage conditions however were extremely poor and caused enormous damage to some of the exhibits. At the end of the War, it was discovered that during storage some of the boxes had been broken open and several of the museum's exhibits had been stolen. Years of intensive restoration work became necessary. In April 1946 when archivist Fritz Ortlepp started work as an administrator of the Museum he tackled this job. Thanks to the dedication of its courageous administrator the Optisches Museum escaped from the planned dismantling by the Soviet occupying forces. After the war, Ortlepp and Boegehold and others tried to acquire better premises along with access for the general public. In August 1965, the first permanent exhibition in the Griesbach house was declared officially open to the public. It held nearly 4000 vision aids, including microscopes and other scientific devices. Due to limited space availability, the exhibition was then moved to Carl Zeiss Square between 1976 and 1977. The new presentation was entitled ‘Tradition and progress in Optical precision instrument manufacture'. In the 1980s, numerous special exhibitions in Florence, Paris, London, Edinburgh and Liverpool made the museum famous throughout Europe.

In December 1988 on the occasion of the centenary of the death of Carl Zeiss the historical Zeiss workshop was opened as a part of the Optical Museum. With the inauguration of the Zeiss historical workshop the museum was renamed the “Zeiss Museum” a name, which, however, was then revoked in 1991.

Since 1992, the museum has been located in the Service Department and has become a facility of the newly established Ernst Abbe Foundation of Jena. In 1993, a complete redesign of the museum's presentation was started in terms of content and with modernization of the entire layout.

First the reopening of the visual aids and ophthalmologic instruments departments, and then the Ernst Abbe and Otto Schott biographical departments took place sequentially from 1992-94. In 1996 the permanent exhibition was completely revamped with the presentation of the “History of the Microscope and Telescope” as well as “Photo Technology” and finally “The World of Images”. The opening of the “Carl Zeiss and his Work” exhibition represented both the culmination and completion of this redesign phase. In April 1999, the exhibition area was extended further by the permanent presentation of “Holography – a Glimpse into the Third Dimension”. In October 1999, the Optical Museum established another new highlight, a demonstration of historic and modern optical experiments in the shape of “Milestones in Optics”. In 2001, a hall for graphic exhibitions was established. One year later people were delighted with the presentation of “Planetarium’s Technique”.

This modern-style museum continues to enjoy mounting popularity with visitors from all over the world. Some of the feature attractions at the Optisches Museum Jena are now included in the first slideshow below together with photos of Carl Zeiss, Otto Schott and Ernst Abbe. In addition a special slideshow of color lithographs has also been organized for everyone to enjoy. The museum’s entire holdings have become recognized as one of the world's top collections of antique vision aids. Many of the finest objects still remain uncatalogued and hidden in storage but hopefully these will also eventually all be identified. Then even more exceptional items can be placed on display for everyone to see and appreciate.

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