(A) Douce Adds 139 (766), Bodleian Library, University of Oxford and (B)
to the British Optical Association Museum at the College of Optometrists
since both very kindly shared large high resolution greyscans in order
to present this evaluation and comparison
Very special personal thanks is extended to Neil
Handley, Curator at the BOA Museum, whose extensive knowledge in the
broad field of optical history is quite amazing. This page was also
created with the kind assistance of Josie Lister, Sheila O’Connell, Sara
Schechner, Karsten Gaulke, Peter de Clerc, Dennis Simms, Dr. Charles Letocha, Marv Bolt, Paolo Brenni and Adrian Whicher, and of course webmaster Lee
The Edward Scarlett optical trade card is,
appropriately, considered to be one of the most significant pieces of
printed ephemera in existence. Its specific importance in ophthalmic
history is due to the fact that it constitutes the earliest
advertisement for side arms on spectacles. For well over four hundred
years eyeglasses had rested only on the nose. Scarlett’s trade card
(circa 1728-30, or perhaps now datable a little earlier) illustrates
hinged temple pieces which are short, straight and have spiral endings
(finials). These finials pressed against a moderately large area of the
head in the region of the temple as well as on the nose, providing
greatly improved stability for the wearer. Very soon these spirals were
most likely modified to become the large ring ends seen on early temple spectacles,
examples of which are to be found in many public and private
Scarlett’s trade card is of extreme rarity and, up
until recently, only two examples were generally known to exist, one at
the BOA Museum and the other at the Science Museum, both in London. A
third example was uncovered, however, following research in 2007 at the
British Museum Department of Prints and Drawings. The most fortunate
discovery of a note in papers held there led to the wonderful example at
the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford which differs from the other
two. Scarlett’s trade card will be analysed and discussed below and also
demonstrated on the slideshows that follow. The three featured examples
have the illustrations of nearly thirty scientific objects in the
peripheral field making this trade card one of the most visual ones ever
printed. It also has three roundels of text each with nearly the same
message but in a different language, English, French, and Dutch.
FATHER and SON
Edward Scarlett, the elder (sometime before 1677 –
1743), was apprenticed in 1691 to Christopher Cock of Long Acre, a
member of the Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers. Scarlett was made
free of the Spectacle Makers Company in 1705 when he first opened his
shop called the Archimedes & the Globe on Dean Street, near St. Anne's
Church, Soho, London. He then became Master of the Spectacle Makers
Company in 1720-22. John Marshall had been optician to the reigning
monarch so when he died Scarlett was then appointed in 1727 to become
"Optician to his Majesty King George the Second". He was a distinguished
and highly respected optician and he remained at his shop until his
death in 1743.
The son, also an Edward Scarlett (perhaps 1702 - about
1779) was apprenticed to the father beginning around 1716 and then
worked at the same address until about 1770. The son was made free of
the Company in 1924 and became Master of the Spectacle Makers Company in
1745. He made microscopes and telescopes and is also recorded at an
additional address on Maxwell Street beginning in 1749, the Spectacles,
second house from Essex Street, near Temple Bar, in London.
Edward Scarlett Senior may not have been the actual
inventor of spectacle sides but the available evidence definitely
indicates that he was the first to advertise them. Only a single genuine
early example of the glasses survives today in the public domain and
just a few other examples (likely dated later in the 18th century) have
been located. That single most famous treasure exists at the BOA Museum
in London (modern catalogue #LDBOA1999.1308). It was discovered almost
by accident, during work in the museum basement, then at Knaresbrough
Place in 1990. Fortunately the Curator at that time, Hugh Orr, had
sufficient expertise to recognise their significance and their
authenticity has since been confirmed by Ronald MacGregor as well as
other international experts. Scarlett’s shop promoted this type, thus
they are known as the 'Scarlett-type'. Contrary to what is occasionally
reported neither Scarlett the father nor Scarlett the son ever claimed
to have invented the side arm nor did they ever patent this new feature.
Hugh Orr later wrote an article for the OAICC
Newsletter, Ophthalmic Antiques, entitled “Antique Collector’s Dream”.
He described one of his main tasks when beginning to recatalogue the BOA
Foundation Museum collection. He had been working with a mixed parcel of
rusty iron and steel spectacles, astigs, folders, etc. which had been
set aside as of no value. To his astonishment he saw the pair with short
spiral sides, covered with pieces of velvet. The lenses (+1.25 RE, +2.50
LE) were cracked and “the frame had seen better days”. But these were
Scarlett-type spectacles, and certainly the sort of discovery that only
comes once in a lifetime. It was Orr’s greatest find because he knew
that Scarlett had been the first to advertise spectacles with sides
(temples) and thus was felt to quite possibly be their inventor.
OTHER CONTRIBUTIONS ATTRIBUTED to the SCARLETT NAME
Another important development stemmed from the work
of Edward Scarlett, the senior. The rough measurement of lenses and the
prescribing of power by focal length probably began with the Florentines
during the 15th century. Then Augustinian monk Tommaso Garzoni actually
measured lens curvature in the final quarter of the 16th century. The
famous 1623 book by Daza de Valdes explains his method of grading lenses
by degrees corresponding to decades of age from 30 up to 80. Some of
these systems provided fairly exact designations but others were instead
just based on the relative need or approximate age of the wearer.
Glasses typically had been classified roughly as for ‘older people’ or
for 'younger people’s sight’. Daza de Valdes, in particular, used a
method which could be considered quite accurate by today’s standards.
Then about one hundred years later our Edward Scarlett became the very
first optician to gauge and number spectacle lenses according to their
focal length (relative power denoted in inches) and then he would MARK
that number on the frame. These Scarlett Focus Marks provided a wider
range of optical lens powers for people needing eyeglasses. Spectacle
making had been somewhat of an art before his time; now with Scarlett’s
“new method” this would become a more precise craft."
On his trade card Edward Scarlett advertised that he 'Grindeth
all manner of Optick Glasses (and) makes spectacles after a new method,
marking the Focus of the Glass upon the Frame, it being approv'd of by
all the Learned in Opticks as [the] Exactest way of fitting different
Eyes'. The older Edward Scarlett maintained a high standard of
leadership in carrying out the optical laws of the City of London. He
and his son also collaborated with the well-known mathematician John
Hadley (1682-1744) who was a then Vice President of the Royal Society.
That collaboration gave the Scarletts insight into advanced methods
employed by scientists for measuring lenses. This likely is what had led
to the development of Scarlett’s Focus Mark.
In the Weekly Journal, 23 May 1724 the following
appeared “Last week was shown to the King (i.e. George I, 1714 - 1727]),
Prince and Princess … a curious piece of Dioptrick Painting by the
ingenious Mr Edward Scarlett, optician to Their Royal Highnesses, famous
for his late Improvement of fitting spectacles to weak eyes by the focal
length of the glass”.
The majority of the spectacles created between 1724
(when this “improvement” was announced to the king) and 1743 (when
Scarlett senior died) were Nuremberg style nose spectacles. Folding
varieties were also made. It would not have been easy to place the focus
number on a typical Nuremberg frame of the day. Therefore some years
later we assume that it became much more practical to simply etch that
focal length number on the glass lens itself, although we do not know if
Scarlett was the first optician to actually begin this practice.
Also in the late 18th century other marks (30, 40,
50…100) were sometimes noted on the sidearms of eyeglasses. The higher
the number marked on the frame the more likely a lens of that strength
would provide improved vision for a person nearly that age. All these
developments were reviewed in the excellent July 1951 article in The
Optician written by Otto Ahlstrom curator of the Stockholm United
In addition to what is detailed above, The Science
Museum label on their now dismantled display from their former Optics
Gallery specified that it was the younger Scarlett who was involved in
speculum mirrors. It is commonly stated that amateur astronomer Samuel Molyneux
(1689-1728) revealed the results of his experiments in optics to 'Edward Scarlett'
some time between 1724-1728 but it is not entirely clear to which Scarlett
that referred. We might safely assume that some references to 'Edward
Scarlett' in the 1720s and 1730s are to the business of that name and
not specifically to the senior or the junior individual.
THE THREE EXAMPLES of THE CARD
Three examples are presently known to exist:
1) Bodleian Library, University of Oxford – Information gained while
doing research in the Prints and Drawings Department of the British
Museum fortunately led to the discovery of this paper treasure. Now
believed to be 1714-1727. Douce
Adds 139, item 766. Size 10 ½ x 8 ¼ inches.
2). British Optical Association Museum of the College of Optometrists,
modern catalogue number LDBOA1999.242 - This example is somewhat faded
but it is also unique since it had apparently been used as a handbill
dated 1756. It has been signed by Scarlett the younger on the reverse
and this is believed to be an original signature, not one signed by
another staff employee.
It is reprinted in the 1932 BOA Museum and Library Catalogue by J.H.
Sutcliffe and E.S. Chittell, opposite page 296.
3). Science Museum London – This example had been on display in the
museum’s Optical Gallery, but unfortunately this was dismantled during
2007. It is reprinted in the important 1971 H.R. Calvert M.A. book
Scientific Trade Cards in the Science Museum Collection. Appearing on
page 44 and denoted as catalogue # 339 it is marked as Science Museum
inventory 1934-120. Size 11 3/8 x 9 3/8 inches.
WHICH is THE EARLIER VERSION?
The main points of difference between the newly
surfaced Bodleian example and the previously known BOA Museum / Science
Museum version are:
1). The Royal Arms have a different appearance
2). Below the Royal Arms appear the French words ‘Dieu et mon droit’,
but only on one of the versions.
3). In the left upper oval (roundel) the text names two different
members of the reigning Royal Family.
4). In the lower oval the Dutch text varies with one version being
shorter than the other.
5). The BOA version is less well defined even when compared to the
Science Museum example
In one of the catalogues at the British Museum
Department of Prints and Drawings, there is a photograph of the trade
card of Edward Scarlett in the Douce Collection at the Bodleian Library.
Notes are written by Sir Ambrose Heal (1872-1959) on the mount of this
photograph…. .Heal 105.88 [N.B. This card refers to the Prince and
Princess of Wales so must date to before June 1727 when the Prince
(George) succeeded to the throne as George II].
There are also notes by Ambrose Heal on the mount of a
photograph of the trade card of Edward Scarlett at the Science Museum,
South Kensington. Since the card refers to George II it must date to
after June 1727. Heal even suggested the trade card may originally have
been produced as early as 1710, but the lettering on this example had to
be after June 1727.
Peter de Clercq is a Dutch-born independent writer,
researcher and officer of the Scientific Instrument Society. He was
asked to evaluate the two trade cards. His response, “I have compared
the Scarlett trade card from the Bodleian library (let's say item A)
with the one illustrated in H. R. Calvert, Scientific Trade Cards in the
Science Museum Collection (1971), plate 44 (item B) and which I
understand is also in the collection of our good friend Neil Handley.
The Dutch text in item A is a hilarious attempt at translation of the
English and French texts, overlong and a real muddle. Presumably someone
with a command of the Dutch language got hold of it and advised
Scarlett, resulting in the much shorter and correct text in item B. This
to me seems convincing evidence that item A is the older of the two.”
On the BOA Museum / Science Museum version George II
is mentioned. This means that the earliest date it possibly could be is
1727. The BOA version is even less well-defined than the Science Museum
example; therefore it may have been printed even later, supported by the
fact that it is dated on the back as a 1756 handbill.
The Bodleian version's Royal Arms have to be post 1714
because of the bottom right quarter which is divided into three showing
two lions on a field, and in the lowest part a galloping horse, the
symbol of Hanover. We do not know how quickly the Royal Heralds operated
in devising the revised arms...George I ascended the throne in August
1714. Prince George (the future George II) was appointed Prince of Wales
on 27 September 1714 so the trade card must post-date that month. He
became King on 11 June 1727.
The Bodleian version mentions the Prince and Princess
of Wales. This relates to the future George II, appointed Prince of
Wales in 1714 by which time he was already married. The Bodleian version
is also better engraved, therefore probably closer to the original. It
could likely be 1714-1727. The nice thing about that is it could
potentially change the currently held date for the invention of
London optical instrument makers advertised their
craft through trade cards and pamphlets. These tradesman’s cards or,
more shortly, trade cards were usually printed on one side of a card or,
more often, just a sheet of paper. They help provide wonderful evidence
for the social development of an opticians’ profession. They also are a
useful source for the history of science and can sometimes help us date
instruments (or inventions like the first hinged sides for eyeglasses –
“Scarlett-type”). Many of the makers were members of the Worshipful
Company of Spectacles Makers. Each maker also had a projecting sign
(frontispiece) by which his business was known. A great many of the
optical instruments offered for sale during Edward Scarlett’s working
days appear on his very rare trade card, a third example of which has
now been uncovered. There appear to be two quite distinct versions.
Scarlett’s trade card was probably updated as soon as the royal titles
changed, in 1727; therefore that remains the earliest approximate date
of the Science Museum / BOA version. This newly uncovered Bodleian
version seems to be earlier, from 1714-1727, potentially bringing
forward the date of invention of spectacle sides by up to thirteen years
and confirming their invention, in any case, to no later than 1727.
The optical instruments illustrated on these trade
cards were meant to be objects of beauty as much as they were intended
for utility. For all these reasons the Scarlett trade card is considered
by many to be a wonderful potential teaching tool for anyone interested
in this historical subject. We have analyzed the text of the card and
the images of the instruments are also presented below, given a title
along with some useful description. We hope that you can learn about the
wide variety of optician’s wares (scientific instruments) available
during those early days of the 18th century, in London. Comments and
corrections are certainly welcome.