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The Curious Collection of Dr. William Wickline
Last fall I wrote a confessional about my collecting addiction, the ﬁrst installment of a new column: The Collection Connection.
Now, it’s time to showcase some of yours.
There are deliberate collectors and there are those who “inherit” their collections — but that doesn’t mean they love their collections any less. Sometimes those collections can be found in the most unlikely places, like the local optometrist’s ofﬁce.
As a patient, I always have been intrigued by the vintage optical machines displayed in Dr. William Wickline’s optometrist office in the Safeway plaza.
Vintage optometric gadgets from the 20th century, such as a Bausch & Lomb Eye Chart Projector, c. 1930-1940, line a prominent shelf in the front office. Some machines came to him as a gift from a former partner. Other pieces were part of the deal when he purchased his business in 1964.
The interior design world recognizes that vintage machinery — still and movie cameras and projectors — has a sculptural quality worthy of display, and rightly so. Today we don’t have money or time to make art pieces out of the necessary. We don’t have time or money to make things that stand the test of time. And these intriguing machines are good examples of what we have lost. That’s why some still are in use today.
The American Optical Ophthalmeter, c. 1950, projects a circle of light onto the eye to map the curve of the cornea and reveal the presence of astigmatism; it is used to ﬁt contact lenses properly.
The things you learn: Did you know Leonardo Da Vinci pondered contact lenses in the 1500s?
Wickline has a 1920s eye exercise contraption to improve vergence, “the simultaneous movement of both eyes in opposite directions needed for single binocular vision” — it actually will work to improve your eyesight if you do it enough!
But at home you might want to try “The Barrett System of Exercising the Eyes to Music,” complete with diagrams.
Older is often better. Wickline still uses a 1940s “trial frame kit” housed in a superbly constructed wood box. He gamely tried on a frame from the kit for a photo.
One “practical sculpture” is an American Optical Company Lensometer, c. 1940s. It verifies the correct prescription from your pair of glasses, “even from a fragment of a broken lens,” said Wickline, who still uses it today.
My favorite piece, a Genophthalmic Refractor, probably was produced by the General Optical Company in the 1920s. It helps determine visual acuity — how the eye processes light. Showcasing an eye-catcher (pun intended!) such as this can spark interesting conversations.
But it seems the eyeglasses themselves hold the most intrigue for Wickline.
The prize of his collection is a very early pair, circa 1800. The frames are brass; one of the lenses is original, the other “periscopic” lens, which allows sight from side to side, was replaced in the 1920s. Wickline knows this because one lens is machine-cut, whereas the other lens was stone-ground with “bi curves” — where the curve bows out.
Before machinery caught up with demand, the span of the bridge of the frame determined the “PD” (center of the eye).
Another favorite, for its simple design, is a pair of industrial glasses by Bausch & Lomb, c. 1800. And a c. 1940s tapestry was a promotion given out by Bausch & Lomb celebrating the factory that manufactured those glasses. It is very rare. The librarian at the American Optometric Association told me she has only seen pictures but never held one in her hand.
What do you do with a pair of “Hi-Bar” pince-nez spectacles, c. the 1930s, when you’re not wearing them? Why, pin them to your lapel, of course.
The more you collect, the more you realize it’s all been done before — and probably better.
A pair of pince-nez spectacles with blue-tinted “Crookes” lenses were invented by Sir William Crookes in 1913 to protect the eyes from glass-making cataracts. They also served as an early version of sunglasses. What Wickline would call “half-eye readers,” I would call “mezzaluna” spectacles, c. 1890-1900.
One of the doctor’s most cherished pieces was a gift from his wife. “The Scientiﬁc Self-Tester” allowed you to determine your prescription.
This “rare and valuable” kit, c. 1910, was manufactured by the Tru-Fit Optical Company in Chicago.
The kit’s original zylonite frames, made of an early plastic, are crumbling now. Just as Hollywood has lost thousands of early ﬁlms to the deterioration of nitrate, the same fate has affected these vintage frames.
There’s always the “one that got away.” The doctor would like to have a genuine tortoiseshell pair of spectacles for his collection. If tortoiseshell broke, it could be heated and fused to repair. Of course, the use of tortoiseshell is prohibited now, but such considerations were unknown back when.
A miniature eye chart is part of a set made for “takin’ it on the road.”
There’s a reason why a reproduction of David Martin’s 1767 painting of Benjamin Franklin — the original hangs in the Green Room of the White House — occupies a prominent position in Wickline’s waiting room. The glasses tell the tale.
Benjamin Franklin, that amazing Founding Father and ambassador to England, among his many accomplishments, was responsible for inventing the bifocal. Seems Franklin was quite the ladies’ man and enjoyed “watchin all the girls go by” — as the song goes. But by the time he exchanged his spectacles to take a look, alas, the pretty girl was out of view. His solution — he had his optician fashion frames that stacked two lenses, one for distance on top and one for reading on the bottom.
Other framed artwork in the ofﬁce gives a glimpse of optometric history. I’m sure many a patient has strained his eyes on Wickline’s personal collection of optical illusions.
One shifts in a wink from an old woman to a young one. President Abraham Lincoln appears out of a pixelated print. Bits and pieces resolve into a man on his prancing horse. Perhaps the most intriguing, and as a result the most reproduced illusion in history, is “All Is Vanity,” created by 18-year-old illustrator Charles Allen Gilbert in 1892. The public ﬁrst glimpsed this ominous image in a small 5-cent railway pamphlet in 1902. The skull was a common theme in Victorian America.
Do you have “the collecting addiction?” We’re looking for confessions here. The Sequim Gazette plans more columns that peek into Sequim residents’ curio cabinets, and Shelley Taylor will be bringing them to you. She suffers from the collecting obsession, too, so she’ll be sympathetic.
So, if you have a collection – of anything – that you’d like to show off, contact Shelley Taylor through the Sequim Gazette at firstname.lastname@example.org.