We recently received back from conservation specialists several volumes of pamphlets from our S. P. Thompson collection of pamphlets. This has allowed us to examine these pamphlets in detail for the first time since they came into the possession of the IEE in the first half of the twentieth century (previously too fragile to handle to any great extent). One of the volumes, which contained material on a wide variety of subjects, included several pamphlets on the topic of optics. This material included a marketing pamphlet titled, ‘eyes that rest upon us’, which had within its pages the advertisements shown above and below.


What Sight-Testing Opticians Might Have Been Named!

One of the most surprising items within this volume was a letter from the Nomenclature Committee of the British Optical Association dating from the end of 1901. That Committee had been appointed to consider the adoption of some word or term that should suitably convey the meaning of ‘sight-testing optician’. At that time there were in existence a multitude of names used for this role, and this indicated to the British Optical Association that there was a necessity for some definite and acknowledged term.

The letter was circulated after a Committee meeting held 28 November 1901, at which some 40 to 50 names were presented for inspection. The letter gives a list of the names sent in to the Committee, with an asterisk against the preferred names of the Committee. The letter sought in the first instance the views of the letter recipient on the names in the list, then if the recipient deemed no names appropriate, the letter then asked for additional suggestions.

The Committee’s preferred terms included; Optist; Optologist; and Optometrist. Amongst the other terms suggested on the list are; Lensman; Doctor of Refraction; Visualist; Eyeist; and my personal favourite, Octopus! The full list including S. P. Thompson’s annotations is shown in the following image.


The terms on the list, Optician and Optometrist are still in use today although they have different meanings. Opticians use prescriptions provided by ophthalmologists and optometrists, and are technicians trained to design, verify and fit eyeglass lenses and frames, contact lenses, and other devices to correct eyesight. They do not test vision or write prescriptions for visual correction and are not permitted to diagnose or treat eye diseases. Optometrists are healthcare professionals, although not medical doctors and they provide primary vision care ranging from sight testing and correction, to the diagnosis, treatment, and management of vision changes.

Eye Charts

Given the pamphlets and material mentioned above it is perhaps appropriate that this volume of items also includes several eye test charts. The charts are a little different to the most popular eye charts used today such as the Snellen chart, named after the Dutch ophthalmologist Herman Snellen who developed the chart in 1862, or the chart known as the LogMar chart developed in 1976.

The first chart from the volume of pamphlets is titled the ‘Orthops’ test chart.


The two charts shown below, do not appear to have been meant for ‘sight-testing opticians’, but appear to be an insurance company piece of marketing. Both ‘charts’ are included within a pamphlet published by the Sun Life Assurance Society.



For anyone wishing to view these pamphlets, this volume has an archive reference SPT 348A and can be consulted in the IET Archives by appointment.