It is easy, maybe you can say it is fatal, that the love for one’s job implies also a curiosity which often becomes a passion. This is what it is like for those of us in Luxottica; researching the origins of glasses and gathering testimonies has become one of our desires.
So in 1980 we started to look amongst objects in small markets and in the corners of antique shops. It was with great joy that we came across rare traces of our predecessors, and set them out little by little one against the other, putting together a sort of itinerary of the past.
In 1988, we became aware of the fact that a French optician had put up for sale his collection of glasses, around 150 pieces. We bought it, and from that moment, our curiosity effectively started to turn into a passion.
Some years later, following the purchase of another small private collection, the collection reached around 300 pieces. It was like finding one piece at a time, the pieces of a huge mosaic and seeing it being reborn before our very eyes. Gathering together these pieces of history gave us a new emotion every time.
In fact, an artisan object preserves in itself the toil and the ingeniousness of its creator and maybe also a little of his soul. For this reason, while it is easy to get rid of a modern object, produced in series, it is difficult to eliminate a product made by hand. And, even when confronted with very sophisticated technology of the modern world, we feel great emotion, for this reason we can only look at these objects and instruments with great respect which still leave man as the protagonist.
A great opportunity presented itself at the end of the eighties, when we offered to but the great collection of Fritz Rathschuler, an optician from Genoa of Austrian origin. After some months, we reached an agreement and with the arrival of 1200 new pieces, the need arose to catalogue the objects and manage the entire collection.
It was then that the company made the decision to make available to the general public what had become in the meantime scientific and historical patrimony, and therefore to share it with the people involved. The wish was to exhibit everything in Agordo, near the main head office of the company, in the seventeenth century Crotta-De Manzoni building, in the past used as an armoury and purchased and restored by us some years earlier.
In September 1991, Luxottica celebrated their thirtieth year of business and chose this occasion to open the museum, named “Optics and Glasses”. For Luxottica, a “new” company, these objects have a meaning which goes beyond the simple antique or collection piece; in fact, they give the sense of history, they stimulate us in the continuous recovery of not only the past, but the present, including that of our company.
A visit to the museum emphasizes how nowadays glasses have lost their feature of aid (prosthesis) and support for lenses, becoming a fashion accessory, maybe more important. In spite of this ideological change in the last century, we must not forget how much these objects have contributed to people’s evolution and well-being.
What an amazing discovery! We can certainly state that the arrival of glasses gave rise to acceleration in progress, giving possibility to scientists, artists, artisans and in general everyone who needs them for their business, to be able to carry out their work even if affected with visual defects which, if not corrected, would have limited their abilities.
This is why we are proud to contribute to the protection and preservation of this patrimony which will help also our future generations to remember how the invention of glasses played a part in our history; as well as safeguarding this cultural treasure, it is a dutiful tribute to the commitment of those that came before us and worked and continue to work in order to contribute to technological and scientific development, and high specialisation which we enjoy today.
We have started to catalogue all the material collected and in order to make it easier for visitors to see, we have divided it into categories : telescopes, microscopes, optical instruments, binoculars, theatre glasses, hand glasses and glasses.
In the area devoted to telescopes, you can see both those terrestrial and also astronomical; some of them are rare and of great importance from a historical point of view. Moving onto microscopes, it is possible to admire some from the 1600s, and others portable which are more curious and which were used by explorers at the beginning of the 1700s. We can also find some instruments for measuring sight and two reflecting telescopes from the end of the XVIII century.
The section which is the closest to us is that of the glasses: the oldest are from the 1600s, called arc glasses; they weren’t supplied with temples at that time and were held by hand in front of the eyes or fixed under one’s wig with a curved temple.
Continuing on our visit, you can admire the first glasses with sides, produced for the first time in England by E. Scarlett in 1730, and also sunglasses, also from the same era.
The museum is also equipped with a series of printed material from the era and a library with texts concerning optics, the oldest of which dates from 1583. In the last windows you can see glasses from the 50s; and at the end of the visit you can find some very special pieces, hand made and used only for some fashion shows of famous designers.
This brief description of the material on show in the museum is only indicative, as we intend to give more details in following editions.
Curators of the Museum