Saturday, February 18, 2012

The American Optical Museum

The American Optical Company of Southbridge, Massachusetts, USA was for nearly a century the world's largest maker of ophthalmic products, especially eyeglasses (pince-nez) and spectacles. The Fits-U label became widely known for fine quality eyewear.

Famous for the fine quality of their products and technological advances in the optical field, the company by the 1980's could not compete with foreign, low quality makers and in 1984 closed its huge factory. The town of Southbridge has never recovered economically but new renewal plans may result in a turn-around.

Dedicated volunteers, many of whom are former employees of AO, have created a museum devoted to optical products, mainly eyewear. If you go to this website you can access three AO catalogs from1920, 1931 and 1935. These are much smaller versions of the famous 500+ page 1912 book.

The pages below can easily be enlarged. There are many fine quality photos. Four of the pince-nez from 1931 can be seen below. Note that all prices are for opticians only. These catalogs were not available to the general public. Even considering the huge decline in what a dollar could purchase compared with today's prices and the optician's markup to clients, probably 100%, the super quality mountings and frames were an amazing bargain.


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