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Antique ophthalmic instruments and books: the Royal College Museum
  1. R Keeler
  1. Royal College of Ophthalmologists, London, UK; rkeeler@freenetname.co.uk

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    Part I Instruments

    It is perhaps appropriate that an antique ophthalmic instrument and book collection should be assembled at the Royal College of Ophthalmologists in London during the 150th anniversary of Hermann von Helmholtz's discovery of the greatest of ophthalmological inventions, the ophthalmoscope.

    Until 1851, ophthalmologists had struggled to explain certain eye conditions where there was a dimness or loss of vision. The use of the ophthalmoscope changed all that and a new era began with men such as Albert von Graefe, Edward Jaeger, and William Bowman at the forefront in explaining diseases that hitherto had been obscured by the impenetrable black hole of the pupil.

    An early model of Helmholtz's ophthalmoscope (1851) (Fig 1) takes pride of place in the Oxford Room. Beside it is the monograph Helmholtz published explaining, in some detail, the construction and use of his instrument. These are rare and valuable items and are among more than 70 ophthalmoscopes of the 19th century. This collection is probably one of the most complete to be seen anywhere.

    There are a number of ways in which one can view these exquisitely made instruments. A quick survey brings home the extraordinary number of variations of this simple optical instrument. A more detailed study reveals the slow evolution of the ophthalmoscope but the most rewarding of all is to scrutinise each model in turn.

    It seems that there was no ophthalmologist worth his salt who did not have an ophthalmoscope named after him. Edward Loring states in his Textbook of Ophthalmology “Almost every ophthalmologist has taken a hand in perfecting or at least altering the instrument and from the first I have, perhaps, done more than my share.” Indeed there are several of Loring's models in the collection.

    To be able to use these ophthalmoscopes requires a source of …

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