Rural Oculists revisited

It turns out the whole rural oculist thing is more complicated than I thought.

Firstly I was wrong in thinking that oculist was the preferred term in the nineteenth century. Five minutes with Querypic showed that while that might have been the case in the early part of the nineteenth century, by some time around 1860, the preferred term was optician:

chart (1)

The other complication is that until 1896 anyone could claim to be an optician, meaning that jewellers and watchmakers – both skilled crafts – could also claim to be opticians:

watchmaker and optician

As well as pharmacists

oculist hobart mercury 1896

(interestingly, while the pharmacist was doing the testing, the spectacles were being made up by Carter and Werner, a large wholesale optician in Ballarat)

and those who simply claimed to be spectacle makers

optician and spectaclemaker

and not just in Australia – a search of Welsh Newspapers online reveals much the same story:

optician and spectaclemaker wales

with spectaclemaker being the term used in the days before the medicalisation of sight testing. and the Federation of Spectacle Makers being the recognised trade body:

optician and spectaclemaker wales 2

But basically anyone could claim to be an eye tester.

However, what is also interesting is the case of our Tasmanian pharmacist outsourcing the making of spectacles to a wholesale optician- it meant that the pharmacist need only do the sight test without having to develop any technical skill in spectacle making …

[Update 21 October 2019]

I was in Canberra recently, and while I was there, visited my optometrist, and as one does we had a bit of chitchat while he was running all the various tests.

Now my optometrist is a bit younger than me – say ten years younger – and hails from South Africa. When I mentioned the oculists equipment at the pharmacy he immediately said that used to be quite common and he could remember rural pharmacists doubling up as opticians …

About dgm

Former IT professional, previously a digital archiving and repository person, ex research psychologist, blogger, twitterer, and amateur classical medieval and nineteenth century historian ...
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