Article Date: 9/1/2004

lessons learned
Easier Than It Looks?
What a 19th-century jeweler taught me about vision care.
By Jack Runniger, O.D.

One of the mysteries of life is how the idiot your daughter married could father such brilliant grandchildren.

I guess everyone always figures his or her side of the family is smarter. Now I find that I must admit that my wife has proof that her great grandfather was evidently much smarter than am I. He figured out a system of eye examination over 100 years ago that eliminates the need for expensive equipment, and even the presence of the patient in your office!

"How is this possible?" you may ask.

First, a little background: This great grandfather-in-law owned a jewelry store in Aurora, Ill. between 1850 and 1890. Recently, we came across the catalogue for his store. Under the heading "Spectacles and Eyeglasses" (motto: "A good leather case included with every pair of glasses"), the catalogue revealed the following questions that could be used to "almost invariably" select the right lens prescription for each customer.

Magic questions

"To enable us to furnish Spectacles with the proper glasses to fit you, please answer the following questions:

"Have you worn Spectacles before, and how long?

"Do you want these Spectacles for reading, writing, sewing, etc., or for out door use?

"Can you read small print on this page without glasses, and at what distance?

"Can you read large print like the heading of this page without glasses?

"How far must you hold it from your eyes?

"Can you distinguish persons at a long distance, or read signs or other large lettering at a distance of from 50 to 100 feet?

"Did you ever have a physician attending to your eyes? How long ago?"

All that's needed

"If the above questions are answered correctly, we will almost invariably select the right glasses for you."

There you have it. A hundred years before I was in practice, my great grandfather-in-law prescribed glasses without any expensive equipment and without the patient present! I wish I had known about this earlier. It would have saved me a lot of expense in equipment and office, and I wouldn't have had to listen to some of the cantankerous patients I had to put up with.

In addition, my great grandfather-in-law accomplished this amazing feat at rock-bottom prices. "The best quality steel or nickel-plated frames, with best crystal lenses, is only $3.00 per pair.

"If you are satisfied with a good rather than best quality frame, and fair glasses rather than the top of the line best Crystal Lenses, the cost for a pair of glasses is $1.00."

But that's not all: The customer received 50% off for cash.

Even today

As you know, mail-order glasses are still available today. One of the mail-order companies admonishes optometrists for not doing a sufficiently thorough job:

"Make sure to fill in the value for your PD or papillary distance," its instructions read. "It should be on your prescription but if not, as a lot of optometrists are lazy about this . . . ."

Those of you who are guilty should be ashamed. You need to get off your duff and start measuring those "papillary" distances!


Optometric Management, Issue: September 2004