LOOKING BACK – APRIL 2015

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FIT FOR A PRESIDENT

In 1806, President Thomas Jefferson reached out to John McAllister, Sr.-a pioneer of the optical business located in Philadelphia, PA-for a special style of reading glasses. They needed to be significantly smaller than the large, round ones typically available. The record of the correspondence, including Jefferson’s original drawings (above left), is located at the Library of Congress. “You have heretofore furnished me with spectacles as reduced in size as to give the facility to the looking over their top without moving them. This is a great convenience,” Jefferson wrote.

Jefferson’s unique silver eyewear with the earliest McAllister mark (above on bottom) is on display at Monticello. A similar style, also worn by Jefferson and with a later McAllister mark from the mid 1820s, also exists in the Monticello collection as well as a limited number in private collections (above at right). Notice that the frame size, compared to a current U.S. dime, is quite tiny.

Courtesy of The Thomas Jefferson Foundation and the Library of Congress. Courtesy of David A. Fleishman, MD (above at right).


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