In the ’20s and ’30s, American Optical advertised its Fulvue frames and Tillyer lenses by commissioning illustrations from popular artists such as Norman Rockwell, James Montgomery Flagg and McClelland Barclay.

By 1940, American Optical launched the American Plan, a public awareness campaign aimed to educate the public on the history of eyecare with its motto: “Seek professional advice: not glasses at a price,” which still resonates with eyecare professionals and the optical industry-at-large today.

The ad based on “The Spectacle Peddler,” a painting by artist Herbert Morton Stoops commissioned in 1942 by AO, urges the public to heed that advice and not fall victim to the way eyeglasses had once been sold: by transient salesman (some of whom were unscrupulous, as mentioned in the above ad) Promising much-giving relatively little-the Spectacle Peddler plied his trade among the country folk in the early nineties. who had no real training or knowledge of vision problems or eye health in general.

According to the 1943 AO sales group study course “Today’s American Plan Faces Tomorrow’s Problem,” AO wrote about a general lack of appreciation by the general public for adequate eyecare stemming from a “long-standing misunderstanding between the three groups in the ophthalmic field (that) led at times to antagonism,” thereby creating a “general impression that not services but glasses are essential, and that they ‘cost too much.’ In this setting, cut-rate houses and unethical practitioners flourished and the dignity of service was lowered in the eyes of the public.”

Stoops created four paintings for AO, each printed and framed for optical offices to reinforce this message. “The Spectacle Peddler” and three other original works by Stoops created for the American Plan are on display at the Optical Heritage Museum.

Courtesy of the Optical Heritage Museum,


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