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The strangest antiques find ever? Hundreds of glass eyes found in Lichfield

Posted on 09/10/2018 in Press Coverage

Hundreds of glass eyes unearthed in Lichfield are expected to spark interest among eagle-eyed bidders at auction next week.

Nearly 300 late 19th and early 20th century prosthetic glass eyes were brought along to one of Hansons Auctioneers free weekly valuation events at the city’s Hedgehog Inn in Stafford Road.

The eyes – 279 in total – come in a variety of colours including brown, blue and olive, all neatly arranged in their original case. They are set to go under the hammer at Hansons’ Library Auction on October 15 with an estimate of £1,000 to £1,500.

Adrian Rathbone, associate director at Hansons and a Lichfield man himself, said: “This find really took our eye, as you can imagine. It’s so quirky and different.”

Glass eyes, or ocular prosthesis, have long been used to help improve the appearance of people who have suffered an eye injury or illness. The earliest known evidence of the use of ocular prosthesis involved a woman found in Shahr-I Sokhta, Iran, and who lived around 2900–2800 BCE. In addition, an early Hebrew text refers to a woman who wore an artificial eye made of gold.

The first in-socket artificial eyes were made of gold with coloured enamel, later evolving into the use of glass by the Venetians in the later part of the 16th century. These were crude and uncomfortable and the production methodology remained known only to Venetians until the end of the 18th century when Parisians took over as the centre for artificial eye-making. Manufacturing then shifted to Germany because of their superior glass blowing techniques.

Mr Rathbone said: “Sadly, wartime increased the need for glass eyes with many members of the armed forces suffering eye injuries.

“Artificial eye making was boosted in Britain by the need to end German imports during the Great War. The British Optical Association established the Army Spectacle Depot to supply prescription glasses to troops but soon found its role turning increasingly to the provision of ocular prostheses for those injured in the field.

“This is an important historical find and I hope it sparks major interest for our vendor at auction.

“If the people of Lichfield have anything fascinating lying around at home I do urge them to bring it along to our weekly valuation days. Our experts are in Lichfield every Monday. We’d love to unearth more fascinating finds and pave the way to some windfalls.”

Hansons are at The Hedgehog Inn, Stafford Road, Lichfield, Staffordshire, WS13 8JB, every Monday from 10.30am-12.30pm. The glass eyes will be sold on October 15 in Hansons’ Library Auction which is being held at Bishton Hall, Wolseley Bridge, Staffordshire, ST17 0XN.

Hansons is selling the contents of Bishton Hall on October 13 and holding its Autumn Jewellery, Fine Art sale at the venue. The event runs from October 10-16, ending with Farewell to Bishton – The Attic Auction on October 16. To find out more or view the catalogues, visit www.hansonsauctioneers.co.uk or www.the-saleroom.com.

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