A fitting set6/1/2017
Eyes on the prizes
Lew Arntz, if you are looking for your glasses, they aren’t on the top of your head. Instead, they’re on display at the home of Charles Ericson. Arntz’s eyewear isn’t Ericson’s only extra set, either. The Ankeny optician sells eyewear in his working hours, and he collects them during his downtime.
How many sets of glasses and eyewear-related items does he have?
“I don’t know,” he says, which is a dead giveaway that whatever the number is, it’s a lot.
This started 25 years ago with a “Fits-U Luxe” set of 12 fitting frames made by American Optical. This rare item was gifted to him by a doctor he worked for at the time. The American Optical Company was founded in 1869 by William Beecher. He’s the man who invented the machinery that would produce America’s first steel spectacles.
After Ericson accepted his first piece, there was no turning back. He now has accumulated hundreds if not thousands of eyewear-related collectibles. He has an array of fitting frames, testing cards, monocles, sunglasses and advertisements from the early 1900s with catchy slogans like “look well and see well.”
“In the beginning, you collect about anything,” says Ericson. “Now we’re pretty picky about what we pick up.”
Much of his collection is under lock and key in a storage unit, but he and his wife, Tanya, decorate their home with their favorites, and the larger equipment is on display at his Ankeny office.
He remains loyal to that first item — it’s still his favorite — but other interesting items include:
A pair of funny-looking goggles that likely served either as a pilot’s mask during the early days of aviation or as safety goggles for a factory worker.
A set of glasses with a red spot in the center of each side. Ericson says they were made for hunting. When an animal entered the center red portion of the glasses; it was time to fire. But they must not have worked well, as they are no longer in production.
He also has a Loxit vase made by Bausch and Lomb. What does a porcelain flower-holding apparatus have to do with eyesight? Ericson isn’t sure, but it’s probable that the vases were given to opticians by salesmen during the 1940s or ‘50s as a way of advertising.
In addition, there are eyeglass cleaners, prescription price lists, 100-year-old optical catalogs, cases of fitting frames, and stereoscopes with two-sided cards that make an image appear three dimensional.
During his peak collecting years, packages arrived daily on Ericson’s doorstep from EBay or other online outlets.
“That’s when I was heavily collecting,” he says.
His collecting has tailed off a bit in recent years. He started his own business, Visual Eyes of Ankeny, and he no longer has enough free time.
“Now I’m very partially collecting,” he laughs.
He’s holding onto Arntz’s glasses, though. Arntz was an old-school eye doctor practicing in Des Moines during the early part of the last century. He’s gone, now, and mostly forgotten. But he’ll be remembered whenever a guest sleeps over at the Ericson home and sees his glasses. ♦