{Netherlands} I spy with my little eye…

February 26, 2015


As far as hidden gems and cabinets of curiosities go, Amsterdam’s Nationaal Brilmuseum (National Spectacle Museum) combines them both incredibly well in one.


Founded by Jan Teunissen, from the third generation of a family in the optical business, the museum is located in the heart of Amsterdam and spans 700 years of optical history. Teunissen built up his collection over 35 years of travelling and collecting, and there are even spectacle frames from the last 100 years on sale in the shop on the ground floor.


As you would expect in a museum covering the history of everything optics, you will find spectacles of all shapes and materials here, including wood, metal, horn, bone and leather. The earliest kinds on display consist of just two glasses either attached to each other or made set as one piece. These would have been held by hand, strapped to your head or pinched on to your nose.


As you progress through the museum, you’ll see every type of spectacles imaginable: monocles, opera glasses, lorgnettes, and ringside spectacles for tucking under wigs, spectacles that fold, extend, or wrap around, spectacles to protect against the sun, whilst welding, or on railway rides. Round, oval, square and star shaped spectacles.


Besides the astonishing array of the actual spectacles on display, the collection also includes tools of the trade such as a model of an eye, a box of assorted concave and convex lenses, and other instruments used by opticians.





And the collection not only focuses on spectacles and their related tools, but also goes beyond that by looking at (no pun intended!) the symbolism and superstitions around eyes, such as votive offerings for saints in the shape of eyes; optical toys such as zoetropes, kaleidoscopes and magic lanterns; and ‘eyes’ in every day languages, such as hooks & eyes in sewing, or peacock’s eyes in feathers.




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Last but not least, there is also a fun selection of novelty items as well as spectacles as worn by famous celebrities. It’s simply amazing how much has been crammed in to this small museum! The displays all come with texts lovingly researched by the founder, which are available in Dutch and English.



The museum is now managed by Mijke Teunissen, from the fourth generation of the family. It is located at Gasthuismolensteeg in the heart of Amsterdam, and is open Wednesdays to Saturdays. You can check the exact address and opening times on the museum website.


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3 Responses to “{Netherlands} I spy with my little eye…”

  1. Barbara Cortili Says:

    Dear Jenny, I’ve been reading your blog for a while now and your contents are incredibly interesting and this article is one of the best by far. I’ve never been to Amsterdam before, I know I should and when I visit it I’ll surely add this amazing place to my visit. Your photographs are amazing.



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