A far sighted optician thwarts a spectacle thief


When Mr Anderson, an optician who traded from premises at 151 High Holborn*, finished his dinner on a Thursday in October 1859, he went through to check on his shop. As he cast his eyes over his stock he immediately noticed that a string of spectacles was missing. He had left these on his counter the night before but now they were nowhere to be seen.

Fortunately for the optician these were marked ‘with a number on the glass’ (rather than on the rim) and so he hoped they would be ‘easily identified’. Anderson now set about advertising the loss amongst his fellows in the trade and this quickly brought results.

On the next day an ‘elderly man, of shabby appearance’ walked into an optician’s shop at 2 Cranborne Street, near Leicester Square. He approached the owner, Mr Whitehouse, and offered him ‘half a dozen eye-glasses for sale’.

Whitehouse recognised the numbers on the glass as those listed on the handbill Mr Anderson had circulated the previous afternoon and secured the goods and the old man. The police were called and he was taken into custody.

Back at the police station the thief was searched and more glasses were found on him. Now he admitted selling to other opticians in and around the area and officers were despatched to retrieve the goods. All of this was revealed at Bow Street Police Court and the unnamed ‘elderly man’ was fully remanded for the theft of over £6 worth (over £250 in today’s money) of spectacles.

[from The Morning Post, Saturday, October 22, 1859]

The US have a Museum of Vision with a  large collection of spectacles (many online) – its fair to say that these were a world away from the designer pairs we see (no pun intended) today.

  • in 1860 (a year later than this case, these premises are listed as being occupied by a ‘brass letter and glass letter cutter’  called Nicholas Flogny. Whether he and Anderson were connected or shared a premises is unclear. Cranbourne Street is at the heart of London’s West End, close by the busy Leicester Square (there is no sign today of Mr Whitehouse’s shop.

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