Eskimo Goggles on East 75th Street

October 17, 2012 at 11:16 am

When I was a kid, my mother used to tell me about her lifelong friend Ruth Pollack, whom she met on the first day of their freshman year at Forest Hills High School, in 1945.

Years ago, my mother and I visited Pollack in her home on the Upper East Side. She gave me a tour of her treasures—over one thousand pairs of antique eyeglasses. Pollack told me about how the first corrective, wearable eyeglasses were likely invented in Italy in the thirteenth century; how the Chinese were the first to figure out how to hang weights on the frames of glasses so that they would stay in place on the wearer’s face. I never forgot the two-thousand-year-old whalebone “Eskimo goggles” she showed me, a very early prototype of sunglasses.

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Ruth Pollack’s collection of antique eyeglasses in her Upper East Side apartment includes Eskimo goggles. Video and photos by Elizabeth D. Herman and Daniel Krieger.

Pollack’s cozy, two-bedroom apartment on East 75th Street—which I visited again this summer with photographer and multimedia journalist Elizabeth Herman—is a temple to her passion. Posters of eyeglasses and eyes line the walls, and all manner of glasses are on display just about everywhere: on plates, in nooks, framed on the walls, filling an assortment of glass cases. Herman and I were two of the last people who got a peek inside this palace of lenses; Pollack is moving to Virginia at the end of the month.

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