These eyes represent an early stage in the development of prosthetic eyes and add to the Museum's medical collection, in particular prosthetics.
Some people may have one or both eyes removed if they are damaged or diseased. Artificial eyes used to be made of glass and hand painted like these ones. In 2009 they are made of an acrylic material that is hand painted in fine detail, including the blood vessels.
The first known professional ocularists came out of Venice in the late 16th century. These early glass eyes were likely extremely uncomfortable, despite their beauty and relative realism, since, in order to make them shatterproof, they needed to be heavy. Regardless, they were highly sought after and Venetian glass eyes remained in demand until the 1800s'.
In 1835, German eyeball-makers finally created a lightweight, hollow glass eye following the invention of a vaguely eyeball-coloured form of glass called cryolite. The eyeball was painted with an iris. These eyes would become the standard for the next 100 years. In the 19th Century vulcanite was experimented with, with little success as was celluloid, however it deteriorated quickly in the socket.
The war years had a huge impact on the amount of people needing artificial eyes and a larger industry was born. Since the 1940s, artificial eyes have been made of various plastics, removing the safety hazard of having fragile glass in the eye socket.
Rudolf Martins work was appropriated (along with other anthropological tools) and used by the Nazis, to reinforce their view of a 'racially pure' Germany. Martin himself died in 1925, he used his energy to promote social welfare programmes, he wrote 'tolerance is the first step to inner freedom', Martin's wife was Jewish and survived the 'model' concentration camp Theresienstaatt.
Materials and technology available to people with a disability have changed since the nineteenth century as has society's attitudes.
Oetteking, Bruno. Rudolf Martin. American Anthropologist April, 1926 Vol. 28(2): 414-417
Schafft, Gretchen Engle From racism to genocide: anthropology in the Third Reich (p228)
Anni Turnbull, curator design and society, 2009