The Curry & Paxton story begins in 1876 when Queen Victoria was perched on her throne and Great Britain was being steered again by Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli into an evermore growing liberal world. It was a period that had a growing sense of optimism that went on to further cement Britain’s dominance on a global scale and just so happened to coincide with the company’s rise as an industry leader.
Opera glasses formed part of Pickard & Curry's diverse creations
The company was originally founded by Joseph Pickard and William Curry under the name Pickard & Curry. Based at 195 Great Portland Street, London, it specialised in the design and manufacturing of ophthalmic instruments and parts, many of which were granted patents. It was the first company to develop in both sides of the optical trade, this being dispensing and manufacturing, and the diverse range of its creations was simply astounding. Today, we are proud to have a museum-worthy arsenal of archival instruments and parts to remind ourselves of our innovative and premium quality past.
Illustration of Pickard & Curry opthalmic instrument (Nov.1887)
The instruments Pickard & Curry excelled in producing were prescribed to the burgeoning eyewear industry in which Britain, and more specifically London, was at the epicentre. Opticians needed accurate machines and tools – from ophthalmoscopes to retinoscopes and everything in between – to check and examine a patient’s eyesight.
195 Great Portland Street, London (1905)
In 1886, co-founder Joseph Pickard retired and George Paxton Snr joined the company and with William Curry took it forward into the next century.
In the 20th century, the industry underwent another state of evolution and eyewear quickly went from being a purely medicinal tool to a fashionable accessory favoured by the elite and wealthy. The company by this point was going from strength to strength and produced, by hand, thousands of spectacles of all shapes, sizes and purposes to accommodate the growing market.
Early advertisement for Curry & Paxton bespoke spectacles
It was around this time that tortoiseshell became a favourable material for its lightness, strength and depth of colour. Synthetics also came to the fore, and the company offered a wide-range in a variety of elegant styles for both men and women. Nevertheless, from the documents and leaflets we are in possession of, we can look back through a nostalgic and clear lens at handmade opticals that can now be considered fine art.
Enjoying an abundance of creative eyewear designs (1941)
As mentioned earlier, the company registered many patents and one of note is titled ‘Improvement in Goggles’. Accepted in June 1939, it relates to goggles that are suitable for outdoor sports such as skiing - a sport partaken, at the time, by the members of society who were fortunate enough to afford such thrilling experiences. The patent says that the creation: “aims at reducing the risk of injury to the wearer or damage to the goggled in the event of a fall in the course of which the goggles strike any hard object, and at improving the construction of goggles generally.”
Curry & Paxton "Tom-Fox" skiing goggle advertisement (1940)
Other outdoor sports for which the company provided assistance include motoring and aviation. For these activities, leather and silk-trimmed goggles and glasses were designed with protective side-shields made from either a steel mesh or perforated leather. They were luxurious products, favoured by those who were able to operate such profound creations. Several examples, which are thought to be over 100-years-old (thanks to the expert guidance from The College of Optometrists), proudly exist in our archive today. The design was adopted during the war years and, together with Curry & Paxton binoculars, provided pinpoint vision to those responsible for spotting the enemy.
Enemy aircraft spotter in leather-trimmed glasses (London 1943)
When normal life was put on hold with the advent of World War II, the company was recognised by the public and Ministry of Defence for its innovative skills, and in turn, dutifully supplied many special items to the war efforts such as gas mask spectacles and plastic mouldings for aircraft parts.
Explore our side-shield offering, here.
Offering sight for sore eyes during World War II
Following the war, the Health Service Act was established in 1948, and business escalated for Curry & Paxton as they engaged in contracts to supply spectacles to 13 leading hospitals who issued free prescriptions for optical lenses and a limited range of spectacle frames.
Conducting eye-test for free prescription glasses (Bristol 1948)
Although the National Health Service presented Curry & Paxton with a considerable market for accessible eyewear, the company continued to supply the upper echelons of society - including HRH the Duke of Windsor from whom a Royal Warrant had previously been bestowed. The Duke was not only the most stylish member of the royal family, but he was also the most controversial, given his relationship, then marriage, to the twice-divorced and American-born Wallis Simpson, which precipitated his abdication from the throne in late 1936.
The Duke and Mrs Simpson (Portofino 1951)
That aside, he was always impeccably dressed and took great pride in it, too. He was partial to bold designs (which traditionalists deemed too attention-seeking for a member of the royal family) and was a master at clashing patterns with panache. Legend has it that in 1960, following a royal inventory check, he was in the possession of 15 evening suits, 55 lounge suits and 100 pairs of shoes. How many pairs of spectacles and sunglasses is a mystery, but he was eclectic in his tastes, favouring classic and flamboyant styles suitable for many occasions, whether he was travelling in Portofino or the Côte d'Azur or back on British soil.
Sun-seeking in style (Rapallo 1953)
In the mid to late 1950s, with the war still a not so distant memory, culture started to flourish, fashion came into play, and Curry & Paxton adhered to these changes. In November 1959, a pair of the company's sunglasses graced the cover of Tatler, which was the prevailing magazine of the time that focused on British high-society and the subjects that shaped it. It was all about glamour and sophistication and Curry & Paxton was front and centre.
We’ve recreated this model and have named it Grace, see here.
Tatler Magazine cover (Nov.1959)
The following decade, however, is Curry & Paxton’s most notable one, whereby it hit the silver screen and became ingrained in society’s consciousness. In 1965, Michael Caine starred in The Ipcress File, the first in the Harry Palmer series based on the novels by Len Deighton. It won a BAFTA for Best British Film and equally won Caine a loyal following - women swooned and men imitated his effortless style and cockney bravado.
Len Deighton and Michael Caine wearing "Yvan" frames (1965)
Both in and out of character, Caine wore Yvan tortoiseshell opticals from Curry & Paxton which are easily distinguishable via the signature hexagonal pin arrangement on the temples. They did more than complement his handsome looks and sharp style but further cemented him as a style icon ne plus ultra.
Explore the Yvan spectacles, here.
Michael Caine with Eva Renzi in Funeral In Berlin (1966)
Funeral In Berlin followed in 1966 and Billion Dollar Brain the year after, however, it was in 1969 when Curry & Paxton hit its peak in the 20th century with The Italian Job. The term ‘classic’ is too liberally used these days, but if there was one adjective to describe it that would be it (even half a century later). There’s only one scene where Caine wears Curry & Paxton, and that’s in the airport in Turin when he's dressed in a beige single-breasted linen suit, white with brown stripes shirt, and white with a brown medallion motif necktie.
Shop the Yvan sunglasses, here.
Michael Caine in the Italian Job (1969)
In 2006, Caine’s tortoiseshell optical glasses from The Ipcress File went on auction at Christie’s and fetched for £6,600, which provides us with comforting evidence of Curry & Paxton’s role in defining Britain’s poster boy for sixties swagger. If the proud owner of these iconic frames just so happens to read this, please drop us a line!
In 2020 following a period of dormancy, Curry & Paxton was reborn on its 100th anniversary. Paying great respects to its impressive past and reference to its unimpeachable archive, it serves as a men’s and women’s eyewear brand offering spectacles and sunglasses for the discerning, affable and style-savvy who aren’t afraid to make a statement nor appear incognito.
Curry & Paxton "Faye" sunglasses (2020)