The history of Curry & Paxton
The company was originally founded by Joseph Pickard and William Curry in 1876 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.
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. In 1886, George Paxton Snr joined the company following Mr Pickard’s retirement, however, it wasn’t until 1920 that the firm became incorporated as Curry & Paxton Ltd.
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. The company was going from strength to strength and produced, by hand, thousands of spectacles of all shapes, sizes and purposes to accommodate the growing market. It was around this time that tortoiseshell became a favourable material for its lightness, strength and depth of colour, and the company offered a variety of elegant styles for both men and women. Many patents were registered, 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. Another outdoor sport was motoring and aviation where we produced leather/silk-trimmed goggles and glasses with protective side-shields made from either a steel mesh or perforated leather.
These products, 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, and have been reinterpreted for modern-day life. Suddenly, the world was then put on hold with the advent of World War Two and the company was recognised by the public and MOD 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. During these war years, and as far as records can tell us, a Royal Warrant was bestowed upon us in 1943. Following the war and in 1948, the Health Service Act was established and business then took off as Curry & Paxton had many contracts and supplied spectacles to 13 leading hospitals which were given out for free.
With the war still a not so distant memory, culture started to flourish and fashion came into play and Curry & Paxton adhered to these changes in society. In November 1959, Curry & Paxton graced the cover of Tatler, which was the prevailing magazine of the time that focused on the upper echelons of 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. 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.
Both in and out of character, Caine wore Yvan tortoiseshell opticals from Curry & Paxton, easily distinguishable via the signature three-dot pin work 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. 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). In 2006, Caine’s tortoiseshell optical glasses from The Ipcress File went on auction at Christie’s and sold for £6,600, which provides us with comforting evidence of Curry & Paxton’s role in defining Britain’s poster boy for sixties swagger.