Spring-Fall 2015: Eye Wash

/ Collections - Mystery Object

Mystery Object 4These small ceramic objects, called eye baths, were used as early as the 16th century as personal-cleansing aids and are still used today. In these cups, people mixed saline or boric acid with water, placed the cup with solution over the eye, and blinked several times to wash out road dust or other irritants. Eye baths came in a variety of materials in addition to ceramic, such as wood, gold, silver, and occasionally ivory.

These eye baths are some of the rarer objects in the Museum’s Wedgwood collection. Josiah Wedgwood began producing eye baths in the 1770s, probably influenced by his friend and personal physician, Dr. Erasmus Darwin, whose writings on human relationships placed great importance on the role of eyes. Two of these mid 19th-century eye baths feature transfer-printed decoration of birds and cabbage roses, while the other two are of unadorned creamware.

Comments from the gallery

Question: “How would you use an object like this in your life?”
  • “As a swimming pool for ants.”
  • “To put on your eyes in a tanning bed.”
  • “As miniature wash basins for fairies.”
  • “For tiny, mini-cactuses.”
  • “To hold my glass eye at night while I sleep.”
  • “As a tiny top hat – seems legit!”
  • “To hold soy sauce and dip sushi in.”
  • “As a Monopoly piece.”
  • “For my small pets to drink from.”
  • “I’d leave it in a garden for the use of fairies, pixies, gnomes, and other assorted critters.”
  • “As a leach cup.”
  • “As a gum holder while I eat my food.”
  • “To give a baby gnome a bath.”
  • “I would put food in it for my rat.”
  • “To drink from the fountain of youth.”
  • “As a milk bowl for the cat.”
  • “For wine glasses so that my Barbies can have a fun night on the town.”
  • “For portion control!”
  • “To put olives in.”
  • “To hold my Sriracha!”
  • “To hold the tears of my enemies after I have taken my revenge!”
  • “As a tear catcher.”
  • “As a #kyliejennerlipchallenge cup.”
  • “As a kitty cat cup for kittens!”
  • “As an eye cup, but since we have eye drops now, how about filling it with Tic-Tacs?”
  • “To hold my rings.”
  • “As a spoon holder to keep tea from your spook from staining the table cloth.”
  • “As a candy/cough drop holder.”
  • “As a personal salt holder.”
Question: “What are the first three words that come to mind when you look at this object?”
  • “Porcelain – refined – petite”
  • “Tea – my – lady?”
  • “Small – pointless – breakable”
  • “Tiny – teacup – fragile”
  • “Classy – shot – glass”
  • “Missing – life’s – drops”
  • “Mini – sips – only”
  • “Water – motion – disorder”
  • “Hmm – that’s – cool”
  • “Communion – wine – love”
  • “Shots – shots – shots”
  • “Tiny – bird – bath”
  • “Mini – gravy – bowl”
  • “Decorative – cute – fun”
  • “Chalice – fountain – youth”
  • “Boiled – egg – holder”
  • “Ingenuity – perseverance – hilarity”
  • “Goblet – for – ants”
  • “Let’s – do – shots”
  • “What – the – heck”
  • “Eye – cup – medicine”
  • “Porcelain – salt – cellar”
  • “Disarray – foreshadow – fragility”
  • “Dainty – pretty – glass”
  • “Government – alien – conspiracy”
  • “Fancy – macaroon – holder”

And from a Museum visitor fluent in Doge: “Such art. Much small. So cups.”