January 16, 2004


Eye-test charts featuring letters in descending order of size were first used in tests of visual acuity in the 1840s, but were cast into a reliable and definitive form, one perfectly recognizable today, by the Utrecht ophthamologist Herman Snellen, in 1862.

Eye-chart instruction cards for patients with hearing difficulties, F.C. Cooper, London, mid 20thC

Snellen’s first ‘optotypes’ used carefully size-adjusted letters based on a squarish typeface called ‘Egyptian Paragon’. Sans-serif lettering became the norm shortly thereafter.

Snellen optotypes, post-1875.


Snellen optotypes (i) for testing astigmatism, ca. 1872 (b) with open-sided squares for non-readers (1874).

In the 1870s, Snellen worked to produce variants of his optotypes with calibrated lines and abstract figures that could be used in testing young, or illiterate patients. For a contemporary account of such an endeavour, there is an interesting article here.

Optoypes (i) in Japanese lettering, designed by Ito Gempak (1873), (ii) in Gothic lettering published by H. Peters, Berlin (1873).


More Snellen charts, post-1875.

I scanned the images above from ABZ: More Alphabets and Other Signs, edited by Julian Rothenstein and Mel Gooding, published by the Redstone Press.

Posted by misteraitch at January 16, 2004 11:20 AM | TrackBack

Wow, what a fantastic designed blogg this is. The most bloggs usually looks alike - but this really has an own style. I wish I could design like this.

Posted by: Chadie on January 20, 2004 06:15 AM

I know those charts all too well. I would fail eye exams at school all through growing up. Every time my mother took to an optomitrist I would somehow pass. I think it was some type of photographic memory or fear of being different that must have lead to normal vision for brief moments in time.

By the time I finally got glasses in the middle of high school I was nearly legally blind and they could not believe that I had never had glasses before.

I think it is truely fascinating learning how to teach the blind or deaf though. It may be something worth looking into a few years down the road.

Posted by: aaron wall on January 20, 2004 06:55 PM

Congrats on your Bloggie nomination (Best European Weblog) - I nominated you and plan on voting for you!

Posted by: Emily on January 21, 2004 11:33 PM

Look at big man H., in the running for a Bloggie!

You certainly deserve it, unlike most of the tripe on that ballot, and already got my vote. All 5 of them. Don't forget us little folk when you're up on that podium.

Posted by: carlos on January 23, 2004 03:23 AM

I did an eye chart test a couple of weeks ago, the interesting thing is that the chart was on the wall just behind me, and I had to read it from the mirror mounted on the other side of the room.

Obviously using a mirror doubles the distance between the viewer and the chart, handy for clinics that are short of space. It also means that the chart must be printed in reverse for the letters to be the right way round for the viewer.

Posted by: Robert Castelo on January 23, 2004 04:14 AM

H. Sneller did some fantastic work, not only can his work bee used for eye chart test, but also within graphic design. Right now I'm working on a project which integrades Sneller's charts/fonts onto packaging design.

If you have done similar things, or has a view on this, please e-mail me. I would love to hear from you

Posted by: britt gundersen on August 9, 2004 01:10 PM

Dear Britter, I would very much like to hear more about packaging design, a little about a town called Assens which im certain you know quite a lot about. And how of course you yourself are doing in the UK. And are you ever coming back to Denmark. Take care and learn a lot.

Yours sincerly
Mordi, Morud

Posted by: Morten Andersen on October 11, 2004 05:55 PM
Comments are now closed