Writing history with Battlestar Galactica fans

Editor’s note: This post is a follow-up to one published earlier this week featuring a video of a mysterious pair of Battlestar Galactica eyeglasses and a request to our readers for help filling in the missing pieces.

While the past is fixed, history is a constant work in progress. When we learn more about the past, we reinterpret history based on all of the evidence. I thank all who commented on the Battlestar Galactica glasses via our blog and other places where the video was shown. Your comments brought new evidence to light and this information will be preserved in our accession file (shown in the video) as a part of the object’s history. I would like to highlight some of the information that we have learned from the commenters and also raise some new questions. Some of the mystery behind the glasses has been decloaked, but the pair’s full history still waits to be written.

Common, not rare?
One of the first things we found out from your comments is that the object is not as rare as I previously assumed. Many of the people who commented have owned this pair of glasses, or as we learned from Dale and Sporkfoo on this blog, two other similar pairs with the same Battlestar Galactica metal plate on the temple (a picture of another pair of glasses can be found here). On Blastr, where our video also appears, commenter Phr34k says that his/her glasses came with a black case with a Cylon on it. Commentor Geoduck (on the museum’s blog) adds that s/he had a “flimsy” black protective case. As Tim points out, there is very little information on the Web about these glasses which is odd given how common they seem to be. The Jedi Archives claims, “If an item does not appear in our records, it does not exist.” Your comments prove that the Internet is not complete and we’ve got the evidence in our collections.

Manufactured in 1978?
Commenters such as Tim and Eric tell us that the earliest these glasses appeared was 1978, the year Battlestar Galactica aired for the first time. The glasses were then sold from 1978 to approximately 1982 or later. The early date is surprising to me. While some new television shows may have merchandise to be sold at stores to generate interest and buzz beyond the show, the eyeglasses are definitely non-traditional merchandise to market early in the show’s life or even at all. I wonder if there was enough buzz generated for Battlestar Galactica that Universal Studios knew the glasses might sell despite the series just starting.

Available at the optometrist’s office?
From Eric, Sporkfoo, and Rob Scott, we learn that the glasses were bought at optometry stores such as Pearle Vision or a department store in Canada. This would reinforce the idea that the glasses weren’t rare and that they were not sold at the Universal Studios theme park gift shop as I originally thought. This was obviously not a limited release as they were found in Joplin and Springfield, Missouri, and Calgary, Alberta. This indicates the wide distribution that these glasses saw around the United States, and even Canada, and sheds some light on the Universal marketing strategy.

Marketed to kids?
Most, if not all, of these glasses were purchased for a young person around the age of 9-15 making these children’s glasses. As I pointed out in the previous blog post, it would be unusual to see adults wearing them or something similar as adults are generally more conscious about their image. But for a child, wearing these glasses was considered cool in their eyes and a source of pride in the case of Jack Cass or embarrassment for David commenting on this blog. It is worth assessing if this is a unique occurrence or just a part of a long-standing tradition of selling eyeglasses to children with the popular culture trend of the era. To make a comparison today, do we see kids wearing Harry Potter’s glasses on a regular basis (although it might be less subtle in comparison to the Battlestar Galactica pair as Harry’s glasses are iconic and easily identified)? The trend apparently continues today as I have found children’s Scooby Doo glasses for sale.

Movie marketing swag?
Marcus, who commented on Blastr states, “these were a line of children’s eyeglasses frames from, I believe, 1982, that featured different Universal movies.” According to him, he chose an E.T. frame instead of a Battlestar Galactica frame. E.T. might have followed in Battlestar Galactica’s footsteps as the glasses were sold as early as 1978 and E.T. came out in 1982. I would like to see if we can find similar products as it would uncover more contextual information about the glasses. I would also be curious to see which Universal Studios films were included in this line and why these films were chosen to be marketed.

While I know more than I did when I made the video, there’s more to find and more to understand. What can these glasses tell us about Battlestar Galactica, Universal Studios, science fiction genre from 1978-1982, merchandising, or children’s eyewear? Are there other topics that I have missed that these glasses can help us know and understand more about? What questions should be asking? What are some possible answers? Thanks for helping us write history!

Drew P. Robarge is Museum Technician in the Division of Medicine and Science at the National Museum of American History.

Posted at 10:39 am EDT in From the Collections