N. Lazarus (明晶洋行)– Leading Opticians of the Far East

York Lo: N. Lazarus (明晶洋行)– Leading Opticians of the Far East

N. Lazarus, Opticians Image 1 York Lo

Left: N. Lazarus store in Central; Right: ad for N. Lazarus in HK in 1900 (China Mail, 1900-4-10)

Eyeglasses is a big business in Hong Kong and one of the first opticians in record in the city was N. Lazarus, started in the late 19th century by oculist-optician of the same name from the UK who built one of the largest practice in the region with branches in London, India, HK, Shanghai and Singapore and operated for close to a century.

N. Lazarus’ eponymous founder Nathan Lazarus (1849-1909)was born in Exeter to a family of Jewish opticians. His uncle Nathan Lawrence (surname Anglicized from Lazarus), was an optician in Canada, US and the UK whose sons in 1877 founded Lawrence & Mayo, which remains one of the leading optical chains in India today with over 100 stores in over 40 cities. Nathan Lazarusbegan operating in Asia in the 1880s, first in India where he became the optician by appointment to the Earl of Dafferin (1826-1902), who was Viceroy and Governor-General of India from 1884 to 1888 and before that Governor-General of Canada. In the 1890s, its Calcutta branch was located at 1 Mango Lane and its 1897 ad promoted “cheap cataract spectacles” made with German silver frames. (Cook’s Oriental Travellers Gazette, 1892; Medical Reporter, 1897)After achieving success in India, N. Lazarus expanded to major ports in the Far East such asHong Kong, Shanghai and Singapore.

The first time N. Lazarus’ name appeared in Hong Kong was the 1900 ad shown above where N. Lazarus was available for consultation at Brewer & Co next to the Hong Kong Hotel from 9am to 5pm in April of that year. Bythe mid-1900s, N. Lazarus had a HK branch which operated out of 5 Pedder Street in Central and the branch manager was Alfred Stanley (A.S.)Tuxford (1875-1948), who graduated from the Northern Illinois College of Ophthalmology (founded in 1872, now Illinois College of Optometry) and later became a physician after enrolling at the HK College of Medicine. At the time, N. Lazarus himself directed his business out of 21 John Street in London and also maintained branches at 59 Bentinck Street in Calcutta and 566 Nanking Road in Shanghai (supported by Miss F. Ezra and R. Ezra) while he and his opticians travelled to other ports and cities in the Far East such as Swatow as shown in the above and below Chinese ads from 1905 and 1908. (Seaports of the Far EastIllustrated, Directory & Chronicle for China.., 1907) Ad from Shen Pao in Shanghai in 1904 for N. Lazarus’ Shanghai branch listed glasses for sale from two to a hundred dollars with lens in three different colors (clear, black and blue) and frames available in gold, silver, copper and steel while the 1907 Seaports directory article touted the firm as “the only one in this part of the world that grinds spectacle lenses to any prescription” while the other “opticians” in the Far East were merely product peddlers.

N. Lazarus, Opticians Image 2 York Lo

Left: An ad for N. Lazarus in India in 1887; Right: Chinese ad in Swatow in 1905 advertising the arrival of A.S. Tuxford from N. Lazarus’ HK branch for consultation at a British hotel (岭东日报)

In May 1909, N. Lazarus died of cancer on board the “P&O Malwa” at Suez while homeward bound from a trip through the East. (Straits Times, 1909-5-3; The Hong Kong Weekly Press, 1909-05-15) He had filed a patent for a spectacle design in 1893.

N. Lazarus, Opticians Image 3 York Lo

Left: Chinese ad in Swatow in 1908 promoting the arrival of N. Lazarus from HK; center: ad announcing the arrival of N. Lazarus’ son H. Lazarus in Singapore in 1923 (Straits Times, 1923-11-19); right: Ad for N. Lazarus in Singapore in 1923 (Malaya Tribune, 1923-3-1)

  1. Lazarus’ operations in HK and Shanghai was succeeded by his daughter Julia Lazarus and her husband Henry Israel (“Harry”) Tobias (1874-1960). Harry’s younger brother Lewis Tobias (1881 – 1940)came to Shanghai from the UK in 1911 and stayed in the city for six months before moving to HK where he worked for N. Lazarus until his death in 1940 and is buried in the HK Jewish Cemetery.

In Singapore, N. Lazarus continued to operate at the Medical Hall Building in Battery Road under the management of British optician R.V. Meyer F.S.M.C. (Lond.), F.I.O. until 1923 when John Duke F.B.O.A., F.S.M.C. acquired the practice of N. Lazarus in Singapore and continued the practice at Medical Hall. Later in November of the same year, N. Lazarus’ son H. Lazarus visited Singapore and provided consultation at Room 315 of the Grosvenor Hotel as shown in the above ad.

N. Lazarus, Opticians Image 4 York Lo

Ad in HK for N.Lazarus in 1924 where they billed themselves as “Hongkong’s only European Optician”. (China Mail, 1924-4-11)

In the late 1940s, N. Lazarus was operating out of 6 Pedder Street with A. Tobias as director, Lo Ki as manager and Chan Yiu-sang as assistant manager. (Business Directory of HK, Canton and Macao, 1949)

In the 1960s, N. Lazarus was still in business in HK at 6 Pedder Street (XianggangNianjian, 1960, 1969) but the firm has since faded into history.

Sources (other than those cited above)







This article was first posted on 28th May 2021

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  • Eve Richardson

    I’m very pleased to see this article about some of my Lazarus ancestors. However, there is an error in the article, one easily made. N. Lazarus did start an optical business in Calcutta and is the one that branched out to Hong Kong. However, Lawrence & Mayo appears to have been founded by Nathan Lawrence (born Lazarus), or by his sons, who were directors of the company. I’m not sure if the two businesses worked together in any way. I suspect there were business connections with others of the Lazarus family back in England who were opticians, optical manufacturers, and wholesalers. I’m looking forward to adding some details from this article to my own information and will be happy to provide more information about the two Nathans and their Calcutta businesses.

  • Eve Richardson

    Oops! Sorry, I didn’t read the article properly. I see it doesn’t have the two Nathans confused. Maybe I need better spectacles.

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