From Europe and China (1790 - 1940)

1790 - Collection of Antique Spectacles

A Rare Collection of Spectacles & Optic Measuring Tools

Date: 1790 - 1940

United Kingdom, Germany, France, China, circa 1790-1940. An outstanding collection of 62 spectacles featuring a few very rare examples and including a scant few opticians' diagnostic and measuring tools. Some are tinted, some fold, some attach to the ear with string while others sit simply on one's nose, some were used by professionals and others would have been purchased by only the affluent, some are in their original cases. The lot contained in three glass top wooden display cases. A pleasing and expansive representation of specs. An abundant and tangible history of spectacles made in the late 1700s, through the 1800s, and up to the mid-1900s, including some vision testing and lens measuring specimens, this collection serves well to illustrate the making of optical lenses and frames, the shifts in trends and mindsets towards eyewear, and the multiple applications for magnification through glass. [In the 1700s, spectacles were made by hand. The century's most important contributions to eyewear were the invention of side or temple pieces that rest over the ear, the first appearing for the public in 1728, and Benjamin Franklin's invention of bifocals in 1784. Round lenses were almost universal until the end of the 18th century when oval lenses became fashionable.] The most unique and uncommon example of historic eyewear here is a pair of folding spectacles from China, circa 1790-1820, with threads to reach the ears, and housed in an elegant hand-crafted round wooden case with beaded draw string for closure. Also from the late 1700s to early 1800s, the collection features a pair of wig spectacles with a more or less flat bridge and straight temples made of horn or composite. Specialized magnifier eyeglasses are a highlight in this collection. Exceedingly scarce is the pair of 1800s surgeon's magnifying glasses with large square lenses. Another unusual magnifying eyewear possibly dating to the late 1700s features a very small single lens mounted to a post which stretches high from the bridge. Most likely from Germany circa 1925, a style known as the "fernrohrbrille" or telescope glasses, was also used for magnifying. Two monocle magnifying reading glasses are also present. Ten (10) "pince-nez' specimens are included, dating circa 1870-1910, most having metal frames, silver, copper or gold; two are in original owner's cases, one tinted for sun protection. Pince-nez have no temples, but are fit snugly on the bridge of the nose. [A popular style of inexpensive, everyday spectacles was the pince-nez, a French term meaning "nose pincher". Invented some five hundred years earlier, the pince-nez reappeared and was first developed in France circa 1840. They were imported to America after the 1850s. They became very popular as middle-class eyeglasses for both men and women before the end of the 19th century and were worn until about 1920. In America, they gained popularity from frequent use by public figures such as U.S. Presidents Teddy Roosevelt. ] Eight (8) Edwardian era spectacles with thin metal frames and stems are distinct for their large and notably round ear shaping. Five (5) examples this particular style's successor features straighter stems, though is still made of thin metal, one of the present examples having folding or double-hinged stems. The lot also includes two (2) half lens models and three (3) pairs with folding temples (one fully in tact, two with broken temples). [London instrument-maker and optician James Ayscough, invented this first double-hinged temple in 1752. He described these sides as "so contrived as to press neither upon the nose nor upon the temples."] Nine (9) pair of folding opera spectacles, also known as lorgnettes, circa 1850-1890, illustrate style and functionality. An innovative style of eyewear, several feature a trigger release button on the handle to open up the frames. One stem is made of ceramic and ornately decorated with a floral pattern. [A lorgnette is a pair of spectacles with a handle, used to hold them in place, rather than fitting over the ears or nose. Lorgnettes were developed around 1780 from scissor spectacles. Early designs consisted of a pair of eyeglasses with a single long handle. In the 1800s spectacles were considered evidence of old age and infirmity. As a result, people preferred to wear spectacles only when they were needed. This was especially true for women. Those who could afford it, purchased hand-held designs such as the lorgnette to avoid having glasses on their faces. In 1830, a French manufacturer designed a hinged bridge with a spring, which allowed the eyeglasses to be folded. Lorgnettes became extremely popular during the mid to late 1800s.] Three (3) unique pairs of folding sunglasses offer side protection over and above the tinted front lens, two of these are in the style of tinted motoring glasses with blue lenses, and one is pair of steampunk goggles with mesh sideshields. [Tinted lenses first became popular during the 17th century.] For the professionals in the betterment of one's sight, we find an 1870s style optician's lens trial frame made of copper half circles notched with lines and measurement values, a frame without lenses, an optometrist's green and red lensed tool for duochrome testing, and a pair of spectacles with only one blacked out lens with a hole at its center, perhaps for light testing. From Germany we find a pair of Masten-Brille prescription eye glasses in the original metal case, together with original prescription written by an optometrist in Wilmersdorf, Berlin in 1943. Most unique among the European cases is a frog mouth case, cleverly designed oblong lined box which were typically made in the mid to late 1800s, this one belonging to George Jackson & Sons Ltd. a wholesale druggist in Manchester.

Only 2 lenses are chipped, two stems broken, otherwise all spectacles are in very good and original condition.


Offered by Voyager Press Rare Books & Manuscripts