The size and fit of 19th Century spectacles is different from today's eyewear. Most frames measure 4 1/2 inches wide, a few measure 4 5/8 inches wide. Every now and then I find a pair of custom made frames ( usually in coin silver or gold ) that measure narrower or wider than most. Such frames were most likely custom made for an individual. The widest frame from this period that I have seen measure 4 15/16 inches. The narrowest measure slightly less than 4 inches. Both frames were hand made from solid gold.
Frames that have wide temple arms are usually made earlier then frames with very narrow temple arms. Machinery that cut frame material was introduced in 1833. By mid century, this technology was much improved. Thin temple arms made it possible for the maker to get more frames from the same amount of material.
COLLECTING ANTIQUE SPECTACLES
SPECTACLES are perhaps the easiest ophthalmic antiques to find. In a social content, spectacles were a label of keen intellect which began at the time of 15th century blue-blooded nobility. Many 18th century gentlemen purchased and wore spectacles who could not read, and vainly created a false badge of rank. This connection of brain-power with spectacles continues to this day. Spectacles are found in endless variety which will overwhelm a beginning collector who is not focused on a specific collecting area. Spectacles add a fitting period detail accessory for antiques or Revolutionary and Civil War collectors. A small collection which illustrates an evolution of eye glasses makes a fascinating display for the ophthalmic professional.
"PINCE_NEZ," the first antique spectacles, did not have arms (temples). Amazingly, temples did not show up on spectacles until the beginning of the 18th century. The earliest antique spectacles in regular use, made of wood or leather with a riveted center pivot, date to the 15th and 16th centuries and are documented by woodcuts and paintings from the period. The "Nuremberg" type (a German city known for skilled workmanship and "cheap" goods), were made in considerable quantity during the 17th and 18th centuries of a continuous copper wire frame with round lenses. Reading glasses of similar construction with a single lens were also made during the same period of time. Pince-nez spectacles regained a spectacular popularity during the late 19th century through the 1930's and are found in endless variety and patents.
TEMPLE SPECTACLES were invented in the 18th century with temples (arms) fitted with rings which enabled them to be pressed against the temples above the ear, a reliable improvement over Pince-nez. These did not extend over the ear (which would have been a good idea). Temple spectacles are also called Wig spectacles when the ends of the temples were secured under or in a wig. Temples are sometimes double hinged or pivoted and ends with round or teardrop loops as various makers "improved" the methods of securing spectacles. The loops were also used for a cord tied behind the head. 18th century lenses in a round form were common on temple spectacles and later smaller round lenses followed by oval. Occasionally, octagonal and rectangular lenses were also used in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Bifocal lenses were invented during the late 18th century and attributed to Benjamin Franklin.
LORGNETTES are a pair of lenses attached at one side by a handle, hinged or pivoted, and fold back into the handle for protection of the lenses. Some double lens lorgnettes are hinged between the lenses and fold out to a single plane when in use. These can date back to as early as the middle of the 18th century, however most are Victorian and some are made to this day.
SCISSORS SPECTACLES are similar to lorgnettes except the independent lenses fold into a central handle. These can date to the late 18th century but were continually produced until the late 19th century. Handles on scissors spectacles are often found with tortoiseshell or mother of pearl handles.
QUIZING GLASSES were in use from the mid 18th century to the late Victorian era. These are a single lens casual reading magnifier and often very elaborate with both long and short handles. Often worn around the nexk on a cord by both men and women, the fancy ones were considered more fashionable than spectacles. Round lens MONOCLES have very small handles or small loops added and were awkwardly held by muscular effort in the eye socket for reading.
The above information is a very brief summary and although publishedinformation is limited on the subject of antique vision aids the following references are recommended and usually available on Amazon.com or through good used book sellers:
A SPECTACLE OF SPECTACLES, an Exhibition Catalog, Edition Leipzig, 1988.
COLLECTING OPHTHALMIC ANTIQUES, by Ronald J.S. MacGregor, 1992.
FASHIONS IN EYEGLASSES, by Richard Corson, 1967.
SPECTACLES AND OTHER VISION AIDS, J. William Rosenthal, MD, 1996.
Ferris Chapter lx
On the twelfth of November we reached Boonville, in the state of Missouri, having been in daily view of those splendid spectacles, burning prairies, since we left the Pawnee loups. At this place I disposed of my horse, and took passage on a steamboat to St. Louis, which I reached on the fifteenth, after an absence of nearly six years.