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Meanwhile, the perspective glasses of the 17th century were single lenses often used for distance vision by young fashionable myopes who suspended them from a neck-cord. In France these were Les Encroyables, upper class men who may have even exhibited a bit of arrogance when wearing this visual aid. Miniature ornate pocket-sized telescopes (spyglasses) were also used by some men and women especially to view other people at the theater. They were sometimes hidden in fans and walking sticks. Monocles were introduced by the German Baron Philip Von Stosch around 1720, but didn’t reach the height of their popularity until the 1880’s. The golden era for monocles then followed on into the early 20th century. It has been suggested that there was an evolution from the primitive magnifier to the quizzer and then to the monocle. Aristocrats commonly used monocles as a status symbol and fashion statement. Many had extension galleries which gave them stability in the front of the eye socket and prevented lashes from rubbing against the lens. The elegant double eyeglass on a handle (scissors glasses) and the typically elaborate single lens magnifier (quizzer) had become common among the more fashionable members of French and German society in the second half of the 18th century. Both Lafayette and Napoleon used scissors glasses. Lorgnettes, used most often by women, developed around 1780 from the scissors glasses of France and England. Believed to have been first popularized by London’s George Adams, Jr. (1750-1795) , they had a handle on the temporal side. A useful innovation for these developed by Robert Bretell Bate in 1825 became patent #5124. His outstanding invention was the double-spring lorgnette, an "improved spectacle folded to form a single eyeglass." Most of the examples of lorgnettes seen presently date from the Victorian era and are quite decorative and fashionable. Viennese optician Voigtlander invented rigid glass spectacles in 1824 and Austrian optician Waldstein also offered all-glass spectacles around 1840. Few examples of these have survived so they are considered quite rare today.

Five hundred years after they had first been invented, spectacles without sides, which had been originally clamped on top of the nose, reappeared around 1840 as the pince-nez. 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 1935.


As the 20th century opened, eyeglass wearers emphasized style. The improved plastics in the early 1900’s heralded a new era in frame styling. During the 1930’s sunglasses became especially popular. By 1950, as described by Pierre Marly of France, spectacles had become a fashion accessory in Europe and North America. In Great Britain at that time, they were just starting to become an accessory. Eyeglass wearers demanded stylish, comfortable, and functional designs exhibiting both variety and elegance. They still do. Glasses have become an added refinement by which people can enhance their personality. Individuals can look smart and also discreet in a variety of designs and colors.


Finally, consider this. The earth was formed 4.5 billion years ago. Society has been around for about twenty thousand years. Spectacles did not appear until just over seven hundred years ago. Before that time, nearsighted youth endured a world that was clear only to within four to five feet from where they stood. Farsightedness and more specifically presbyopia (typically brought on by the aging process after the age of 40) affected almost everyone. Active, productive members of society had to stop working, writing, reading, and using their hands for skillful tasks at a relatively young age.


Before the invention of spectacles to improve vision, society’s progress in culture, crafts, art, commerce, and science, was severely limited! Then, sometime in the last quarter of the 13th century, an unknown, an artisan whose name remains lost, made the first spectacles. In 1946, Vasco Ronchi of Florence stated "when it is all summed up, the fact remains that this world has found lenses on its nose without knowing whom to thank." 4


The art of making a pair of spectacles was an achievement of monumental significance for mankind that has had an incalculable impact. Although it has been relatively unknown to the general public, the evolution and development of spectacles over the past seven centuries qualifies as a long, significant, and quite fascinating journey through history, whose impact deserves to be better recognized and more widely appreciated.



  1. Rosenthal, William, Spectacles and Other Vision Aids, p.489, 1996.

  2. Ilardi, Vincent, Renaissance Florence: The Optical Capital of the World, p.538, 1993

  3. OAICC Newsletter No. 1 page 3, Sept. 1982.

  4. Ronchi, Vasco: Perche non si ritrova l'inventore degli occhiali?, Rivista di oftalmologia, v. 1, 1946, p. 140

Roman poet Dichter Vergil (70-19 B.C.), Ludger tom Ring the Elder (1496-1547), Westfalisches Landesmuseum fur Kunst und Kultureschichte Munster, circa 1530.

St. Peter with an Eyeglass, Freidrich Herlin, 1466, Church of James, Die Jakobskirche in Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Cornelius Kiel proofreading a Dutch manuscript, the famous Plantin scholar, Father of lexicography for the Netherlands, Museum Plantin-Moretus, Antwerp, Belgium

St. Jerome in his study, Joos van Cleve, 16th century

This paper and website are the result of the compilation of a great deal of wonderful information obtained from books, articles, newsletters, catalogs, museums and personal conversations and also correspondence with some well-versed experts from around the globe. It is adapted from many of the notable contributions by very knowledgeable authors relating to the most significant advance in technology and vision…… spectacles.


We are especially indebted to the noted authors marked with a ► for granting us permission to reprint illustrations from their wonderful, colorful books.


  1. Acerenza, Franca: GLI OCCHIALI/Spectacles , Milano 1988, 2nd ed. 1994 (Bi-lingual)

  2. Bernard Becker Collection in Ophthalmology, an Annotated Catalog. Bernard Becker Medical Library, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO

  3. Bruneni, Joseph, Industry Biographies- John McAllister 1753-1830 

  4. Bryden, DJ, Simms, DL. “Archimedes and the Opticians of London” Bulletin of the Scientific Instrument Society no.35 (1992) 11-14

  5. Bryden, DJ, Simms, DL. “Spectacles improved to perfection and approved of by the Royal Society”. Annals of Science 1993; 50: 1-32

  6. Calvert, H.R.. Scientific Trade Cards in the Science Museum Collection. London: H.M.S.O., 1971

  7. Chevalier, Charles, Manuel des Myopes et des Presbytes, contenant des Recherches Historiques sur l´Origine des Lunettes ou un chapitre spécialement consacré aux Lorgnettes de Spectacle. etc... Paris 1841

  8. ► Crestin-Billet, Frederique, Collectible Eyeglasses, Editions Flammarion, 2004

  9. Del Vecchio, Marisa, Bel Vedere The Spectacles of the Luxottica Museum, Treviso, Italy

  10. Dreyfus, John. "The Invention of Spectacles and the Advent of Printing." The Library, Sixth Series, v. 10, no. 2, June 1988., pp. 93-106.

  11. Corson, Richard. Fashions in Eyeglasses. London: Peter Owen Ltd., 1967

  12. Davidson, Derek & MacGregor, Ronald. Spectacles, Lorgnettes, and Monocles. Princes Risborough, England: Shire, 2002

  13. De Lotto, Enrico, From Nero’s Emerald to the Cadore Glasses, Belluno, 1956

  14. Drewry, Jr.,M.D., Richard, What Man Devised That He Might See, 1994

  15. ► Faber, Fritz Julius (assisted by Udo Timm), Durchblicke, Eine Kulturgeschichte mit Brillen, Heidelberg, 1999

  16. Florange, Ch., Histoire des Lunettes in: Pro Medico, Paris & Brussels 1936, 13: 123-127

  17. Frank, Arthur, The Seeing Eye. Privately published, Jersey Channel Islands, 1993

  18. Greef, R., Hallauer, O., Lundsgaard, K., von Pflugk, A., et al. Katalog Einer Bildersausterllung zur Geschichte der Brille. (International Congress of Ophthalmology, 13th, Amsterdam 1929) Amsterdam: A.E.d’Oliveira, 1929

  19. Groffman, Sidney, O.D., “The Eyes of Liberty”, Journal of the American Optometric Association, v. 47, no. 8, August 1976, pp. 1019-1040.

  20. Hamblin, Dora. "What a Spectacle! Eyeglasses and How They Evolved." Smithsonian Magazine, v. 13, no. 12, March 1983, pp.100-102+.

  21. Heitz, Robert, THE HISTORY OF CONTACT LENSES (3 vols.) Wayenborgh, Ostende 2003ff

  22. Heyman, Madame Alfred, Lunettes et Lorgnettes de Jadis, J. Leroy, Paris 1911

  23. Ilardi, Vincent. "Eyeglasses and Concave Lenses in Fifteenth-Century Florence and Milan: New Documents." Renaissance Quarterly, v. 29, no. 3, Autumn 1976, pp. 341-360.

  24. Ilardi, Vincent. "Renaissance Florence: The Optical Capital of the World." Journal of European Economic History, v. 22, no. 3, 1993, pp. 507-41.

  25. Kelly, Chris. "McAllister 5 Generations in Optometrics." Optical Journal and Review of Optometry, v. 112, no. 13, July 1975, pp. 10-17.

  26. Jaeger, Wolfgang, AUGENVOTIVE, Verlag Brausdruck, Heidelberg 1974 (a beautiful book about ex-votos of the eye)

  27. ► Kortland, Kees. "Het Oog Wil Ook Wat". 1990, Kees Kortland.

  28. Kuisle, Anita: Brillen, Gläser, Fassungen, HerstellungDeutsches Museum, Munich 1985

  29. Letocha, Charles E., M.D. "The Origin of Spectacles." Survey of Ophthalmology, v. 31, 1986, pp. 185-188.

  30. Letocha, Charles E., M.D. "The Invention and Early Manufacture of Bifocals." Survey of Ophthalmology, v. 35, 1990, pp. 226-235.

  31. Levene, John R.. Clinical Refraction and Visual Science. Boston: Butterworths, 1977

  32. ► Marly, Pierre. Spectacles & Spyglasses. Paris: Editoins Hoebeke, 1988

  33. Mazza, Samuele: Spectacles, Milano 1995, English San Francisco 1996 (by Chronicle Books)

  34. McBrayer, Alan. "Spectacles, 1760-1783." The Brigade Dispatch, v. 33, no. 1, 2003, pp. 2-1.

  35. McBrayer, Alan. United States Spectacle and Eye-glass Patents 1836-1873. Privately published

  36. Il Museo Dell’Occhiale Pieve di Cadore, Fabbri Editore, 1990, Milan (an absolutely fabulous catalogue of the historic vision related objects at this museum)

  37. Newsletters of the Ophthalmic Antiques International Collectors Club, 1982 – 2003

  38. Oppenheimer, H., Theorie und Praxis der Augengläser , Berlin 1904

  39. Orr, Hugh. Illustrated History of Early Antique Spectacles. Beckenham, Kent, England: Hugh Orr, 1985

  40. Oydegaard, Floyd, How to be a Perfect Spectacle, Shadows of the Past, 1984

  41. ► Poulet, W. Atlas on The History of Spectacles. Bonn, Germany: Wayenborgh, 1978. 3 v., (A classic!)

  42. Ramstein, Rolf and Till, Die Optikerfamilie Ramstein und ihre Sammlung antiker Brillen und optischer Instrument, Verlag Editions Publisher Till Ramstein, 2003

  43. Rasmussen, Otto. Chinese Eyesight and Spectacles. Tonbridge, England: Tonbridge Free Press, 1946

  44. Redfearn, Jerome. "American Silver & Gold Spectacles of the Nineteenth Century." Silver Magazine Nov.-Dec. 1985, 8-12.

  45. Reetz, Hans : Bildniss und Brille, Oberkochen 1957

  46. Ronchi, Vasco: Perché non si ritrova l’inventore degli occhiali?, Rivista di oftalmologia, v. 1, 1946, p. 140-144

  47. Rosen, Edward. "The Invention of Eyeglasses." Journal of the History of Medicine, v. 11, 1956, pp. 13-46, and pp. 183-218.

  48. ► Rosenthal, J. William, M.D. Spectacles and Other Vision Aids: A History and Guide to Collecting, San Francisco: Norman Pub., 1996

  49. Rossi, Frank: Brillen-Vom Leseglas zum modischen Accessoire, Leipzig 1989 (was translated into English by F.C. Blodi)

  50. Schiffer, Nancy. Eyeglass Retrospective: Where Fashion Meets Science. Atgen, Pa.: Schiffer Publishing, 2000

  51. Schmitz, E.-H. Handbuch zur Geschichte der Optik, Suppl. III, DIE BRILLE (3 vols.) Ostend, Wayenborgh 1995.

  52. Schnell, Ivar: Glasögonens Historia, Stockholm 1943

  53. ► Shirayama, Sekiya. Social History of Spectacles. Tokyo, 1990

  54. von Rohr, Moritz: Das Auge und die Brille, Leipzig 1912

  55. von Rohr, Moritz: Die Brille als Optisches Instrument, Leipzig 1911

  56. von Rohr, Moritz, Abhandlungen zur Geschichte des Stereoskops, Engelmann Leipzig 1908

  57. von Rohr, Moritz, “The Thomas Young Oration: Contributions to the History of the Spectacles Trade from the Earliest Times to Thomas Young’s Appearance.”,  Transactions of the Optical Society, vol. XXV, 1923-24 No.2, .

  58. Walsh, Glyn, Spectacles Through the Ages and Period Inaccuracies, December 14, 2001,

  59. ► Winkler, Wolf, Editor. A Spectacle of Spectacles, Exhibition Catalogue, Edition Leipzig: Carl-Zeiss-Stiftung , Jena, 1988.

  60. ► York, Alan, “Eyeglasses: Fads and Fashions in Spectacles”, The Encyclopedia of Collectibles, 1978, Time Life Books, Alexandria, Virginia

  61. Zeiss: Zur Geschichte der Brille , Oberkochen 1958


























Brillengeld magnifier

Brillengeld lorgnette

Brillengeld telescope

Brillengeld binoculars

Brillengeld camera

Brillengeld spectacles

This set of Notgelt from Rathenow, Germany, issued post World War 1, depicts eyeglasses, lorgnettes, and other optical devices on the obverse of the notes. There are six designs in three denominations, 50, 75, and 90 pfennings. Rathenow is a town west of Berlin where the Emil Busch Optical Company is located. This company was founded there in the early 19th century, and the optical industry became a symbol of this town. Thus, the Notgelt issued there in the 1920’s features optical symbols.
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