Traite de con uite de la famille

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Michael Lebby
B.Eng (hons), MBA, PhD, C.Eng,


Wearing and preserving antique spectacles from around the World is discussed from the perspective of the wearer. The spectacles worn vary from late C18th to modern day. In order to observe the affects of a changing image the author (“the wearer”) has changed spectacles almost daily. These affects range from a simple misunderstanding of the mood the wearer is in to the generation of mutual respect of wearing an antique pair of spectacles that were originally manufactured 200years ago. It has been observed that by changing spectacles frequently, the perception of the wearer can be tailored to different environments, and this is shown via a number of exhibits of the wearer actually wearing the spectacles. Each exhibit has been described to convey the level of antiquity and preservation needed to maintain a collection of spectacles that always are in use i.e. that can be worn at any time

Author’s introduction

The fascination of both wearing and preserving antique spectacles arose because of an observation made at a high technology fiber optics company in California in 2001 [1] and discussions with two experts in the field [2, 3]. It was noticed by the author that when he went to work each morning, employees would try and figure out what mood he was in. The implicit question thought, but never asked was: what mood was the boss in? Was he in a good, bad, happy, stressed but don’t talk to me mood? On one particular morning, the author changed spectacles and realized very quickly that by simply changing spectacles, a different image of him could be created. This has the affect of confusing the folks trying to read his demeanor of the day. The author then, like most scientists, began to experiment with different pairs of spectacles. Initially four pairs were bought and each day of the week, spectacles were changed. The author noticed that it was reasonably easy to look intellectual when really you don’t want to be; to look sad when you are really happy; to look mean when you are really jovial. Eventually, the spectacle range was extended to include a wide range of spectacles that include antique as well as modern varieties. The unique image creation started a drive by the author to collect spectacles and only wear them. This presented a unique set of challenges. Wearing antique spectacles means finding, preserving, or restoring examples that can be brittle and fragile. It also means looking for examples that are in pristine condition. The results are detailed below in a number of exhibits, and show from simple photographs of the author that by simply changing spectacles, different perceptions can be generated.


Exploring the wearing of antique spectacles presented a number of challenges which included learning a new knowledge base of spectacles regarding the history, styles, shapes, designs and even how spectacles were worn. The benefit is figuring out why designs are what they are. For example, why were there high bridges in antique Chinese spectacles (shallow facial profiles), why noble metals were used instead of steel (they did not rust or corrode and they conveyed wealth), why tortoise shell or horn was used (they are soft and flexible for lens mounting) to name a few. The result is that even though this paper describes a number of interesting spectacles of varying age, this work is only a beginning. Whether spectacles are worn as a fashion accessory, or a way to convey wealth, or simply to correct poor eyesight, provides an interesting set of challenges to the wearer of a pair of antique or even retro-aged spectacles that are only 50years old.

Finding pairs of spectacles that don’t fit; fit but don’t match the face; fit and match the face but do not convey a satisfactory image to the observer is very intriguing. Gauging the potential image affect is challenging, as the spectacles may not have prescription lenses, and can only be used as sunglasses or, in some cases, can’t be changed at all and have to be worn as-is. In this paper three categories for wearing and preserving antique spectacles can be created: a) Wear as-is, b) Wear with minor modification, and c) Wear with modifications for every-day use.

a) Wearing as-is can be interpreted to be that the antique spectacles can be worn directly today without any change to frame, temple, lenses or anything else whatsoever. This necessitates the spectacles to be in excellent condition both from a lens, frame and hinge perspective.

b) Wearing with minor modification can be interpreted to be that the lenses could be exchanged to create sunglasses without prescription. Examples might be the design of near sight antique pince-nez spectacles where the original lenses are exchanged for modern synthetic tinted lenses. The pince-nez spectacles are then converted from reading spectacles into sunglasses.

c) Wearing with modifications for everyday use can be interpreted to be spectacles that are worn with modern day prescription lenses. A detailed evaluation is usually needed on the frame because the modern day prescription lenses may not be able to be fitted into the frame either due to the clamping of the lens or even the use of rivets as opposed to screws. Frames are not modified, so if the lenses are exchanged the originals are kept for future use or they are preserved.

Wearing as-is

In this section, various antique spectacles are discussed that can be worn directly in today’s environment. Exhibit A shows a pair of English antique spectacles worn by the author as sunglasses. These brass spectacles are dated around the early 19th century with folding temples and oval finials. The green tint allows the spectacles to be worn as sunglasses. The oval shape of the frame and wide bridge allows for comfortable wear.

Exhibit A

Exhibit B

Exhibit C

Exhibit D

Exhibit E

Exhibit F

Exhibit B shows a pair of early 20th century English tortoiseshell sunglasses with tinted glass lenses. The temples are straight and they wrap around the skull. The hinges are very simple and have a simple inter-locking mechanism. The style is reminiscent of the 1960’s with the large circular lens shape. Thus the wear-ability of these spectacles is quite high. Exhibit C displays another pair of early 20th century English antique sunglasses that are also tortoiseshell. In this pair the hinges are the traditional metal pin variety, although the temples are straight and have curves that follow the skull shape. The glass lenses are tinted in the 10% range, which allow for comfortable wear both in the work environment and also for recreational activity. The tortoiseshell is more rigid than in Exhibit B, and therefore has a higher fragility factor. Even if the wearer wanted to exchange the lenses, the level of fragility of the tortoise would make the process extremely high risk. In this particular exhibit, the spectacles will remain in their original condition. Exhibit D shows a pair of English mid 19th century tinted Double D’s that are based on a steel frame with folding (double-hinge) temples. The dark green tint allows for a wear as-is both with the D lenses open or with them closed. Although the original use for Double D’s were to protect the eyes from cinders and environmental elements from combustible materials, that same use can be applied today when the D lenses are opened to protect the eyes from light access in the horizontal plane. These antique spectacles provide both a unique image and also protection for activities such as skiing and hiking. Similarly for the spectacles in Exhibit E which are in pristine condition and are relatively uncommon. This pair of English silver and tortoiseshell Double D’s have green tinted lenses with silver folding temples. The tortoiseshell frame is not cracked or chipped and provides for a special effect when worn today. The spectacles are worn as sunglasses typically with the D lenses closed. Exhibit F shows a pair of gunmetal steel Double D’s with black tinted lenses. This exhibit is English and can be dated to the mid 19th century. The hinges are extremely tight which allows the spectacles to be worn with the D’s in the open position. The dark lenses also create a wrap-around effect, and are very practical in bright sunlight situations. A very fine example of Continental antique Double D’s is shown in Exhibit G. This particular pair of spectacles has silver frames with silver folding temples. The frames are dated in the mid 19th century. The light blue lenses allow for use in low light conditions, which makes their wear-ability factor high. The most interesting feature of these spectacles is the detail of silverwork on the side of the main frame adjacent to the hinges and also over the bridge. Closer inspection reveals that the frames have been shaped downwards around the nose. It is not clear whether this is intentional in the design, but nonetheless, the spectacles are extremely comfortable for the wearer. Exhibit H is a combination of pince-nez and spectacles

Exhibit G

Exhibit H

Exhibit I

Exhibit J

Exhibit K

Exhibit L

 with ear wrap temples. The spectacles are English and dated around the turn of the 20th century. The frames are silver-plated and the pince-nez is operated via horizontal springs that clamp the nose. The optional temples allow for use throughout the day in a number of situations that would be problematic for pince-nez wearers. Side flaps are opaque and successfully protect the eyes from strong sunlight. The image created by these spectacles is dramatic as the shape of the frame is relatively modern. Similar shaped designs can be found in modern day environments ranging from movies to recreation activities. A more classical version of pince-nez is shown in Exhibit I tinted dark olive green to filter sunlight. These are dated from around the late 19th century and due to the heavy thick glass they are difficult to wear for extended periods. In addition, a strong bridge is necessary with this particular example, although custom fitting of the bridge may alleviate the weight issue to a degree. Exhibits J, K and L show examples of antique Chinese spectacles that are designed for facial profiles that are less pronounced. In all these designs, the size of the lens is large so that the spectacles actually rest on the facial cheeks rather than the nose bridge. In the exhibits, these spectacles can be worn for the most part by resting the frames on both the cheekbone as well as the nose bridge. Exhibit J is an example of a late 19th century brass and green lens with double hinge temples. The bridge is ornate and depicts a dragon like feature. The spectacles can be worn easily for bright light conditions. With Exhibit K dated also in the late 19th century, the spectacles can also be worn in bright light conditions, but given the age of the tortoiseshell rims, these are much more fragile and brittle. The bridge is also hand carved and very elaborate. This level of detail in a bridge is typically not seen today in modern spectacles. With loose folding temples and hand carved temple pads or finials, the spectacles are not in pristine condition and can’t be used for wearing purposes. Exhibit L is similar to Exhibit J with over-sized lenses that can be thought of as being fashionable in today’s age. Again, an ornate brass bridge gives these spectacles a level of wear-ability if pairs can be found that have their temples in pristine condition.

Exhibit M

Exhibit N

Exhibit O

Exhibit P

Exhibit Q

Exhibit R

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