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A Brief History of Eye Wear

By editor
July 26, 2016

We wanted to go down the history lane and see what eye sight enhancement technologies were available to the people with poor eye sight centuries ago and how those people coped with their eye sight deficiencies.

A variety of eye wear designs were available at different times in history - Monocle, Quizzer, Pince-nez, Scissor-glasses, Lorgnette, Martin's Margins, Wig spectacles.

But the first eye sight aid was reportedly introduced sometime in the early 1200's and was essentially a magnifying glass - a polished convex piece of crystal rock, that was placed directly on a page to make the letters appear larger.  http://www.museumofvision.org/exhibitions/?key=44&subkey=4&relkey=29

We have all seen the old photographs from 150 years ago where stylish gentlemen and ladies wore a Monocle  - a contraption with one lens that one had to either hold with the muscles in the eye socket or with one hand.  Monocles were not entirely comfortable eye wear devices, but they served the purpose and allowed those from more affluent classes see better. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monocle

Lorgnette is another ancestor of the contemporary glasses.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lorgnette. Going back in history hundreds of years, lorgnettes brought improved eye sight and were worn by scientists and philosophers of the ancient past. http://www.teagleoptometry.com/history.htm

Lorgnettes appear in many old paintings, some of famous people https://mimimatthews.com/2015/09/20/the-history-of-the-lorgnette.  From those paintings we can now learn which famous people such as kings and emperors, scientists or artists needed help with their eye sight.  Lorgnettes were an item only aristocracy can afford and were a matter of fashion, often adorned with jewels, implemented with precious metals, and provided with intricate cases of leather and expensive woods.  Some Lorgnette specimens possess quite interesting designs and appearance http://www.college-optometrists.org/en/college/museyeum/online_exhibitions/spectacles/lorgnettes.cfm.   For the more adventurous, Lorgnettes are still available on the market: http://www.eyeglasseswarehouse.com/ - as a costume accessory.

Pince-nez (from "pinched nose") were probably the first eye sight help aids available to the middle classes.  Many well-known people were Pince-nez,  such as Russian writer A. Chekhov and T. Roosevelt.

Colored lenses and sunglasses were invented for the military and used during the World War II to allow soldiers to see and aim better on a bright day.  Only after the war tinted and UV-absorptive glasses started to be used in fashion.

Bifocals or split lenses were most likely first introduced in 1770’s in England and apparently invented by Benjamin Franklin.  The bifocals were made by halving lenses of differing powers and positioning the segments together with a straight line across the middle.  The upper portion was ground for distance vision while the lower portion was ground for the near vision.


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