JUST THE HIGHLIGHTS
This is a good place to look at the favorite pieces in my collection, along with some history about antique spectacles and other optical items.
The layout of this page is not optimized for phones, so I suggest viewing on a computer.
Newest items are at the end of the page, so you can check back occasionally to see what I have added.
My First Collection Piece
Sterling Silver Lorgnette
While certainly not the most rare or valuable piece in my collection, this was the first antique piece I bought and therefore deserves the first mention here. I found this lorgnette at an estate sale in Memphis, TN while still a student in optometry school. I was not able to confirm it was sterling silver until bringing it home and cleaning it. It dates from the late 1800s to early 1900s.
The Lorgnette folds so it can be carried with less risk of breaking. It also has a ring on the end so it could be attached to a necklace and worn around the neck.
The Oldest Piece
This is likely the oldest pair of spectacles in my collection. Although, a Japanese or Chinese piece may be similar age, but are more difficult to date.
Spectacles were first made in Italy, in the late 1200s.
These are called Nuremberg spectacles as they were likely made in Nuremberg Germany. They date from between 1650-early 1700s. Spectacles of this type were mass produced in Germany and then traded around Europe. At this time spectacles still did not have temples and were made to hold or rest on the nose when being used.
This magnifier dates from a similar period as the spectacles above, 1650s-early 1700s, likely also made near Nuremberg, Germany.
What is more unusual about this magnifier is the period case that was made for the magnifier. These wooden cases were not mass produced. Often a paper-mache case was made to hold the magnifiers of this type. This case was likely personally made by the purchaser or a close acquaintance of his. It was then decorated with "poker art". This is done by using a hot piece of metal to burn or "poke" marks into the wood.
Double Nuremberg Magnifier
This Nuremberg magnifier had a stronger lens added to the handle at one point, likely shortly after it was made.
It unusual because it is the only double Nuremberg magnifier that I am personally aware of.
I stumbled upon it at an online auction located in Australia. It was in a lot of other mixed nick nacks. The auctioneer was unaware of how old or unusual this piece was.
Although we do not know for certain the date, spectacles likely began to have temples in the early-mid 1720s, thereby allowing the wearer to not have to worry about their spectacles falling off of their face.
At this time spectacles were typically made of steel, but occasionally silver or brass. They also had strait temples with large rings at the end which could have a string or ribbon tied to them. This allowed the wearer to loop the ribbon behind the head to keep them on. Sometimes the wearer would also just wrap the ring in fabric to keep it padded and from rusting on the sides of their head. Examples of each are pictured below.
This pair is made of brass, however, one of temples was likely lost and then replaced with a cheaper steel temple.
Early lenses were often made of glass or occasionally rock crystal, the later also being called "pebble" lenses. Rock crystal was considered superior as it was harder than glass and did not have bubbles like many glass lenses of this period did.
The example to the right is a glass lens from the 1700s which has many small bubbles you can see in the picture.
This is a very unusually ostentatious pair of spectacles, likely from the mid to late 1700s.
This is the only pair of spectacles with this type of decorative of style from the 1700s that I am aware of. It was purchased in an auction from England that had no other optical items. It would most certainly have been made custom for a very wealthy aristocratic person. Imagine the rest of the outfit this would have accompanied!
The spectacles appear to be steel but with gold plating. The left ring end was broken off at some point and had to be welded on again.
If you know of another example, or have any information about a possible maker or wearer, please contact me.
Like the antique spectacles pictured above, scissor spectacles were also made to impress.
Scissor spectacles were most common in France in the 1700s. Often highly ornamented, they became common among the more fashionable members of French and German society in the second half of the 18th century.
Smaller metal ones such as the ones pictured here often had a ring attached to the bottom so they could be worn around the neck and therefore available when needed. This type of spectacle was most often made of silver and then gilded. However, they were also made of ungilded silver, bronze, and even solid gold.
Large Scissor Spectacles
This type of scissor spectacles were made of a variety of materials and combinations. The cover was often made of mother or pearl, tortoise shell, or horn.
The arms that held then lenses were then made of silver or tortoise.
Retractable Scissor Spectacles
This is probably the favorite item in my collection.
Retractable scissor spectacles are exceptionally rare with very few examples outside of museums. What makes this pair even more special is the bespoke lizard skin case that is still with the spectacles. The craftsmanship of these are exceptional with even each individual screw being decorated with a pattern.
4 Lens Tortoise Shell Spectacles
Tortoise shell was often used for spectacles starting in the 1800s and remained in use through the early 1900s. Tortoise shell was quite flexible, and had very unique and beautiful patterns. Faux tortoise shell became in fashion again in men's frames in the 1950s and 60s, and is again quite popular in men's and woman's eyeglasses with woman especially wearing a large variety of colors.
The example to the right is less common as it has lenses that can be folding in front to make it able to convert to sunglasses when outside.
Double D Silver Spectacles with 2 Colors of Lenses
Glasses with this type of lens shape are called Double D spectacles. The side shield lenses are unusual on these because they are a different color glass. It is difficult to say if this was done for some type of visual purpose, or just to allow the wearer to have a unique looking pair of spectacles.
Silver Spectacles with Exquisitely Carved Wooden Case
This pair of silver spectacles is hallmarked as being made in Bergen, Norway and dates to 1839.
What is especially unique is the bespoke carved wooden case. It has the original owners name carved into the front. It is also the only example I am aware of, of a wooden spectacle case that is carved on one side, and engraved on the other.
Rare Octagonal Spectacles
This perfect octagonal shape is a rare shape of lenses for antique spectacles. They were likely made in the early 1800s.
Solid Gold Spectacles
This shape of lens and style of frame was very common in the mid 1800s.
This frame is unusual because it is made of solid 14K gold, making it very expensive even in the time period it was made. The inside of the right temple is marked with the maker, a Mr. Salisbury, in New York.
Lorgnette with Inset Ivory
This is a tortoise shell lorgnette that has unusually nice decoration.
The carved ivory inlaid on the front shows the skill of craftsman that would have worked on this. The backside also has a nicely engraved ivory panel.
Silver Martins Margins
This type of spectacle with rings around the lenses was somewhat common in the late 1700s. They were invented by an optician named Benjamin Martin, and hence why we refer to them as Martin's margins. Benjamin Martin claimed they were superior to regular spectacles because they blocked some light and improved vision.
The rings were typically made of horn, but also could be made of tortoise shell or rarely metal.
This pair has a silver frame with horn inserts.
Gem Encrusted Lorgnettes
The line between jewelry and optical device can be blurred with some lorgnettes.
On the left, with hundreds of stones of five different types, this custom piece would have taken many, many hours to create.
On the right, the enamel work on this lorgnette is very uniquely well done.
Solid Gold Frame with Engraving in Shagreen Case with Gold Fittings
This is a solid gold frame.
The engraving on the temples is very well done and quite rare to find.
Shagreen is shark or ray skin. It is green because it has been dyed. It is quite rare to find a case with gold fittings. Typically the hardware is made of silver.
Lorgnette with Griffin
While this is a faux tortoise piece. It is one of my favorites because the oversized griffin catches your eye when viewing this piece, even from across the room.
Silver 4 Lens Spectacles
This a silver French Hallmarked piece. What is more unusual about this pair of antique spectacles is the power of the lenses.
An extremely near sighted individual would have used these.
Typically the tinted lenses on the side of this type of spectacles would have not had power. Occasionally the side lenses would be clear and have power for reading. However, with this pair of spectacles, the clear lenses have a power of -6.50 and the side lenses have a power of -5.50. This means that when the wearer was looking through just the front lenses, they would have only been able to see clearly to a distance of 7 inches from their face. Also when using the front and side lenses, the glasses would have had a power of -12.00 which would certainly been in the top 1% of most near sighted individuals. These would have possible been used by a jeweler or engraver, as they would have allowed for very near work while being worn.
Antique Fan with Lorgnette
This is a rare fan made of ivory and lace with a lorgnette that folds into the front.
Other types of optical fans were made with a small telescope in the base, or opera glasses attached to the base, or a lens attached to the top that could be used like a monocular.
Mother of Pearl Opera Glasses
This is a very decorative pair of mother of pearl opera glasses.
It is special because of the gold painted decorations and gilding on the metal. It was given as a gift to somebody. It had the year engraved on one side and their initials on the other.
This is a very early pair of sunglasses from the late 1700s.
Sunglasses from this time typically had green lenses. Later, blue lenses started to be used commonly as well. Grey lenses were actually not commonly used until much later.
Japanese Spectacles with Case
This is an early pair of Japanese spectacles with a nice custom made case. The case is made of paper mache on the outside, with a wooden insert, cut out for the spectacles to rest in. The inside of the case has a painted cherry blossom motif.
Antique Chinese Spectacles
This is an antique pair of Chinese Spectacles. The frame is made of nicely carved tortoise shell. The lenses are made of rock crystal. There are visible inclusions near the top of the left lens.
Unlike in Europe, in China people would often wear spectacles with no prescription power in the lenses, just to look more important. As Asian individual do not have a prominant bridge on the nose for spectacles to rest on, the lenses were often larger in order for the bottom of the lenses to be able to rest on the cheeks.
This is an unusual pair of sunglasses for a few reasons. First, the x-shaped bridge is a less common bridge shape. Second, the lenses are an unusually intense blue color. Third, and most unusual is the stamped leaf pattern on the sides of the temples.
Sold 18K Gold Lorgnette
This is a solid gold lorgnette. It is hallmarked with an eagles head which is a French marking to indicate it is 18K gold. The image is unusually detailed for a lorgnette of this kind. The enamel is also still in good condition.
Antique Beaded Spectacle Case
This case is in very good condition. It still has most of the beads. The leather also still has most of the gilding.
Early Japanese Spectacles
These are two more pairs of early Japanese spectacles.
Spectacles of this kind would have been worn with the nose piece resting on the face to push the spectacles away so they did not rub the wearers eyebrows and lashes. The strings or ribbons then would go behind the ears.
The top one is a pair of tortoise shell spectacles with a period case.
The bottom pair is an unusual pair that folds in the middle. Unlike most Japanese spectacles made of metal, these are very thick and heavy. They would have certainly become uncomfortable after only a short time of being worn.
Replica Eskimo Sun Protection
In the arctic, the sun coming off of the snow can be intense enough to cause a condition called "snow blindness". This occurs because the ultra violet rays bouncing off the snow is intense enough to cause a sunburn the cornea, which the front part of the eye. As you can imagine, burning this part of the eye is extremely painful. Vision is also typically very poor while the cornea is healing.
In order to avoid this painful situation, Eskimo people would carve bone, wood, or even ivory from walrus tusks to help protect their eyes from the sun.
This is a reproduction of an eskimo sun protection piece. They would have been worn by putting a leather strap through the slits on the ends of the piece.
In order to
Silver and Enamel Lorgnettes
The lorgnette on the left has a very bright red enamel that is eye catching.
The lorgnette on the right is a very intricate lorgnette. The gilding has worn off of part of the bottom, but the enamel is in very good condition. It still has the original necklace that would have been used to wear it around the neck.
Gilt Enamel Guilloche Opera Glasses
This would have been an expensive pair of opera glasses to purchase over 100 years ago. This is because multiple techniques would have been used to create these.
First, the metal for the opera glasses would have to have been gold gilt. Then the barrels and handle would have to have been guilloched. This is a process where regular patterns are engraved into the metal. Next, and enamel would have been placed over the barrel. Finally, they were painted with gold and floral decorations. All this was a labor intensive process.
Spectacles with Owner's Name Engraved
Occasionally, a spectacle wearer that spent a good deal of money on their new eyewear would have their name engraved onto the item. This may have been out of vanity, or may have been so that it would have been more difficult for a thief to pawn them for their gold or silver value.
These are 4 pairs of solid spectacles that have their name engraved into the spectacles.
Silver Adams Style Lorgnette
This is called an Adams Style Lorgnette. This lorgnette is made of sterling silver and has two pairs of lenses. One pair could be used for reading, and the other could be used for distance. Again, these would commonly be worn around the neck in order to be available for quick use.
Brass and Tortoise Magnifier
Large magnifiers like this would often have been kept on a desk for use. They were often made of mother of pearl, tortoise shell, or horn. This one is unusual because it is brass on one side and tortoise shell on the other. It also has the original owners initials engraved into the front.
Antique Chinese Spectacles
These Chinese Spectacles are likely from the 1700s or 1800s. They would have been worn by looping the strings behind the ears and then, the nose piece would have propped them up so the lenses would not have rubbed agains the wearers eye brows and lashes.
The lorgnette to the right is tortoise shell and is finely carved with a Chinese dragon motif.
The Lorgnette to the left is imitation tortoise shell, but has an unusually nice pattern with a cherub holding a bird.
Chatelaine Spectacle Cases
Chatelaine cases such as these were made to be worn on a ladies belt, or even her servants belt. They were most commonly used the the late 1800s-early 1900s. They could be very simple, made out of leather, or very intricate, and displays of wealth.
Solid 18K Lorgnette
This is a very good example of Art Nouveau design. It is also 18K gold which is less common to see in optical items.
Spy Glass in Porcelain Case
This porcelain case opens from the bottom or top. It has a telescope mounted through the center of the case.
Having a jeweled monocular was another way to show off wealth. The decorations, and gem colors varied widely. While the large types were often carried in a case, the smaller ones were often clipped on the chatelaine to carry. Smaller ones could come in a variety of shapes such as the ones here, shaped as a lamp or heart.
Tortoise Shell Spectacles with Maker Engraved
These spectacles are less common because they have the maker and his address engraved on the temples.
Robert Bradberry worked at 332 Oxford Street from 1810 to 1818.
Interestingly, this site is again involved in the optical industry with a Sunglass Hut having opened at the there in 2013.
Gold Plated Lorgnette with Clock
It is quite uncommon to have a clock added to a lorgnette. The owner of this lorgnette may have had this lorgnette for quite a while and decided to have the clock added to the base of the lorgnette by another optician or jeweler at a later date.
Tortoise Shell Spectacles with Scroll Shaped Temples
These spectacles have a very nice pattern tortoise shell used for the temples. They are unusual for the scroll shape to them temple.
Small Carved Ivory Lorgnette
This small lorgnette is likely gold plated, but the handle has been very finely carved as well.
Wooden Spectacle Case with Inlaid Scenes
This wooden spectacle case is very special because of the inlaid scenes and patterns on every side of the case. It is was purchased in Germany where is likely was made.
Gold Plated and Blue Enamel Opera Glasses
This is a very ornate and special pair of opera glasses. They are likely a very early pair of opera glasses, made in France in the 1840s.
When opera glasses were first invented, they had two individually adjustable barrels. It was not until few years later that a center adjustment was added to make it easier to focus both eyes at the same time. These have a very thick gold plating on the entire surface of the glasses, and blue enamel decoration on the bottom of the barrels.
Early Sunglasses with Cloth Side Shields
These sunglasses are quite rare as they have cloth side shields which is uncommon to find. They are also much larger than most sunglasses of the period. They may have been made in Italy. It is also uncommon to have what appears to be the original case.
Nuremberg Spectacles with Case, "London" Engraved on Lens
These spectacles are likely from the 1700s, and made in Nuremberg Germany, but have the word "London" engraved on one of the the lenses.
Interestingly, this mark was used by various spectacle makers in Germany including the Schmidt family who were spectacle makers in Nuremberg from 1634. The mark is a deception to make purchasers believe that the lenses were made in London. At that time London opticians had a reputation for producing lenses of the highest quality. "Feine London" lenses were sold in many countries but real London lenses were not marked in this way. *This information was obtained from the January 1997 OAICC journal.
An actual ad of this period from a Spectacle maker in Germany with the same script of "London" on the lenses is pictured below.
Adams Style Lorgnette with Solid 18K Gold Frame
These French "Adams Style" lorgnettes are very nice as the handle portion has multiple turquoise and the frame is made of solid 18K gold. It has the makers mark as well as the "rams head" hallmark, indicating it was marked by an assay office in Paris between 1819 and 1838.