Fashion and accessories inspired by historic designs walk down the runaways every year, and iconic items of yesteryear, such as antique eyeglasses, are replicated by famous designers for their newest collections. Yet, if you want to feel more connected to these designs of the past, you can look to auction houses, thrift stores, and garage sales to find a piece of historic eyewear to add to your personal collection. Whether or not you want to wear or display these antique eyeglasses, there remains a vast history full of unique examples for you to choose from.
Antique Eyeglasses of the Past: A Short History
Unsurprisingly, eyeglass technology has been around for centuries as human's need to correct congenital vision problems or age-related vision failure has persisted. However, eyeglass production first began in earnest during the 14th and 15thcenturies by Italian guild members. Germany quickly became another leading eyeglass producer, and by the 17th century, eyeglasses were being created with Italian lenses and German framing. What began as handheld spectacles eventually developed into the two-armed eyeglasses that are worn today, and these useful adornments continue to be collected by museums, private collectors, and modern fashion enthusiasts.
Different Types of Antique Eyeglasses
Since eyeglasses have been around for hundreds of years, there are a wide variety of antique eyeglasses that might be hiding in someone's attic or crawlspace. Given that some of these early eyeglasses were quite fragile and few known examples of them have survived, you'll want to pay particular attention to some of these rarer types of antique eyeglasses as you shop around.
- Rivet Spectacles - This early type of spectacle included two circular lenses connected by a rivet that was opened to allow them to sit atop the nose.
- Thread Loop (Threaded) Spectacles - These Spanish, and later Asian, spectacles were held onto the face using loops of ribbon or cords and were sometimes weighted to help them stay in place.
- Tinted Eyeglasses - These small, colored lenses were popular during the 17th century.
- Slit-Bridge Spectacles - These incredibly rare antique spectacles had a slit in the middle of the bridge piece to allow for more elasticity in this area.
- Nuremberg Style Spectacles - This 16th and 17th century, armless spectacle featured a prominent u-shaped bridge and round lenses.
- Temple Spectacles - These 17th century spectacles saw the first use of glasses arms which tightly secured the eyeglasses to the head.
- Double-Hinged Temple Spectacles - First seen in 1752, this unusual, four-armed eyeglass was invented to secure the eyeglasses completely around the head.
- 18th Century Bifocals - Well-known as one of Benjamin Franklin's prominent accessories, bifocals were first being used in the 18th century.
- Pin-in-Slot Spectacles - The mechanism used to attach the arm to the lenses that is used in most glasses today is this 19th century type of eyeglass.
What Antique Eyeglasses Were Made out Of
Considering that the way eyeglasses were made evolved alongside the technological advancements and growing manufacturing capabilities of each passing decade, you can find antique eyeglasses that were made out of many different materials. Both antique eyeglasses' lenses and frames were constructed of mundane and valuable materials and required the skills of expert craftsman like the Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers that was established in 1692.
Antique eyeglass lenses were generally made out of these materials:
Antique eyeglass frames were also made out of a variety of different things including:
Antique Eyeglasses Values
Although antique eyeglasses cannot be modified to fit modern lenses like many vintage eyeglasses can, they can make a great addition to anyone's personal collection. However, even though some antique eyeglasses can be nearly 400 years old, you can actually find pairs for sale that are rather affordable and for as little as $10. Of course, the more delicate and/or valuable materials used to make them and the older the eyeglasses are, the more expensive they'll be.
Collecting Antique Eyeglasses
For the collector on a budget, antique eyeglasses are a good place to start since there are easy-to-find, cheap antique eyeglasses on the market. In particular, antique eyeglasses with scratches, patina, or other kinds of damage can be bought for a fraction of their mint condition values. For example, an antique pin-in-slot spectacle is listed for about $10 at one online auction. However, niche and rare eyeglasses can cost you up to a $100 in some cases, as this pair of antique green-lensed eyeglass and its case are listed for nearly a $100. Overall, if you're willing to forego condition for price, you can amass quite the collection of antique eyeglasses.
Antique Eyeglasses and the Wonderful World of Optical Collectibles
Thankfully, your newfound obsession with historic eyewear doesn't have to stop with antique eyeglasses. There is a bountiful world of optical collecting which spans items like spyglasses, monocles, magnifying glasses, opera glasses, and so many more. Let antique eyeglasses be your first stop in your historical optical journey, and get started on collecting these fashionable accessories.