This famous print Les Lunettes by Louis-Léopold Boilly(1823) shows five French men and women using different types of optical aid including a quizzing glass, folding lorgnette, wig spectacles with jointed sides, nose spectacles and a spyglass.
More and more evidence is coming to light that simple nose spectacles continued to be in use into the nineteenth century albeit they were increasingly seen as old-fashioned.
Developments in Design
The small oval eye size of the early 1800s has been ascribed to the influence of the lecturer, telescope designer and gourmet cook William Kitchiner (1751-1817). Oval remained the preferred shape throughout the century. In the 1890s James Aitchison was making oval eyed metal frames glazed with stock lenses, which sold for 2s 6d pair although some, at just a shilling, were even cheaper.
He developed also a full-eye version with bifocal division. The inclined lens was also supposed to protect the eye from the wind. This idea never really caught on.
|Blued steel spectacles with a knocked-on crank bridge, circa 1880. The straight sides have lacquered ends|
The W-bridge enabled all sorts of different nose fittings to be produced and the dispenser could specify a dozen variations in measurement on his order form (and even then use pliers to create some more at the final fitting!) Comfort was in this instance related to cosmetic appearance since a pad bridge was considered to give length to a nose (desirable of course in some patients) whereas the ‘W’ bridge or saddle bridge made a nose look shorter.
These silver spectacles by John Holmes of London have sliding sides and pebble lenses. They are pictured together with an unrelated but contemporary tortoiseshell flip-top case, 1838.
A Disgrace to the Optician's Art? - Rimless Spectacles
Waldstein’s rimless monocles from Vienna have a very modern appearance to them and were certainly tried in a one-piece spectacle form c. 1825-1840 though the end result was fragile and hence very few examples have survived. The two lenses were ground into a single sheet of glass which thus formed the whole of the front and bridge. Later in the century 'three-piece' frames appeared, whereby the spectacles consisted of two sides with joints attached via drilled holes to rimless lenses which were in turn joined by a connecting bridge. Finally in the late century 'invisibles' were introduced with thin wire frames set into lens grooves so as to be barely noticeable. This invention with its potential to relieve the distress of those not keen on visible eyewear attracted both the highest professional approval and poor-quality imitations.
John Browning an ophthalmic optician and, formerly, instrument maker with premises on The Strand, was the first president of the British Optical Association in 1895. Six years previously in his famous little book Our Eyes (1889) he had written the following:
Invisible spectacles and folders have two advantages: they are of the lightest construction that can be made to act efficiently, and the lenses cannot come out of the frames because the frames are smaller than the lenses, rims being let into the glass, and thus rendered invisible to any one in front of those who wear them; but as they are so light they should only be of the best materials and workmanship. And here I must warn my readers against confounding these invisible spectacles and folders with the so-called 'frameless' spectacles and folders. As now generally made and supplied, these are a disgrace to the optician's art. The springs, sides, and loops in these wretched things are riveted directly onto the glasses, while the glasses are frequently twice as thick on one side as they are on the other.
The page shown is an illustration from the 3rd edition of Browning's book (1894). Note the variety of available bridges, sides and eye shapes.
A Spanish Gentleman by José Buzo Caceres, 1832
A Spanish Gentleman
by José Buzo Caceres, 1832
The idea of supplementary lenses was first introduced by Richardson's patent of 1797, in which two side lenses hinged to the eyerims and could be folded over the main lenses to combine the powers of the two. Out of this idea grew the concept of side visors. In the nineteenth century rail travel began with a passengers being carried in open-top carriages with the wind, funnel smoke and sparks from the track in their faces. A particular type of protective spectacles with D-shaped lenses arose shortly before this time and came to be known as 'Railway spectacles'. Sometimes such spectacles had tinted lenses and can be seen as early sunglasses in that they were for outdoor use. Later examples may have a horseshoe shape.
The BOA Museum's painting of a Spanish Gentleman shows part-tinted D-spectacles being worn in Southern Europe in the early 1830s.
If you couldn't decide which optical device to use, or needed to carry too many other items around with you, Victorian inventors had just the thing for you.
This coloured print, printed by J. Netherclift in 1830, shows two men with top hats featuring drop-down lenses and spectacles. As the inscription says: 'LIVING MADE EASY. REVOLVING HAT which by a slight touch presents its wearer with, Eye-Glass, Cegar, Scent-Box, spectacles, Hearing-Trumpet, &c &c. without the intolerable trouble of holding them'.