Jealousy glasses

A sneaky sideways peak

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Imagine the are in the theatre attending the latest boring production by Mr So-and-So when Lady Talk-of-the-Town takes her seat further down your row. How can you appear to be watching the performance whilst really spying on what the scandalous lady is up to?  

Enamelled jealousy glass

French jealousy glass, c.1750-1770
Madame Heymann describes
and illustrates a very similar item
said to be from Saxony

The answer was to use one of these - a 'jealousy glass' designed to look like a simple straight-barrelled spyglass but in fact containing an oblique lens and side aperture so you can look at what is happening to your left or right. The aperture was usually less conspicuous than this example, though maybe sometimes the user wanted to be caught!

The technical name for a side-looking opera or field glass with an oblique mirror is 'polemoscope'. The German-Polish astronomer Johannes Hevelius (1611-1687) claimed to have invented it in 1637, describing it in his book about the moon, Selenographia (1647) and apparently he named it after the Greek word for war because he thought it could have military uses although Robert Hooke examined one and found the viewing angle too narrow for this. It was as a fun plaything that the invention really took off in the 18th century.

Our blue jealousy glass has a brass eyepiece and enamel casing featuring white decorative embellishments. A hinged 'lens cover' (shown detached) conceals a storage compartment, probably for snuff or a pomade. There is of course no lens there at all. Instead an oval mirror with a surrounding green cord opens to the side.

Ribright etui with jealousy glass

Ribright etui, c.1760
with jealousy glass

The second, much less blatant, jealousy glass contained all the accoutrements a gentleman might desire. It is incorporated within a gold-mounted etui with a brass body covered in green-stained fishskin. A magnetic compass has been set into the brass cap. The wooden core to the etui contains a gentleman's manicure set including nail scissors, hinged ivory note-slide, pencil, folding knife, needle and tweezers with a file handle.

The object matches Thomas Ribright's patent no 640 of 1749 concerning 'Portable Cases for Mathematical and Other Instruments'.

Jealousy glass with scent bottle

Jealousy glass with scent bottle
French early 19th c.

Ladies were thought to want other things, so the female equivalent, shown here in an example by Bointaburet from early 19th century Paris contained a pill receptacle in the end beneath a lid and a miniature scent bottle just 2cm wide that fitted within the barrel. Should your neighbour's antics overwhelm your tender sensitivities the other contents would help revive you!