Virtual spectacles gallery

This online exhibition is the result of several decades of research carried out by museum staff and supporters. The text has been subject to detailed peer review and is constantly revised to reflect the latest scholarship. We believe this is the most reliable history of spectacles available on the web.

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Explore the following pages in this virtual gallery

Eskimo Goggles - the first eyewear?

Generations of people have become used to living with snow and have adapted their clothing to cope. Although no longer 'politically correct', the term 'Eskimo Goggles' is a recognised eyewear classification term for collectors and does not relate specifically to any one snow-covered area of the globe nor any longer to any one ethnic group.

The invention of spectacles

How and where glasses may have begun.

Rivet spectacles

The earliest form of spectacles.

Seventeenth century spectacles

Eyewear in the 1600s.

A bit on the side

The development of spectacle sides.

Eighteenth century spectacles

Eyewear in the 1700s.

The Vickris-Hyam spectacles

A special pair of spectacles with a family history.

Nineteenth century spectacles

Eyewear in the 1800s.

Scissor spectacles

The cutting edge of vision correction.

Quizzing glasses (quizzers)

A single lens to peer through.


A single lens to wear in the eye socket.

Reading glasses and magnifiers

The term 'reading glasses' meant something rather different from what it does today.

Lorgnettes and folding eyeglasses

Spectacles on the ends of handles.


The eyewear that got a grip.

Twentieth century spectacles

Eyewear in the 1900s.

Dr Dujardin's Luminous Spectacles

Seeing lights.

NHI Spectacles

The inter-war National Health Insurance Scheme, other charitable schemes and spectacles subsidised by friendly societies.

NHS Spectacles

Free glasses for all...for a while.

The spectacles of the 'Two Cultures'

The glasses that viewed the 'corridors of power'.

Cellulose nitrate spectacles

Burning glasses!

Religious spectacles

Quite apart from the origin of spectacles in the monastic scriptoria of Western Europe, there have been times since when the design of spectacles has had to take into account religious sensitivities.

Driving spectacles

Put these on your hooter.

Twenty first century spectacles

Eyewear in the 2000s

Adaptive eyewear

Self-adjusting prescription spectacles.


The past wasn't dark.