The eyewear that got a grip.

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Folding pince nez

It is an error to describe medieval nose spectacles as 'pince-nez' despite their superficial resemblance. The proper definition of pince-nez (literally 'pinching the nose') relates to a nineteenth century innovation whereby the glasses had a spring clip to retain the item in place under its own tension.

An alternative definition, not entirely favoured by historians but worth acknowledging, is simply the absence of a nose-piece (bridge). This allows the story to be taken back to the folding glasses without a nosepiece patented by the French optician Berthiot in the 1850s. Of similar design were the German spectacles known as Zwicker or Kneifer.

Rimless finger piece pince nez

A popular, but more complicated, form of spring clip was the finger-piece, an intricate piece of engineering in which the fingers could be used to operate an opening mechanism, pulling the nose pads apart. There were many patented and unpatented designs. This one is rimless.

Bifocal astig pince nez

In the twentieth century the spring clip took a telescopic form allowing the two lenses to be pulled apart horizontally. If worn in the correct position on the nose these could therefore have their lens specification calculated to provide an astigmatic correction, hence the popular name for them: astigs.

Canadian folder

In the 2010s a lot of research has been conducted into the many different designs of pince-nez by members of the Ophthalmic Antiques International Collectors' Club, particularly Mr Alan Leach, a copy of whose notes is held in the museum. It is hoped that these may one day form the basis of a publication.

Packet of nose pads for pince-nez

What you see here is a pair of nose-grip liners (pads) for the type of finger-piece pince-nez which were very popular in 1921. In fact, you are actually looking at the original outer retail packaging. The pads, together with an explanatory leaflet, are contained within. The pads themselves are a little small to make an interesting photograph.

The line drawing on the upper surface of the packet shows a rimless oval pair of pince-nez, but it's the bit in between the lenses, the so-called 'fingerpiece' clip, that matters.

The rubber pads went on the upper bit of the plaquets as indicated by the arrows on the drawing. It can be quite funny looking at photographs of antique pince-nez where the object is upside down because the photographer assumed that the pads should be lowermost. These pads rendered the pressure from the spring softer on the skin and permitted a very sure grip even when the wearer perspired, thus avoiding them falling occupational hazard for all pince-nez wearers! The pads were intended to be changed regularly and judging by the large number of antiques we see with the nose pads missing, the owner probably didn't need much of a reminder to replace them.