Scissor spectacles

The cutting edge of vision correction.

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Scissor spectacles, the forerunner of the lorgnette, were first made in Germany around 1750. The Leipzig optician S. M. Hoffman recommended them and sold many of the fittings. The London optician George Adams of Fleet Street took out a British patent for them in 1780, but it was mainly in France that both men and women embraced the new device. They could be hung on a chain or a cord around the neck or simply flourished in an ostentatious manner.

Scissor spectacles with agate case

The picture to the left shows an early 19th century pair of scissor spectacles consisting of a silver engraved lens holder folding into an agate case with gold chased design. Although items like this may conjure up thoughts of grand aristocrats their origins were completely the opposite, being the visual device of choice for republican revolutionaries on the Continent.

At this period little attention was paid to pupillary distance (PD), the distance between the lenses, so the lateral movement of the fitting, akin to the cutting action of a pair of scissors, could have been of great benefit to the user. Napoleon Bonaparte used a pair to correct his myopia whilst his brother Jerome, later King of Westphalia, owned a pair of finest ducat gold with decorative engraving and a twisted gold chain.

Scissor spectacles of tortoiseshell

The majority of surviving examples date from about 1810-1840, many bearing French assay marks. They could be used for either near or distance viewing, depending upon the lenses with which they were glazed, and were held from below, necessitating the placing of the hand over the lower part of the face. The natural development from this awkward stance was the universal introduction of side-held hand frames.

Lombard scissor spectacles

The very ornate pair of scissor spectacles to the left, with the eye rims supported by a male and a female figure, are from Lombardy, although with Germanic influences. Thy probably date from before the 1870s whilst northern Italy was still under Austrian rule. Scissor spectacles of this type are recognisable by the squat form of their closing joints (quite unlike the French examples) and the common design of the decoration to the central pivot. Not all of them bear stamp marks. In use the handle could be positioned sidelong to the face and not right in the middle of the nose and mouth.

Scissor spectacles with no handle

Later scissor spectacles had no handle as such. You just held them at the pivot and they might have a suspension ring so you could wear the device around your neck. Such spectacles were still on sale in 1900.

Around 1890 another kind of spectacle to flourish in the hand became available. Fan spectacles were designed for ladies of elegance to use as a multifunctional accessory. They were not, however, designed for illicit peeping unlike the spyglass fans of almost a century earlier.