Today, we take the wide variety of eyeglass styles and their easy availability for granted but it wasn’t always so. In fact, it wasn’t until the end of the 1800’s that larger scale manufacturing started to become possible and there were fewer styles to choose from. Here’s a brief history of eyeglasses.
Reading stones were the first vision aid ever invented. It was created around 1000AD for far-sighted people. A reading stone was a glass sphere that acted something like a magnifying glass. It was put on top of writing to magnify the letters so they could be better seen.
Quartz and Bone
Reading glasses first made their appearance between 1285 and 1289. The inventor of the earliest eyeglasses is unknown. These eyeglasses were worn by monks and scholars and held in front of the eyes or balanced on the nose.
Early eyeglasses were traditionally made out of quartz set into bone, metal or leather and initially created to help the elderly read. However, sidebars hadn’t yet been invented, so the glasses would always slip down the nose.
The Spanish tried fixing ribbons to the frames so they could be wrapped around the head but the idea proved unpopular and soon died out. Sidebars that rested over the ears were invented in the 1700’s.
Early Eyeglass Styles
Common eyeglass styles throughout history include:
- Martin’s Margins were an invention of Benjamin Martin in the 1700’s. They were characterized by circular lens inserts around the lenses, commonly carved from cattle horn.
- Wig spectacles had long temple pieces that extended far beyond the ears. Wig spectacles were popular with men in the 1700’s who regularly wore wigs.
- Bifocals, invented by Benjamin Franklin in 1784, were a very important development in the history of eyeglasses.
- Scissor spectacles could be hung on a chain or a cord around the neck. They were commonly used by men who didn’t want to wear their eyeglasses.
- Lorgnettes were developed from scissor spectacles around 1780. Early designs consisted of a pair of eyeglasses with a single, long handle. In the 1800’s women especially, preferred the lorgnette to wearing glasses on their faces.
- Pince-nez had no sidebars but fit snugly on the bridge of the nose. They could be uncomfortable to wear and often broke from falling off the nose. Pince-nez were still very popular in the 1920’s but they began to be seen as old-fashioned. A Hollywood actor named Harold Lloyd started a craze for tortoiseshell spectacles with large, round lenses and sidebars.
The Development of Sunglasses
It is said that, in Ancient Rome, Emperor Nero would watch gladiator fights through polished gems. This is the first historical reference to sunglasses. In 12th century China, sunglasses were made out of flat panes of smoky quartz. They were used by judges to hide their expressions when questioning witnesses.
Coloured lenses were available early in spectacle manufacturing but Sir William Crookes of England created a lens capable of absorbing both ultraviolet and infrared light in 1913.
Sunglasses became popular for the first time in the 1930’s after further advances in their design was accomplished in order to meet the needs of pilots during World War II.
Contact your eye glass specialist to select the right eyeglasses for you.