THE EVOLUTION OF GLASSES: EYEGLASSES THROUGH THE AGES

he Western world, the invention of spectacles is believed to have occurred between 1286 and 1289.  Mostly worn by monks and scholars, these early glasses were held in front of the eyes or balanced on the nose.  The invention of the printing press in 1452, and the growing availability of books, encouraged innovations in design and the mass production of inexpensive spectacles. 

The main components of a pair of spectacles are the lenses, made of glass or quartz crystal, and a frame that typically consists of a rim and bridge.  Side or temple pieces that rest over the ear are a surprisingly late innovation.  In 1727, Edward Scarlett (1677-1743), designed the first temple spectacles with side pieces.

From the beginning spectacles have improved eyesight, but their design has not always been practical. 

   

 

Leather spectacles, c1700

 

1700s

By 1700, the middle and lower classes were wearing spectacles mounted in various simple materials, while the upper classes favored more genteel hand held spectacles with frames of gold and silver.  Common styles between 1700 and 1800 included:

Martin's Margins. Developed by Benjamin Martin these spectacles were characterized by lens inserts commonly carved from cattle horn. 

Wig spectacles.  These were eyeglasses with long temple pieces that extended far beyond the ears.  These were popular during this period among men who regularly wore wigs. 

Bifocals.  Invented by Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) in 1784, the bifocal was an extremely important invention in the history of spectacles.

 

Martin's margin spectacles, 1750

 

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