Friday, 7 November 2014

What a Spectacle!

What a Spectacle - A brief history of the amazing eyewear!

The following article has been written by two wonderful historians who have immersed much of their life and interest in the 'Georgian Era'

They are Sarah Murden and Joanne Major.  I am most fortunate to have had their permission to post their article in my blog!

I believe you will enjoy reading as much as I have enjoyed!

What a spectacle!

Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library
If you are fortunate enough to have good vision then spectacles are not something you may give a second thought to. Looking at some many Georgian images and reading so many old newspapers it suddenly occurred to us that we hadn’t written about spectacles, so time to correct that.
Spectacles had been around for some considerable time before the Georgian era, but they were predominantly the pince-nez type such as these
pince nez
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library
It is thought that around 1730 Edward Scarlett, optician to their Royal Highnesses,  of Dean Street, Soho changed the design of spectacles forever with his unique idea of producing spectacles of differing strengths and with ‘arms’.  Although many reports indicate that it happened around 1730 The Daily Journal of the 20th May 1724 reported that he already started to use this technique of  ‘fitting spectacles to weak eyes by the focal length of the glass’ much earlier.
Edward had an illustrious career being appointed as optician to King George in 1727, he died at his home on Macclesfield Street, St Ann’s aged 84 in December 1778 and was buried on Christmas Eve.
Click to enlarge
Spectacles could be purchased over the counter in the way you can buy reading glasses in the local pharmacy etc., or he could grind them to your specification, similar to the way you would buy them today from an optician. Until this time spectacles were simply designed for either the young or the old – not very scientific! The frames were made mainly of whalebone , tortoiseshell and horn as these materials were immensely strong and flexible.
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library
It took about another 30 years before the advent of what we would today know as bi-focals,  these were mainly designed for artists so that they could see their subject in the distance and their canvas close up with relative ease.   The Venetians were always at the forefront in design and it was they who produced the first sunglasses using coloured glass. These proved to be very popular with celebrities of the day and so naturally everyone with an interest in the latest fashion followed suit.
NPG D4021; Sir Joshua Reynolds by George Clint, published by  Lewis Wells, after  Sir Joshua Reynolds
Joshua Reynolds
Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery
NPG 412; Hannah More by Henry William Pickersgill
Hannah More (holding her spectacles in a case)
Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery
Had you noticed that there are relatively few portraits from the Georgian era depicting people wearing glasses, could this be the reason?
According to the Lady’s Magazine of 1802
In the last century, to wear spectacles was regarded as an unequivocal mark of wisdom. The nose which bore them was always that of an informed person. the eyes to which they transmitted the softened rays of light were supposed to have been dimmed by much reading and the head which they decorated and to which they imparted a certain venerable air must of course have been occupied by profound meditation and study.’
With that last thought in mind  it seems highly unlikely that this is what spectacles  in any shape or form, were ever intended to be used for!
Bare breasts
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library
Do share your thoughts!
(Credits: Ms. Sarah Murden & Ms. Joanne Major)

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