Emerging from the dark and bloodstained days of the Second World War, the antique eyeglasses fashion world exploded into huge popularity. Not only a host of new materials, but probably peoples’ defensive psychological reaction to the grimness that had just ended, caused the market to embrace bright, whimsical, or magnificently stylish designs.
Algha, Max Wiseman’s British eyeglass company, turned from making fighter and bomber pilots’ goggles back to the more pleasant business of supplying people with attractive peacetime eyewear – and eventually, John Lennon Glasses.
It was Algha’s insistence on carrying on a technical aspect of eyeglass manufacture from the early 20th century that helped to bring certain types of John Lennon glasses into being a few decades after the last shot was fired in Europe. The company – and its successor, as shall be seen, Savile Row – made use of Rolled Gold for some of their higher end vintage eyeglasses construction.
This process makes use of hard, 14 karat gold rolled around a steel core, with a layer of 24 karat gold on top. This produces a thicker layer of gold than ordinary gold plating, making the gold layer almost certain to endure wear and tear for more than a single human lifetime of use. 24 karat gold plating would eventually wear away. However, there is another advantage – gold doesn’t cause allergies, while alloying metals sometimes do, so the Rolled Gold frames of Algha’s 1950s and 1960s vintage glasses are hypoallergenic and can be worn even by those with sensitive skin.
Some John Lennon glasses from Algha featured Rolled Gold frames. The musician wore many different pairs of glasses from Algha, and some from other sources, too. These are certainly the fanciest frames associated with the most famous and most tragically destined of the Beatles, and even today make a fashion statement suitable for men or women, in either formal or informal circumstances. The round Rolled Gold frames of the firm’s mid 20th century styles are clearly visible glinting in some pictures of John Lennon.
Mary Quant and Algha
The eyeglass world is as much the story of individuals as it is of corporations or technical advances, as the name “John Lennon glasses” reveals. Mary Quant was an early pioneer of British fashion sunglasses, who soon joined forces with the formidable Algha company to promote her line far and wide.
It was, in fact, a combination of Mary Quant’s reputation as a rebellious and rather Bohemian designer, plus John Lennon, that gave Algha a major foothold in the United States. Quant’s designs were mostly oval or even rectangular to start with, and a few can be classified as cat’s eye glasses, though not as obviously as some of the elongated, caracal-eyed designs that appeared at the time. However, later on, some of her designs adopted the characteristic round eyerims that Algha put on many of its works.
These Quant designs are made out of several different rich, warm, reddish brown tones of Zylonite, meant to imitate tortoiseshell. They look very distinct in this way from the thin metal rims favored by the Beatle who gave his name to a whole antique eyeglasses style.
Their workmanship is remarkable, however, with braided or plaited designs, smoothly integrated features, and technical superiority typical of Algha’s work. With their round designs drawing inspiration from the same font as the Rolled Gold types produced by the same company, these are perhaps the most unusual form of John Lennon glasses ever made – yet, in their way, John Lennon glasses nevertheless.