Oxfords were immensely popular round vintage glasses in their day, made to be both practical eyewear and pieces of carefully sculpted fashion art. Many featured the handles or ribbon loops also found on pince nez, though typically in an elongated, highly decorated form that almost transformed them into “miniature lorgnettes”. Such handles were necessary not only as a mount for safety ribbons, chains, or cords, but also to allow the user to hold the glasses without covering the lenses in thumbprints.
A large number of different antique eyeglasses companies existed in our nation at the turn of the 20th century, each with their own contribution to make to the world of round vintage glasses. This robust group of businesses, each unable to completely dominate the market yet thriving on the affluence of America’s urban society at the time, ensured both a rich diversity of Oxfords (in design, decoration, and fittings) and a number of interesting experimental features that would never occur in today’s time of practical uniformity.
Some of the more notable companies and their achievements include:
Geoffrey & Company was the actual inventor of these round vintage glasses. Two employees, one E.P. Hutten and another man identified only as “McDougall”, developed Oxfords through a trial and error process, and the design was initially marketed only with 14 karat solid yellow gold frames, which sold for $18 at the time, which is somewhere around $426 today in 2012.
American Optical Company and Tried & Proved Optical Company were two firms heavily involved in introducing Oxfords in the first place. These companies made both folding and non-folding Oxfords, following the folding method already devised for pince nez in the preceding years. They worked mostly in precious metals such as solid gold, white gold, or gold-filled frames and began the pattern of ornate Oxfords which was to continue through the whole history of these vintage eyeglasses.
Bausch & Lomb naturally came to play an important role in the expanding production of vintage eyeglass frames of Oxford type, though they were uncharacteristically tardy, allowing the pioneering firms of American Optical, Tried & Proved, and Krementz to establish a good foothold in the business. Bausch & Lomb’s product was unusual, however, in keeping with the company’s individualistic approach at the time – their Oxfords were made completely out of tortoise shell, or zylonite in tortoise shell colors, including the bridge.
Optical Products Corporation followed up on Bausch & Lomb by offering a hybrid version of antique glasses. Their Oxfords featured tortoise shell eyerims, but a metal spring bridge and other fittings, giving tortoise shell style with a practical metal spring for better gripping.
American Optical Company had not shot its bolt with creativity, however. Towards the end of the Oxfords’ lifespan, in 1930, the Z-fold Oxford was introduced. This type of vintage eyeglasses had a complex but highly effective hinged spring bridge which allowed the Oxfords to be folded in the shape of a Z. This produced a tightly folded pair of Oxfords and is a marvel of miniaturization for the time, in terms of the tiny working parts that were produced and fitted together to make the mechanism function smoothly and reliably.
Almost all of these American Oxfords were made with an attention to quality and sturdiness that is seldom found in consumer goods today, and thus many have survived in perfect working order to our own age, nearly a century later.