Antique eye glasses were often made in forms that are very familiar to us today, despite a few cosmetic differences. They have eyerims connected by a simple bridge, temples to secure them to the head either by tying a ribbon around the back of the head or by hooking them over the ears, and so on. Their overall form is the same as modern prescription eyeglasses, even if the lenses have a tendency to be perfectly circular rather than oval.
However, there were also a variety of other forms that no longer survive, or at most are found as rare curiosities. These included pince nez, lorgnettes, and monocles, as well as “eyeglasses” – which are actually an earlier form of pince nez, but whose name has come to be attached to all eyewear by one of those strange twists of linguistic evolution.
Spectacles are, technically speaking, antique eye glasses with eyerims, bridge, and temples, much like our modern day glasses. There are some important differences as well, such as the round lenses often found within the eyerims of this eyewear, the form of the temples (which are often wide metal straps with loops at the end, rather than the hook-ended wires or cable temples found on more recent spectacles), and other stylistic and technical features. As such, our prescription eyewear are modern spectacles, and the flamboyant “tea glasses” sunglasses of the hippy movement were equally a variation on the ancient spectacles design.
Note that the word “spectacles” is also a general term which can mean any kind of antique eye glasses or modern glasses with two lenses.
Pince nez can best be described as antique eye glasses consisting of paired lenses surrounded by eyerims, featuring a bridge, and fitting onto the face without the aid of temples. The lenses are often round, though many examples with oval lenses exist, too. Pince nez is a French name, and a highly descriptive one – the term literally means “pinch nose” or “nose pinchers”.
Pince nez usually kept their place on the nose with a pair of spring loaded nose pads, which gripped the bridge of the nose and supported the weight of the glasses at the same time. These antique eye glasses appeared in countless elegant, bizarre, and interesting forms. Some of the later forms included arrangements of tiny levers for rapid attachment to, and removal from, the nose.
Since pince nez had a habit of falling off despite the often painfully ferocious grip of their nose pads, many are equipped with a small loop at the outer edge of the right-hand eyerim, to which a ribbon was attached, and then linked to the lapel or some other point on the upper garments. Thus, even if the pince nez popped off the user’s nose unexpectedly, the ribbon would catch them and prevent them from falling to the pavement and breaking.
Monocles and Lorgnettes
No description of antique eye glasses would be complete without mention of monocles and lorgnettes, which are almost entirely gone in the modern world and appear mostly in costume dramas in the movie theater or the television screen. These unusual antique eye glasses form a part of America’s vintage eyeglasses history as well, however, despite many of them being imported, and they are described in detail in the next article.