Sunglasses seem to our modern perspective to be a completely contemporary phenomenon – it is difficult for most of us to imagine their use before the Second World War. Nevertheless, various kinds of non-optical, tinted lenses have been in use to protect against the glaring rays of the sun since the era of Shakespeare. Originally favored by the nobility (who could afford them), use of early sunglasses gradually spread through the rest of society during the succeeding centuries.
By the 19th century, pince nez sunglasses came into use at the same time as other pince nez varieties. Some of John Jacob Bausch’s earliest pince nez are glazed dark to produce a sunglasses effect. Though there are no known surviving pictures of people wearing these pince nez sunglasses, this is because the portrait painters of the era would not show a type of eyewear that conceals the subject’s eyes. Many accurately dated, indisputable pairs of pince nez sunglasses from the 1850s onward survive to this day.
Pince nez sunglasses combined the light weight and lean dimension of the pince nez style with the eye-shielding qualities of dark tinted glass. There were other innovations on the theme, however, and it is instructive to take a closer look at these. A pair of oddly tinted pince nez sunglasses may not be simply an early novelty, but an item created with a definite purpose in mind – even if later ophthalmic research has disproven the idea.
Many hues of pince nez sunglasses
The most familiar pince nez sunglasses among our collections of vintage eyeglasses are those sporting smoked lenses. This eyewear features lenses that are tinted dark grey or black, and whose main purpose was exactly that of modern sunglasses – to reduce eyestrain and the effects of sun-glare on a bright summer day. The lenses usually are not corrective – that is, they are not meant for nearsighted or otherwise ailing eyes, but provide a transparent sunshade only.
If you find an unusual pair of yellow glazed pince nez sunglasses, these antique eyeglasses are not an old joke item or part of a masquerade costume despite their festive tint. Instead, it was believed that a yellow lenses helped the wearer see more clearly in foggy, misty, or smoky conditions. Hunters were avid purchasers of these pince nez, believing that they helped them spot game in the shimmering dawn mists, the evening fogs, or other less than ideal visual situations.
Blue lenses were, again, made for a special purpose – for those with sensitive eyes or conjunctivitis. This is probably due more to human psychological perceptions that blue is a soothing color than any actual medical benefit from the tint, but it still helped sensitive-eyed people (by lessening sun-glare, even if grey or black tinted lenses would have done as much) and provides the collector with another quirky item to add to their display.
Modern sunglasses lenses in vintage pince nez frames
Fitting small modern sunglasses lenses into vintage eyeglass frames is a good way to acquire a set of stylish pince nez sunglasses. These will not block as many rays as goggle-like “bug eye” sunglasses, or wraparounds, but they will still cut down on the glare you experience and will look very dashing and romantic at the same time.