Identifying the frame style can provide valuable clues about when the glasses were made. Likewise, determining the material can help pinpoint the decade of manufacture. Reference books are a great help in researching these factors, particularly since many antique frames are unmarked.
Guide to Assist in the Identification of Antique Spectacles
Vintage styles are now being reproduced, so it's important for serious collectors to be able to correctly identify original antique frames. Seek out reference books and online resources that provide photos of popular eyeglass frame styles from the past. Familiarize yourself with styles and materials, as well as eyeglass frame manufacturers and marks. Gently clean the frames by rubbing them with a soft, dry polishing cloth. This will often reveal markings which have been obscured by years of dirt.
Using a flashlight and magnifying glass, look carefully for any markings, which are typically located on the inside of the temple pieces, but may be found anywhere on the inside of the frame. If the frames are unmarked or if the marks are faded, the eyeglasses can be dated by determining the style and material. Identify the material of the frames.
Are they wire rims or tortoise shell, or are they made from popular early- to midth century materials such as celluloid, Bakelite or early plastic? Familiarize yourself with these different materials by referring to reference books and Internet sources.
1725 - Early 20th Century
Look at the style of the eyeglass frames. Are they round, with long, wrap-around temple pieces popular in the s , "cat's eye" style, with slanted tips, or square-shaped?
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Refer to reference materials to identify the popular shapes and styles of different eras. Occasionally, octagonal and rectangular lenses were also used in the 18th and early 19th centuries.
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Bifocal lenses were invented during the late 18th century and attributed to Benjamin Franklin. Some double lens lorgnettes are hinged between the lenses and fold out to a single plane when in use.
These can date back to as early as the middle of the 18th century, however most are Victorian and some are made to this day. These can date to the late 18th century but were continually produced until the late 19th century. Handles on scissors spectacles are often found with tortoiseshell or mother of pearl handles.
These are a single lens casual reading magnifier and often very elaborate with both long and short handles. Often worn around the nexk on a cord by both men and women, the fancy ones were considered more fashionable than spectacles.
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The above information is a very brief summary and although publishedinformation is limited on the subject of antique vision aids the following references are recommended and usually available on Amazon. William Rosenthal, MD, Civil War Medical Collections. Students doing reports or projects are welcome to use the content of this site without permission, but credits would be appreciated.
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Personal notes may not be properly cited for publication. Various articles are digitally reproduced under the 'fair-use act' of the copyright laws and are intended for educational purposes only. Many citations are from Google digital 'books' and can be traced backwards via a search of a unique string in the citation. Arbittier Museum of Medical History Tour: Friday, January 11,