Past Treasure of the Month – July 2017

Antique Eyeglasses
A pair of antique pince nez from the Galveston Optical Company.A pair of antique pince nez from the Galveston Optical Company.

This month Rosenberg Library exhibited an assortment of antique eyeglasses from its permanent collection. The glasses — which range in date from the early 1800s to the 1940s — were gifts of the following donors: Rose Smith, Mrs. A.W. Dunham, Ethel B. Buckley, Mrs. W.B. Cook, Mrs. Edward R. Thompson, Lise Darst, and the Morgan Family.

Eyeglasses are believed to have originated in Italy during the late 13th century. Early glasses were essentially two magnifying glasses riveted together with an attached handle to hold in front of the eyes.

Frame styles which included sides held in place behind the ears emerged in the early 1700s and are still the most prevalent type used today. During the 19th century, a frameless style known as pince nez was popular. French for “pinch nose” pince nez glasses were held in place by fitting snugly on the bridge of the wearer’s nose.

Prior to the 1940s, eyeglasses were considered more of a burden than a fashion statement. Glasses were often associated with physical frailty or old age. However, developments in the manufacture of plastics greatly influenced the eyewear industry. The use of plastic frames allowed for endless shape and color options. As a result, glasses evolved from a medical device into a style accessory. Today, many top fashion designers produce their own eyewear lines.