The Glasses History

It is believed that the first glasses were made between 1268 and 1289. Before then monks with presbyopia (age-related difficulty to focus on nearby objects) used reading stones that were placed on the text as magnifying glasses. The Venetians learned to make reading stones out of glass, and put them into frames that could be held in front of the eye instead of being laid onto the text.

It is not known who invented glasses, but the first painting of them was by Tommaso da Modena in 1352. He painted a series of fresco-paintings of brothers who were reading. One used a magnifying glass while another had glasses that were clipped to his nose.

In the 18th century concave lenses for short sighted people were introduced. Pope Leo X was short sighted and wore these when hunting. He claimed that they made him see even better than the other hunters.

The first glasses had lenses of quartz, because they could still not make lenses out of glass. The lenses were mounted in bone, metal or leather, often like two small magnifying glasses with an upside-down V in between. The glasses were balanced on the nose, which of course was a problem, since noses have different shapes and sizes. Different solutions to the problem were tried, one way was to use silk ribbons which could be passed around the ears, and in China small weights were hung in the ribbons instead. In 1730 an optician (Edward Scarlett) for the first time attached stiff side parts which rested on the ears. This spread quickly and in 1752 James Ayscott advertised glasses with "hinges on the sides".

In the 1780's the bifocal glasses were developed by Benjamin Franklin. He was tired of always having to switch between different glasses to see at different distances, so he put half of the glass of each in a pair of frames. The problem was of course the joint, but it was not until the end of the 19th century that we learned to make bifocal lenses.

In the 19th century it was still the client who chose the strength of the glasses, and you could buy glasses from travelling salesmen. Glasses were thought to prevent eye problems, so many wore them for that reason rather than because of poor vision.

In the 18th century the lorgnette, a pair of glasses with a handle, was introduced. The lorgnette was often used as a piece of jewellery rather than as a visual aid, but is was also popular among fashionable ladies, who did not want to wear glasses.

The monocle was developed in the 18th century and became very popular in the 19th century particularly in Germany and Russia. The monocle was first worn by men of the upper class. After World War I the monocle's popularity quickly disappeared, probably because it was associated with the German military.

More History...

The History of Spectacles

The invention of spectacles profoundly influenced progress in the arts and sciences, yet we do not know whom to thank for this invention. Marco Polo, journeying to China in 1270, is said to have observed elderly Chinese using spectacles. The Chinese themselves claim that spectacles originated in Arabia in the 11th century.


In the western world, the invention of spectacles is believed to have occurred between 1268-1289. Riveted spectacles to correct presbyopia (the inability to focus on objects that are near) were one of the earliest pairs invented. The wearers, mostly monks and scholars, held the lenses in front of their eyes or balanced them on their nose since any movement would send the lenses falling .The invention of the printing press in 1452 and the growing availability of books prompted the mass production of inexpensive spectacles that were sold in cities by peddlers. The middle and lower classes began wearing spectacles mounted in leather, wood, horn, bone or even light steel. The upper classes on the other hand, favored more genteel, although cumbersome, hand-held spectacles with frames of gold and silver.


The first significant advance in frame design occurred in the 1600s with lenses fixed to a rigid bridge rather than riveted, allowing them to stay in place. Quizzing glasses, small single lenses with decorative stems, and hand-held scissors glasses, became favorites among famous individuals such as Goethe, Washington and Napoleon during the early 1700s and early 1800s. Between 1725 and 1750, a London optician designed the first temple spectacles, while Ben Franklin invented bifocals.

Ornate prospect glasses, French lorgnettes and miniature spyglasses became all the rage in pre-Revolutionary France. In the late 1800s, Teddy Roosevelt and Calvin Coolidge made Pince-Nez and trifocals popular, while cylindrical lenses for astigmatism became available.


The 20th century as a whole became a time of gradual and dramatic change in the eyewear world. Along with progress in lens acuity and frame shapes, eyewear became, and still is, a popular accessory for both men and women whether worn plain or in prescription strength.

And a little bit more...

Roman tragedian Seneca (4 BC–AD 65) is said to have read "all the books in Rome" by peering through a glass globe of water. A thousand years later, presbyopic monks used segments of glass spheres that could be laid against reading material to magnify the letters, basically a magnifying glass, called a "reading stone." They based their invention on the theories of the Arabic mathematician Alhazen (roughly 1000 AD). Yet, Greek philosopher Aristophanes (c. 448 BC-380 BC) knew that glass could be used as a magnifying glass. Nevertheless it was not until roughly 150 AD that Ptolemy discovered the basic rules of light diffraction and wrote extensively on the subject. (The laws of diffraction was formulated much later by Snellius, between 1600 and 1620.

Venetian glass blowers, who had learned how to produce glass for reading stones, later constructed lenses that could be held in a frame in front of the eye instead of directly on the reading material. It was intended for use by one eye; the idea to frame two ground glasses using wood or horn, making them into a single unit was born in the 13th century..

In 1268 Roger Bacon made the first known scientific commentary on lenses for vision correction. Salvino D’Armate of Pisa and Alessandro Spina of Florence are often credited with the invention of spectacles around 1284 but there is no evidence to conclude this. The first mention of actual glasses is found in a 1289 manuscript when a member of the Popozo family wrote: "I am so debilitated by age that without the glasses known as spectacles, I would no longer be able to read or write." In 1306, a monk of Pisa mentioned in a sermon: "It is not yet 20 years since the art of making spectacles, one of the most useful arts on earth, was discovered." But nobody mentioned the inventor..

In the Middle Ages wearing spectacles signified knowledge and learning. Painters of the time often included spectacles when portraying famous persons even when depicting people who lived before the known invention of spectacles. On numerous paintings the religious teacher Sofronius Eusebius Hieronymus (340 - 420 AD) is portrayed with a lion, a skull and a pair of reading glasses. He is the patron saint of spectacle makers..

It actually is true that eating carrots can help you see better. Carrots contain Vitamin A, which feeds the chemicals that the eye shafts and cones are made of. The shafts capture black and white vision. The cones capture colour images..

The oldest known lens was found in the ruins of ancient Nineveh and was made of polished rock crystal..

In 1718, Edward Scarlett, a London optician, put arms on eyeglasses to hold them on the ears..

About one person in 30 is colour blind. More men than women are affected by colour blindness..

Healthy eyes are so sensitive to light that a candle burning in the dark can be detected 1,6km (1 mile) away. The human eye can distinguish about 10 million different colours. There currently is no machine that can achieve this remarkable feat..

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