Although the making of eyeglasses has a long and interesting history, no one is really sure who first discovered that curved glass could enhance vision. Somewhere between the years 1000 and 1250, simple reading stones were used by monks and scholars to magnify texts, making them much easier to read. These early stones resembled modern-day clear glass paperweights in the shape of a half-sphere.
The First Glasses
The first actual glasses appeared in Italy and were made of a combination of natural crystal and glass, but they did not resemble the eyeglasses of today. Rather, two small magnifying lenses were mounted in individual frames, each with a handle. The handles were connected to one another via a rivet. People with poor vision could hold the riveted lenses up to their eyes to improve their vision, but the lenses were standardized rather than specialized for the individual.
Other Glasses Producers
Though glasses-making may have begun in earnest in Italy, other countries soon joined in making and distributing them. One of the reasons for the wider production and distribution was the invention of the printing press. When the masses were able to see print publications of people wearing glasses, they wanted them as well. Germany rose and remained at the forefront of eyeglass making from the 1500s to 1700s. Glasses were exported all over Europe, and could be bought on the streets from peddlers in a variety of styles and materials. They were generally quite inexpensive, but often quite decorative and stylish as well.
Making the Frames Stay on the Face
It took a couple of centuries for glasses frames to evolve. In the interim, several modes of securing glasses to the face prevailed. Some lenses had handles; some were attached around the head with leather or metal bands, and some lenses were even mounted in other everyday items, like fans or walking sticks. It wasn’t until the 1880s that temples (modern-day ear pieces) were commonly used. The first temples were short arms that extended to and squeezed the temple region of the head, thus the name, but were quickly adapted to rest over the ears.
Glasses of Today
In the 20th century new plastics were developed and began to be used for making lenses as well as frames. A trip to a modern-day Crowfoot vision centre provides glasses-wearers a significant variety of frame styles, lens types, and corrective strengths. Unlike their predecessors, today’s glass makers can measure and make glasses specific to the wearer that not only aid vision, but enhance fashion and style as well–our favorite is the new trend of wood sunglasses and wooden prescription glasses.
Next time you go in for an eye exam in Calgary, remember where these little magnifiers came from, and how they have changed to fit the times.
Brooke Chaplan is a freelance writer and blogger. She lives and works out of her home in Los Lunas, New Mexico. She loves the outdoors and spends most her time hiking, biking and gardening. For more information contact Brooke via Twitter @BrookeChaplan.