It wasn't long after we figured out that lenses could be used for correcting vision that we also realized they could be used for spying. The first monocular telescope was invented in 1603, and soon, respectable folks were buying them to better see details on the stage at the opera—not at all to discreetly examine the opposite sex.

These tiny telescopes, called lorgnettes (derived from the word "to leer or stare") in French, came attached to a long handle, and were often ornately decorated. As spectacles were seen as an indication of infirmity or old age, no high-society lady wanted to be seen in them. Lorgnettes were more like fine jewelry, and only put near the face when one wanted to observe an element of an opera or play more closely.

As technology evolved, so did lorgnettes. In the 18th century, aristocratic men took to wearing the single-lens monocle, while the ladies tried all sorts of dual-lens of contraptions, including hand fans with lenses built into them, and "scissors-glasses." These peculiar spectacles have stems attached to each lens that come together under the nose at a handle.

An Englishman named George Adams first thought to attach the lenses to each other and then a long handle on one side, saving ladies from having the handle right under their noses. These became what we now think of as lorgnettes, again intricately decorated and encrusted with fine jewels for the wealthy society set.

At the end of the 19th century, binocular technology finally improved enough to allow viewers to focus both eyes on the same point. Like lorgnettes, binoculars were soon attached to long handles, and these handled contraptions evolved into the ornate opera glasses we know today.


Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Ventagli.org

Ventagli.org

Anna Checcoli's homage to the beauty and art of hand fans ('ventagli,' in Italian). Use the left-hand nav to browse… [read review or visit site]

The Scrap Album

The Scrap Album

Malcolm Warrington’s The Scrap Album is a handsomely organized site, as you’d expect from an articulate champio… [read review or visit site]

Stevengraphs Bookmarks and Postcards

Stevengraphs Bookmarks and Postcards

Malcolm Roebuck's tribute to the ornate silk picture bookmarks and postcards ('Stevengraphs') produced by Thomas St… [read review or visit site]

Antiquespectacles.com

Antiquespectacles.com

Dr. David Fleishman's comprehensive spectacles site (over 3500 images), in collaboration with museums around the wo… [read review or visit site]



Most watched eBay auctions    

Antique French Porcelain & Enamel Opera Glasses Binoculars W/ Mother Of Pearl NrSuperb Antique Art Nouveau French 800 Silver Lorgnettes / Opera Glasses C 1900Antique Art Deco Lorgnettes Quizzing Glasses MagnifierAntique Sterling Silver Hallmarked Opera Glasses -london 1908by Stuart CliffordAntique French Pink Guilloche Enamel & Mother Of Pearl Opera Glasses With HandleLot Of (3) Framed Antique Eyeglasses Spectacles Lorgnettes (23) PairsAntique Lemaire Fabt Paris Mother Of Pearl Opera Glasses BinocularsVtg Belfont 3x Coated Mother Of Pearl Opera Glasses W/ Gold Tone Case Box JapanVintage Unbranded Mother Of Pearl Inlaid Opera Glasses / Binoculars - Rl I04Antique 14k Gold Spring Loaded Filigree Lorgnette Opera GlassesAntique Vintage London/paris Mop Pearl Opera Glasses With Original Case. UnusualVintage Leather Mother Of Pearl Opera Glasses Binoculars - France - With CaseVintage J. H. Steward Mother Of Pearl Inlaid Opera Glasses / Binoculars - Jj B26 Antique Sterling & Enamel Lorgnette Opera Glasses/spectaclesAntique 14 K Gold Folding Lorgnette Opera Glasses Pendant + Sterling ChainVintage Raleigh Tapestry Opera Glasses With Lorgnette Handle And Matching CaseAntique 1900's Lemaire Fabt Paris Brass Opera Glasses Binoculars VtgAntique Lemaire Mother Of Pearl Opera Glasses With CaseEarly 20th Century Opera Glasses Horse Track Binoculars With Reward For ArrestRare Antique Wolf Theatroskop Germany Binocular Or Opera Glasses In Orig Case!2 Pair Antique Vintage Opera Glasses Brass Binoculars BostonVintage Opera Glasses Perfectionnement Parinvention EtAntique Chevalier Opera Glasses With Leather Case Binoculars Made In Paris 3 Pairs Vintage 1950s-60's Rhinestone Folding Lorgnette Opera Glasses NosVtg Lipstick Red Folding Opera Glasses Binoculars With Box 2.5x Made In JapanVintage Riviera Paris France Brass & Leather Clad Opera Glasses & CaseAntique Lemaire Fabt Paris Adolf Frese Los Angeles Opera Glasses In Case Vintage Lemaire Fabt Binoculars Opera Glasses ParisR.w. Tansill's* Punch 5 Cent Cigar*brass Opera Glasses, Binoculars.Art Nouveau Jugendstil Gun Metal Lorgnette Foldng Opera GlassesAntique Art Nouveau Mop & Brass French Opera Glasses Duval Rare Case Leather Vg Vintage Lemaire Fabt Opera Glasses Mother Of Pearl Inlays 1800's With CaseVintage Antique Opera Glasses Metal Vg In Folding Box, Neat Gear MovementZenith Opera Glasses / Binoclars 9 X 21 Field 5*Vintage Pearl Lucite Rhinestone Folding Eyeglasses Opera GlassesOld Antique Lemaire Fabt Paris Long Opera Glasses.Vintage Used Made In France Field / Opera Glasses BinocularsLa Rline Paris Vintage Brass Opera Glasses Vintage Kron Opera Glasses In Original BoxVintage Federal Opera Glasses