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”)

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]

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]

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    

Colmont Paris- Fine Antique 19th Century Opera Glasses- Mother Pearl BinocularsAntique M. Bertier Fabi Mother Of Pearl Opera Glasses Binoculars No ReserveVictorian Hallmarked Silver Folding Lorgnettes Dated 1874 With Silver ChainAntique Sterling / Gold Wash Lorgnette Folding Opera Glasses Spectacles As-isAntique Lamier Paris French Opera Glasses W/ Mother-of-pearl & Star Of DavidFrench Lorgnette Opera Glasses C1880Lovely Antique Voigtlander Opera Glasses, Excellent Working CondidtionVintage Deco Funky Quirky Bakelite Marcasites Opera Theatre Glasses LorgnettesAntique Opera Glasses Binoculars Sportiere Paris France Deer Stag No ReserveVintage French Mother Of Pearl Compact Opera GlassesAntique Victorian Opera Glasses, Mother-of-pearl & Brass, Lemaire Fabt, ParisNo Reserve C1890 French Opera Glasses Lorgnettes Folding Handle Vintage AntiqueSigned Lemaire Paris Mother Pearl Mop Gilt Brass Binocular French Opera GlassesAntique Mother Of Pearl Binoculars/opera GlassesGood Pair Of Antique French 14k Gold Folding Lorgnettes SpectaclesVtg Junk Drawer Estate Lot Ink Well Pens Mop Opera Glasses Elgin Cig Case More!Vintage Opera Glasses6 Pc Lot Of Vintage Opera Glasses, Racing + Field Glasses, Some With Cases. 2 Antique French Chevalier Opticien/zenith Optical Binocular Opera Glasses YqzAmazing Antique Cherub Lorgnettes Opera Glasses 14k Solid Gold Guilded W 24k WowAntique French Chevalier Paris Optical Binocular Ornate Opera Glasses Nr YqzBrass Antique Nautical Ross London 1917 Gift Victorian Opera Glasses BinocularRare Antique 1880s French Silver Plate And Brass Opera Glasses La ReineCliff Richard From A Distance The Tour Opera Glasses Boxed NewVintage Tasco Fold Up Opera GlassesSet Of 2 Antique Working German Wien Black Optical Binocular Opera Glasses YqzLot 2 Lemaire & Sportiere Paris Brass Leather French Binocular Opera Glasses NrAntique Lawrence L. Moore Co. Opera Glasses Pearl Handle/body W/bag Paris FranceVintage Lemaire Paris Mother Of Pearl Opera Glasses In Fitted CaseAntique A Kruss Hamburg Abalone Shell Opera Glasses In Leather Case C1890Collectible Vintage Sport Glasses, 2.5 X 25mm Folding Opera Glasses, Japan MadeChevalier Paris Opera Glasses Binocular Brass VintageVintage Folding Opera Glasses Or Sport Glasses In Original Box 2.5 X 25 MmVtg.heit Folding Opera Glasses/binoculars W/org. Box -made In Japan* Tiffany & Co * Antique Opera Glasses / Binoculars * Rare * Collectible * AuthAskania Werke German Vintage Opera Glasses In Red Leather Case