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    

Vintage Mother Of Pearl , Aboline , Opera , Theatre Glasses , Lorgnettes Antique Victorian Enamel Ladies Opera Glasses Swallow Bird Mother Of PearlAntique Victorian Gold Coloured Folding Lorgnettes / Opera Glasses Late 1800sAntique 14 K Gold Folding Lorgnette Opera Glasses Pendant EstateVintage Carl Zeiss Diadem Binoculars Opera Glasses W/case & Chain West Germany Gorgeous Sterling Silver Lorgnette Opera Glasses Victorian Nouveau AntiqueA Pair Of Antique Cow Bone Opera Glasses/binoculars C1890/1900Antique Lemaire Fabt Paris Mother Pearl Opera Glasses With CasePair Of Antique Field Glasses Plus Pair Of Antique Opera GlassesVintage Mother Of Pearl Opera Glasses. Working Binoculars. Antique Vintage Mother Of Pearl Mop Opera Glasses Binoculars Made In FranceAntique Mother Of Pearl Opera GlassesAntique Lemaire Fabt Paris Opera Glasses Binoculars Mother Of Pearl W/ CaseVintage Opera Glasses Nowland - Mother Of Pearl1890s Lemaire Paris Mother Of Pearl Opera Glasses Binoculars W/caseVintage Small Opera Glasses Pendant.Antique French Lemaire Opera Glasses W Handle & Mother Of Pearl Inlay #61 C.1890Early Lemaire Paris Opera Glasses Bumble Bee Leather Case Nice ConditionRare Antique Opera Glasses #61 Mother Of Pearl & Abalone Gold Plated BrassA Pair Of Antique Cow Bone Opera Glasses/binoculars C1890/1900Antique Mother Of Pearl Opera Glasses In Case Schumacher Foreman Baltimore MdLefevre Paris Leather Binoculars Opera Glasses Vintage Nice ShapeAntique Toy Binoculars Opera Glasses With Compass-marbleised Green Lucite-japan!Lemaire Fabt Paris Opera Glasses With Case. Mother Of Pearl And Gilt BrassAntique Verdi Paris Opera Glasses Binoculars Mother Of Pearl & Rare HandleAntique Chevaillier Paris Pluce Du Pont Neuf,15 Opera Glasses Or BinocularsAntique Verne Of Paris Opera Glasses - Mother Of Pearl & Ornate BrassNice Antique Lamaire Ft Paris,france Mother Of Pearl Opera Glasses BinocularsVintage Working Metal Binoculars Childs Opera Glasses Mid Century Modern DecorAntique Jumelle Chevalier Paris Opera Glasses W/ CaseVintage Binoculars, Opera Glasses - Beauchamp, ParisAntique Mother Of Pearl Opera Glasses Binoculars In Black Leather Case Vtg Teeco Folding Opera Glasses Japan Japanese Sports Binoculars In BoxVintage Folding Opera Glasses Sports Glasses Japan Binoculars Pockets TravelAntique Opera Glasses (binoculars)Vintage Tasco Fold Up Opera Glasses Binocular - Magnesium Flouride Coated LensOpera - Glasses