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”)

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]

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 Solid Silver Rimmed Extendable Opera Glasses With Case, Circa 1890!!Rare Antique Art Deco Sterling Silver Marcasite Chatelaine Lorgnettes GlassesVintage Mother Of Pearl Clad Opera GlassesSuperb Pair Of Late 19th Century Opera Glasses.Antique Carved Opera Glasses Ross London - Natural Carved BodyAntique Zeiss Mother Of Pearl Opera Glasses, Binoculars, Theater Glasses, 19.cAntique Paris Lemaire Opera Glasses L M. Prince Optician Cincinnati, Oh + CaseAntique Enamel Opera Glasses, Binoculars, Theater Glasses, 19.cAntique Mother Of Pearl Opera Glasses,binoculars,theater Glasses,lorgnette 19.cAntique Pair Of Mother Or Pearl Covered Opera Glasses Marked Lemaire Fab ParisBushnell Theater & Opera Glasses / Binoculars 3 X 25 Black W/ Gold Trim & ChainMetal & Shagreen French Opera GlassesVintage Mother Of Pearl Opera Glasses, Marceau, ParisAntique Mother-of-pearl Opera Glasses Lemaire Fi Paris France Binoculars Eye Vintage Antique Cow Bone Binoculars Opera Glasses In CaseAntique Paris T. M. Or Lemaire ? Opera Glasses + CaseVintage Sans & Streiffe No. 852 Folding Opera Glasses In Box Made In JapanAntique / Vintage Mother Of Pearl Opera Glasses Geneva Optical Co. Chicago, IllVintage Antique French "elite Paris" Opera Glasses, Mother Of Pearl & BrassVintage M. Bertier Paris Abalone & Brass Opera Glasses Medaris BrosVintage Eagle Eye Opera Glasses Binoculars Folding With Case 35xFrench Deraisme Opera Glasses Excellent Condition With CaseVintage Antique G. Rodenstock W. Germany Munchen M.p. Opera Glasses W/ CaseAntique Brass Opera Glasses Binoculars With The Case Nautical Jumelle Chevalier Antique Lemaire Fi Paris Opera Glasses Mother Of Pearl Brass Binoculars W/ CaseAntique French Leather Brass Opera Glasses BinocularsEarly Lemaire Fabt Paris Opera Glasses With Leather Case - Bumble Bee Vintage Opera GlassesAntique Opera Glasses Old Paris Lemaire With Hard Shell CaseAntique Opera GlassesWuest Vintage Binoculars Opera Glasses Made In Occupied Japan Ww IiAntique Brass Opera Glasses Vgc Measures About 4" Wide.Lamaire Mother Of Pearl Paris Opera Glasses Binoculars Vintage BrassVintage Antique Chevalier Paris Opera Glasses Binoculars And Leather Box CaseVintage Antique Chevalier Paris Opera Glasses BinocularsAntique French Jumelle Duchess Opera Glasses Binoculars Antique Lemaire Fabt Paris Opera Glasses/binoculars Signature BumblebeeAntique Opera Glasses High Power - Paris Schwab - Sarasota BinocularsVintage Collapsible Opera Glasses Japan CompactVintage Emson Opera Glasses In Original Gold Box Crystar Lens - Made In Japan Las Vegas Antique Opera Glasses With Original Case