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    

Italian Filotecnica Victorian Mother Of Pearl 2 Draw Binoculars Opera GlassesRare Antique C1820 French Silver Pierre Jacques Meurice Lorgnette Opera Glasses Lemaire Paris Trademarked Central-handle Adjustment Opera Glasses In Enamel Antique French Lorgnette Opera Glasses Gilt Brass & Guilloche Enamel Ca 1910Rare Antique French Opera Glasses Caved Mop Lorgnette & Cloisonne Enamel Ca 1840Antique French Opera Glasses Aluminum & Enamel M. S. Smith & Co. Detroit Ca 1910Antique French Lorgnette Opera Glasses - Black & White Cloisonne Enamel Ca 1840Antique French Opera Glasses Cloisonne Enamel, Gilt Metal & Horn - Ca 1840'sAntique French Opera Glasses Carved Mother Of Pearl, Sculpted Gilt Brass Ca 1840Superb Pair Of Late 19th/20th Century Faux Tortoishell Opera Glasses.Antique French Lorgnette Opera Glasses - Rare Elliptical Shaped Barrels Ca 1900Antique Brass Opera Glasses Rare Maker H. Semken Of Washington Dc BinocularsVintage Carl Zeiss Jena Teleater 215791 3x Opera Glasses / BinocularsRare Antique Art Deco Sterling Silver Marcasite Chatelaine Lorgnettes GlassesThree Pair Mother Of Pearl, Mop, Antique French Opera Glasses Small BinocularsAntique French Large Opera Glasses By Lemaire - Pink Mother Of Pearl Ca 1900Antique French Opera Glasses - Hand-carved Illustrations Into Unknown MaterialVintage Lorgnette Opera Glasses Marcasite Onyx SilverAntique Lemaire Fabi Paris Mother Of Pearl Opera Glasses Binoculars W/case P58Antique Solid Silver Rimmed Extendable Opera Glasses With Case, Circa 1890!!Vintage Binoculars. Opera Glasses.collectibleAntique Victorian Sterling Silver Lorgnette German Opera Glasses Otto Burg 925 Antique 1800's La Reine Paris Enameled Opera Glasses Vintage G. Rodenstock Opera Glasses Red & Gold! GermanyAntique French Or Austrian Large Opera Glasses Brass & Natural Material Ca 1890Antique Carved Opera Glasses Ross London - Natural Carved BodyAntique French Mother Of Pearl Opera Glasses Premier Paris In CaseAntique Marchand Paris Opera Glasses BinocularsOpera Glasses Lemaire Of Paris Beautiful Mother Of Pearl!!Antique French Mother Of Pearl Opera Glasses With Folding HandleNegretti & Zambra Opera Glasses/small BinocularsRare Vintage German Hof Dorffel Berlin Mother Of Pearl Mop Opera GlassesAntique Pearl Chavelier French Opera Glasses Made In Paris!Antique Lamier Paris Mother Of Pearl Opera Glasses BinocularsVendome Paris Opera Glasses Circa 1900Antique Paris Opera Glasses Binoculars Chevalier OpticienVintage Mother-of-pearl Opera GlassesAntique Opera Glasses, Loraine, ParisBushnell Theater & Opera Glasses / Binoculars 3 X 25 Black W/ Gold Trim & ChainAbalone Shell Or Mop Antique Opera Glasses Chevrolet Paris RareRare Vintage Colmont Paris France Black Mother Of Pearl Mop Opera GlassesAntique B&l Brass Opera Glasses Binocular In Orig Case, Work Great Bausch LombAntique Waldstein's Abduction Glass Binoculars New York Opera Glasses Field Or Opera Glasses Binoculars Case Mon Clermont Paris France Antique Opera Glasses/binoculars By Lefils Of Paris Curly Pearl Needs One LensAntique Opera Glasses In CaseAntique / Vintage Mother Of Pearl Opera Glasses Geneva Optical Co. Chicago, IllBausch & Lomb Opera GlassesBlack+chrome Opera Glasses 3 X 26 Particular Binoculars + Vintage Leather CaseVintage Opera Glasses Lemaire FabtAntique Mother Of Pearl And Brass Opera GlassesAntique Brass Opera Glasses Vgc Measures About 4" Wide.Antique Colmont Paris Opera Glasses Binoculars W/ Leather Case FocusesLemaire Opera Glasses With Case.Vintage Penncrest Opera Glasses/binoculars,with Brocade Case/excellent Condition