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]

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]

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    

Art Deco German Lorgnettes Opera Theatre Glasses Fata Morgana Baumann BinocularsH/m 1936.vintage Solid Silver Lorgnette Ladies Folding Reading/opera Glasses Rare Superb Pair Antique Vintage Shibayama Opera Glasses.inlaid Insects C 1900Antique Folding Lorgnettes Glasses Gold Plate & Enamel No ReserveOpera Glasses-bone/gilt Brass -with Handle And PurseAntique French Victorian Lemaire Mother Of Pearl Mop Opera Glasses BinocularsAntique Victorian Opera Glasses Binoculars Mother Of Pearl Brass Lemaire ParisVintage Mother Of Pearl & Brass Opera Glasses (binoculars) For Repair.Antique Sterling Silver Lorgnette Spectacles Folding Opera Glasses Ornate Vintage Pair Of Slim Pop Up Crystar Opera Glasses In Box - 415 M18C1899 Opera Glasses From Hong Kong China St Andrews Society Gentlemans Club3 Pairs Of Vintage Folding Opera Glasses - WorkingVintage Mignon 2.5x Opera Glasses With CasePair Of Vintage Mother Of Pearl French Opera GlassesVintage Opera Glasses With Mother Of Pearl Scope No. 2375 Vintage 50-60s Lucite Cat Eye Lorgnette Opera Glasses Black W/ A. Borealis +caseAntique Le Maire Fi Opera Glasses Mother Of Pearl Beautiful Condition 1800'sVictorian France Opera Glasses Binoculars Lerebours Paris ,horn 19th. C.Lemaire Fabricant Paris Opera Glasses - Mother Of Pearl Theater Chs Mayer IndplsAntique/vintage Brass Opera GlassesAntique Opera GlassesClassic 50's Folding Cat Eye Opera Glasses Rhinestone Bling Hong Kong Vintage Antique Mother Of Pearl Opera Glasses Binoculars ParisVintage Pride Opera Glasses, Made In "occupied Japan" 2.5xAntique Lemaire Paris Mother Of Pearl Opera Glasses Binoculars Great Condition !Antique Chevalier Paris Leather Trimmed Opera Glasses Binoculars & Leather CaseVintage Brass Opera GlassesAntique Chevalier Opticien Paris Opera Glasses BinocularsAntique Binoculars - Opera Glasses - Chevalier Paris - France -Antique Sterling Silver Folding Eyeglasses / Spectacles / Opera GlassesAntique Opera Glasses Or Binoculars C 1880Vintage Binolux 3x Opera Glasses/binoculars-mother Of Pearl-with Cloth & CaseAntique Art Deco Chevalier Opticien Paris Binoculars Opera Glasses Field GlassesVintage Victorian Era L'oiseau Paris Opera Glasses In Original Leather Case Antique Zoom Lemaire Opera Glasses W/ Case- A.stowell & Co.Vintage Kalimar Opera Glasses Binoculars & Case, 3x10 Coated Lens, 1950's JapanVintage Iridescent Folding Opera Glasses With Case Jason 2.5xVintage Brass Mop Mother Pearl Binoculars Vendome Paris Opera Glasses W/caseTasco Opera Glasses Pocket Binoculars 3xLa "mignonne" Opera Glasses Vintage Airguide Opera Glasses With Case