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]

Dr. David Fleishman's comprehensive spectacles site (over 3500 images), in collaboration with museums around the wo… [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]

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Quality Victorian Yellow Metal Folding Lorgnettes Magnifying Spectacles C1890.Superb Antique 19thc French Gilt Brass& Mother Of Pearl Opera Glasses Vgc++Antique Pair Opera Glasses In Noble Material Signed "duchesse 12 Verres" C1880Cased Pair Of Antique Lorgnettes Vintage Reading Glasses Optical No ReserveLarge Antique French Solid Silver Lorgnettes / Folding Glasses With Long ChainLorgnette Silver Folding Opera Glasses Antique VintageAntique Late 19thc Victorian Mechanical Folding Gold Lorgnette Opera Glasses*superb Vintage Folding Lorgnettes Dixey, Bond Street. House ClearanceAntique Candy Apple Red ( Possibly Guilloche ) Enamel Opera Glasses With HandleAntique-lemaire-fabi-paris-mother Of Pearl-opera Glasses-binoculars-leather CaseVintage Carl Zeiss Diadem Opera Glasses BinocularsAntique Opera Glasses Colmont Ft Paris Mother Of Pearl Lorgette Style Antique Opera Glasses Holders & Case * Lemaire Paris * Julius King Exquisite Lemarie Fabt France Mother Of Pearl Opera Glasses Simply Beautiful!Vintage - Antique, Black Metal, Goldtone & Leather Opera Glasses, BinocularsVintage Brass Opera GlassesVictorian Gold Filled ? Lorgnette Opera Glasses Engraved Marcasite Spectacular Antique 1880s Colmont Ft Mother Of Pearl Mop Old Binocular Opera Glasses France Vintage Sportiere 2.5x25 Mother Of Pearl Binoculars Or Opera Glasses In Org BoxVintage Pair Folding Stellar Opera Glasses/binoculars 25x Made In JapanVintage Tasco Japan Opera Glasses W/ Handle- Mother Of Pearl Inlay 3x E56Antique Opera Glasses Mother Of Pearl With Case Marchand Style Needs RepairG. Rodenstock Opera GlassesLemaire Opera Glasses ( Mother Of Pearl From Paris)Lemaire Fabt Paris France Vintage Antique Opera Glasses Binoculars Original CaseVintage Opera Glasses - Lemaire Fabt - ParisAntique Brass Binoculars Opera Glasses W/ Compass-champoux Paris Free Shipping Vintage Lemaire Fabt Opera Glasses Binoculars In Leather Case Paris France4 X Antique Binoculars - Opera Glasses - Suscipj, Rome - +++Antique Gilt Metal Folding Glasses / Lorgnettes With Lyre Shape HandleVintage 2.5 X 25 Mm Collapsible Sports Glasses Binoculars Opera Glasses Vintage Red Folding Opera Glasses Binoculars ~ Tekoni 3.5 Magnification ~ @look@Vintage Folding Opera Glasses 2.5 X Sport Glass In BoxFolding Opera Glasses Folding Eye Glasses Opera Glass With CaseVintage! Bushnell 3x Coated Opera GlassesAntique French Paris Mother Of Pearl Binocular Opera Glasses Retractable HandleVtg Hollco Japan Opera Glasses Pocket Theater Binoculars Old Folding Collapse