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]

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]

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    

French Silver Guilloche Enamel Opera Glasses Mop Birds Flowers Butterflies EtcFine Georgian English Silver Lorgnettes C.1822 Victorian Foster & Bailey Sterling Silver Lorgnette Folding Opera GlassesColorful Lamarie Paris Opera Glasses Handle Mop Antique Vintage F1Superb German Gold Plated 2.5x Magnification Opera GlassesVintage Lemaire Paris Mother Of Pearl Opera Glasses/binoculars Fabric Case PurseGold Hallmarked , Tests 14k, Lorgnettes Spectacles , Spring Action, Good Cond.Miniature Dollhouse Opera Glasses & Magnifying Glass 1:12 NrVintage Retro Japanese Boxed Folding 2.5x25 Sport Opera Glasses Binocular 1950's Rare Sprung Multi-draw Silver Plated Opera Glasses Or Binoculars – 1874 PatentAntique Victorian Ornate Lorgnette Gold Folding Opera Glasses Spectacles~Antique Opera Glasses/binoculars W/case, Mother Of Pearl Antique 1800's Colmont Ft France Telescopic Binoculars Opera Glasses LeatherRare Rolex Collectible Opera Glasses In Rolex Padded Bag BinocularsAntique French Opera Glasses Mother Of Pearl 19th CenturyM. Lenoir Paris Antique Opera GlassesParis Audemair Mother Of Pearl Brass Opera Glasses Antique Victorian Vintage Diamond Folding Sport Glass Opera Glasses Japan Binoculars-blueAntique La Reine Paris Mother Of Pearl Opera Glasses W/ Leather Case~beautifulMother Of Pearl Antique Opera Glasses Binocular 19th Century Paris VendomeSuperb 1930s Bakelite Opera Glasses "vogue" Cream Bakelite England Art DecoRow Vintage, Good Quality, Opera Glasses In Case. Made In GermanyOpera Glasses Bausch & Lomb W/ CaseAntique Victorian Carved Faux Tortoise Shell Lorgnette Opera GlassesVintage Opera Glasses (3x25 Binoculars) - In Black Draw String PouchSuperb Set Of Binocular Opera Glasses Metal & Mother Of Pearl FinishVintage Folding Binocular Travellers Sport Glass Japan 2.5x opera Glasses Boxed