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!!Lemaire Paris Trademarked Central-handle Adjustment Opera Glasses In Enamel Antique French Lorgnette Opera Glasses Gilt Brass & Guilloche Enamel Ca 1910Rare Antique C1820 French Silver Pierre Jacques Meurice Lorgnette Opera Glasses Antique French Lorgnette Opera Glasses - Rare Elliptical Shaped Barrels Ca 1900Rare Antique Art Deco Sterling Silver Marcasite Chatelaine Lorgnettes GlassesRare Antique French Opera Glasses Caved Mop Lorgnette & Cloisonne Enamel Ca 1840Antique French Large Opera Glasses By Lemaire - Pink Mother Of Pearl Ca 1900Antique French Opera Glasses Aluminum & Enamel M. S. Smith & Co. Detroit Ca 1910Antique French Opera Glasses Carved Mother Of Pearl, Sculpted Gilt Brass Ca 1840Antique French Lorgnette Opera Glasses - Black & White Cloisonne Enamel Ca 1840Antique French Opera Glasses Cloisonne Enamel, Gilt Metal & Horn - Ca 1840'sAntique French Opera Glasses - Hand-carved Illustrations Into Unknown MaterialSuperb Pair Of Late 19th/20th Century Faux Tortoishell Opera Glasses.Vintage Mother Of Pearl Clad Opera GlassesAntique Carved Opera Glasses Ross London - Natural Carved BodySuperb Pair Of Late 19th Century Opera Glasses.Lemaire Antique Opera Glasses / Brass BinocularsAntique Lemaire Fabi Paris Mother Of Pearl Opera Glasses Binoculars W/case P58Antique Paris Lemaire Opera Glasses L M. Prince Optician Cincinnati, Oh + CaseAntique French Or Austrian Large Opera Glasses Brass & Natural Material Ca 1890Vintage Mother Of Pearl, Opera Glasses With Leather Case, Lemaire, ParisAntique French Opera Glasses / Colmont White Mother Of Pearl Binoculars(j) Antique H. Lamy Fi Opera Glasses. Made In Paris. Brass & Mother Of PearlVintage Folding Opera Glasses With Compass ~ Ges. Gesch. ~ Western Germany Antique French Opera Glasses / Chevalier Metal Binoculars With Hunting SceneAntique Opera Glasses Mother Of Pearl Bushnell Theater & Opera Glasses / Binoculars 3 X 25 Black W/ Gold Trim & ChainEarly Lemaire Fabt Paris Opera Glasses With Leather Case - Bumble Bee Metal & Shagreen French Opera GlassesAntique White Gold 14kt Spg Folding Pince Nez Oxford Opera Glasses With Chain H.z. Rhoads & Bro. Antique Opera Glasses / Dark Mother Of Pearl BinocularsAntique Paris Opera Glasses BinocularsAntique Lemaire Fi Paris Opera Glasses Mother Of Pearl Brass Binoculars W/ CaseAntique / Vintage Mother Of Pearl Opera Glasses Geneva Optical Co. Chicago, IllAntique Paris T. M. Or Lemaire ? Opera Glasses + Case Field Or Opera Glasses Binoculars Case Mon Clermont Paris France Made In Occupied Japan, Opera Glasses In Original Leather CaseOpera Glasses Original New YorkAntique Lemaire Fabt Paris Opera Glasses Early 1900sVintage Opera Glasses Lemaire FabtRussian Opera Glasses Binoculars 2.5 X 24 With Leather CaseVintage Antique Chevalier Paris Opera Glasses BinocularsVintage Opera Glasses Las Vegas Antique Opera Glasses With Original CaseVintage Penncrest Opera Glasses/binoculars,with Brocade Case/excellent ConditionVintage Antique Chevalier Paris Opera Glasses Binoculars And Leather Box CaseAntique Opera Glasses