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    

Vintage Opera , Theatre Glasses , Lorgnettes , Binoculars Vintage Sterling Silver Folding Decorative Opera Glasses No Reserve!!!Great Victorian Iris Paris Mother Of Pearl & Gilt Brass Opera Glasses W/ Handle2 Antique Binoculars-opera Glasses-mop-brass-lemaire-paris-nr!Lovely Antique Mother Of Pearl Opera Glasses W/mother Of Pearl Overlay & HandleLemaire Mother Of Pearl Opera Theatre Opera Glasses With Orig Sack - Lovely!!Antique Opera Glasses Lemaire Ft Paris Mother Of Pearl Caramel Original Case Antique Vintage Opera Glasses Binoculars Working Floral Birds Silver Tone K21800s French Victorian Pinkmother Of Pearl Longette Opera Glasses Balland RarenrAntique Lemaire Paris Mother Of Pearl Opera Glasses Antique Chevalier Paris Opera Glasses /binocularsFrench Enamel Brass Opera Glasses Blue Gold Floral Binoculars Antique RareVintage Neiman Marcus Gold Tone Opera Glasses W/ Case Made In France BinocularsPair French Silver Plate Opera Glasses Circa 1900Antique Pretty Mother Of Pearl Opera Glasses Binoculars C1890Antique Old Vintage Victorian Cowbone Binoculars Opera Glasses Spares Repairs Vintage Opera Glasses, Spring Assisted Lock FoldingPair Of Vintage Opera GlassesAntique Unique Enamel Opera Glasses Binocular ViennaNice Old Clean Working Mother Of Pearl Opera Glasses Chips-bendsVintage 1916 Bausch & Lomb Opera Glasses / Binoculars In Leather CaseOpera Glasses Vintage Selsi 2.5x25Vintage Compact Folding Binocular Lucky Opera Glasses Lens Japan Made 25x Vintage White Petite Lady’s Opera Glasses, Made In U.s.s.r. ,case & InsertAntique Brass Opera Glasses Binoculars Chevalier ParisMother Of Pearl Opera Glasses Chevalier Paris. No Reserve