A Quick History of Spectacles

The gift of sight today is often aided by spectacles that have become commonplace and convenient; however this was not the case in ancient times, when vision lost seemed to have no solution – at first. The creativity of people soon overcame poor vision. People of the ancient world noticed the magnification properties of water in glass. Such observations began a study that led away from vision loss and into a new world.

Around 1000 AD, Arab scientists began studying the refractive, reflective and dispersive properties of light through glass. Using this information, monks of the middle ages fashioned polished semi-precious stones to help them see. These stones were ground into shape, then polished for clarity. In the later part of the 13th century, the first mention of spectacles as optical aids appeared in writings by an English friar.

Also during that century, Venetian craftsmen had begun making the spectacles of the times. First, blown glass was used to make magnifying glasses that were placed in front of reading material. Later, lenses were placed in the frames of the day; these first lenses were made of beryl and quartz. They were set into bone, metal or leather mountings, designed to be held up by hand. Different ways were found for holding the spectacles in place, freeing up the hands for better uses; the Spanish used ribbon loops and the Chinese used small weights over the ears.

In 1730, a London optician created the rigid side pieces that we expect today. Spectacles were then available for seeing both near and far – all that was needed was to change specs. Because of the hassles of changing glasses, Ben Franklin designed the first bifocals in 1784. The design of spectacles has improved over time, resulting in the creation of contact lenses.

Of course, modern spectacle frames are very different to the versions used by our ancestors! New materials mean that your frames can be almost invisible if desired.