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Opticians - Corrective VIsion

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Opticians - Corrective Vision

The first known artistic representation of eyeglasses was painted by Tommaso da Modena in 1352. He did a sequence of frescoes of brothers efficiently reading or replicating manuscripts; one holds a magnifying glass while the other has glasses suspended on his nose. Once Tommaso had established the example, other painters positioned spectacles on the noses of many of subjects, almost certainly as a representation of wisdom and respect.

One of the most noteworthy developments in spectacle production in the 15th century was the introduction of concave lenses for the myopic or nearsighted. Pope Leo X, who was very myopic, wore concave spectacles when hunting and professed they enabled him to see clearer than his cohorts.

The first spectacles utilized quartz lenses since optical glass had not been developed. The lenses were set into bone, metal and leather mountings, frequently fashioned like two small magnifying glasses with handles riveted together and set in an inverted V shape that could be balanced on the bridge of the nose. The use of spectacles extended from Italy to the Germany, Spain, France and Portugal.

From their inception, eyeglasses posed a dilemma that wasn't solved for almost 350 years: how to keep them on the bridge of the nose without falling. Spanish spectacle makers of the 17th century experimented with ribbons of silk that could be attached to the frames and then looped over the ears. Spanish and Italian missionaries carried the new models to spectacle wearers in China. The Chinese attached little ceramic or metal weights to the strings instead of making loops. In 1730 a London optician named Edward Scarlett perfected the use of rigid sidepieces that rested atop the ears. This perfection rapidly spread across the continent. In 1752 James Ayscough publicized his latest invention, spectacles with double hinged side pieces. These became very popular and appear more often than any other kind in paintings and prints of the period. Lenses were fabricated of tinted glass as well as clear. Ayscough felt that the clear glass lenses gave an unpleasant glare. In Spain in 1763 Pablo Minguet recommended turquoise, green, or yellow lenses but not amber or red.

Europeans, in particular the French, were self-conscious about the use of eyeglasses. Parisian aristocrats used reading aids only in private. The gentry of England and France used a "perspective glass” or monocular which could be concealed from view easily. In Spain, however, spectacles were popular amongst all classes since they considered eyeglasses made them look more important and dignified.

Far-sighted or aging colonial Americans imported spectacles from Europe. Spectacles were primarily for the affluent and literate colonists, who required a valuable and precious appliance. Benjamin Franklin in the 1780s developed the bifocal. Bifocal lenses advanced little in the first half of the 19th century. The terms bifocal and trifocal were introduced in London by John Isaac Hawkins, whose trifocals were patented in 1827. In 1884 B. M. Hanna was granted patents on two forms of bifocals which become commercially standardized as the "cemented" and "perfection" bifocals. Both had the serious faults of ugly appearance, fragility, and dirt-collection at the dividing line. At the end of the 19th century the two sections of the lens were fused instead of cemented At the turn of the 20th century, there was a considerable increase in the use of bifocals.

Between 1781 and 1789 silver spectacles with sliding extension temples were being fabricated in France; however it was not until the 19th century that they gained extensive popularity. John McAllister of Philadelphia began fabricating spectacles with sliding temples containing looped ends which were much easier to use with the then-popular wigs. The loop supplement the inadequacy of stability by allowing the addition of a cord or ribbon which could be tied behind the head, thus holding the eyeglasses firmly in place.

In 1826, William Beecher moved to Massachusetts from Connecticut to establish a jewellery-optical manufacturing shop. The first ophthalmic pieces he fabricated were silver spectacles which were later followed by blue steel. In 1869 the American Optical Company was incorporated and acquired the holdings of William Beecher. In 1849 J. J. Bausch immigrated to the United States from Germany. He had already served an apprenticeship as an optician in his native land and had found work in Berne. His reimbursement for the labor on a complete pair of spectacles was equal to six cents. Mr. Bausch encountered difficult times in America from 1849 until 1861, at which time war broke out. When the war prevented import of eyeglass frames, demand for his hard rubber frames skyrocketed. Continuous expansion followed and the large Bausch and Lomb Company was formed.

The monocle, which was first called an "eye-ring", was initially introduced in England in the early 19th century; although it had been developed in Germany during the 18th century. A young Austrian named Johann Friedrich Voigtländer (de) studied optics in London and took the monocle idea back to Germany with him. He started making monocles in Vienna about 1814 and the fashion spread and took particularly strong roots in Germany and in Russia. The first monocle wearers were upper-class gentlemen, which may account for the aura of arrogance the monocle seemed to confer on the wearer. After World War I, the monocle fell into disrepute, its downfall in the allied sphere hastened, no doubt, by its association with the German military.

The lorgnette, two lenses in a frame the user held with a lateral handle, was another 18th century development (by Englishman George Adams). The lorgnette almost certainly developed from the scissors-glass, which was a double eyeglass on a handle. Given that the two branches of the handle came together under the nose and looked as if they were about to cut it off, they were known as binocles-ciseaux or scissors glasses. The English altered the size and form of the scissors-glasses and produced the lorgnette. The frame and handle were often artistically embellished, given that they were used mostly by women and more often as a piece of jewellery than as a visual aid. The lorgnette maintained its popularity with ladies of fashion, who chose not to wear spectacles. The lorgnette maintained its popularity to the end of the 19th century.

Pince-nez are believed to have appeared in the 1840s, but in the latter part of the century there was a great upsurge in the popularity of the pince-nez for both men and women. Gentlemen wore any style which suited them—heavy or delicate, round, or oval, straight, or drooping—usually on a ribbon, cord, or chain about the neck or attached to the lapel. Ladies more often than not wore the oval rimless style on a fine gold chain which could be reeled automatically into a button-size eyeglass holder pinned to the dress. Whatever the disadvantages of the pince-nez, it was convenient.

In the 19th century the responsibility of choosing the correct lens lay, as it always had, with the customer. Even when the optician was asked to choose, it was often on a rather casual basis. Spectacles were still available from travelling salesmen. Spectacles with large round lenses and tortoise shell frames became the fashion around 1914. The enormous round spectacles and the pince-nez continued to be worn in the twenties. In the thirties there was increased emphasis on style in glasses with a variety of spectacles available. Meta Rosenthal wrote in 1938 that the pince-nez was still being worn by dowagers, headwaiters, old men, and a few others. The monocle was worn by only a minority in the United States. Sunglasses, however, became very popular in the late '30s.

Notable opticians

  • James Ayscough
  • Carl Laubman
  • John Jacob Bausch
  • Henry Lomb
  • Eugene Kalt
  • Aquib Talib