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Monday, August 16, 2010

Regency glasses and eyeware

Spectacles, or eyeglasses as we know them today, have experienced a big transformation since their inception over 800 years ago. The glasses which rest on the nose and ears were invented by an Englishman named Edward Scarlett in 1727. But they weren't considered fashionable by the beau monde, so other devices were used.

During the Regency Era, a very popular item was a "quizzing glass," a single magnifying lens with a handle that the user held up before their eyes improve their vision of a particular object.

About the 1750’s, quizzing glasses became a fashion accessory and were worn like jewelry. Since eyeglasses were unpopular, at least in public, the quizzing glass was a socially acceptable substitute. The quizzing glass was attached to the end of a long ribbon or chain and worn around the neck. A person could then hold up his or her quizzing glass to "quiz," meaning to stare, glance, or look quizzically at people. They were also used to stare at another person through the quizzing glass as a way of setting down or insulting him or her. Reportedly, Beau Brummell used this maneuver to show his disapproval of a person which could be disastrous to that person’s standing in the ton. In the movie The Scarlet Pimpernel, the hero performs this move beautifully with anyone he finds irritating. And the message comes across loud and clear.

Quizzing Glasses were not limited to people with poor eyesight; according to fashion prints, young women of fashion commonly wore them.

Some people used a lorgnette, which has two lenses,
is also hand-held, and was prescribed by an optometrist. (I know, who knew those doctors have been around so long?)
Although Quizzing glasses were the most popular somewhere during the 1800 to about 1830 or so, then, by the 1830s, lorgnettes became a more popular choice for women.

For gentleman of fashion, quizzing glasses continued as a popular accessory until about the early 1900’s after which monocles replaced them. A monocle had a single lens which fit into the eye socket and appeared to be more popular with the men and had a chain or ribbon instead of a handle.

To read more about Quizzing Glasses, or to view an impressive collection,I highly recommend Candice Hern's website. She has lots of other fun collections, too.

Though today's eyeglasses certainly don't to offer the same flair as quizzing glasses and monocles, when I'm reading, it's nice to have my hands free.


catslady said...

I wonder if people's eyes were better back then? I can't imagine what my world would be without them. Although I liked how they insulted people with them lol.

Audra said...

There are moments in my life right now in which I think a good glare through a quizzing glass would be appropriate!

Donna Hatch said...

I'm with you, Audra, an effective but classy way of giving someone a good set-down.

Unknown said...

If we are planning to buy eye glasses, be sure to buy the brand that offers excellent products because our eyes in very important.

Anonymous said...

Hello there... My partner bought me a 'Quiz' just like the one in the picture for my 50th! Great to read all about it... Thank you :) Cate from Adelaide South Australia

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Amanda Bennet said...

I found this very helpful when I read about quizzing glasses in a novel and didn't know what they were. Thank you!

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