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Saturday, March 2, 2013

Research on Civil War Eye Glasses

By Johan Steele
My own research included talking to a local fella and present day optometrist who collects eye glasses and was rather enlightening. Surprisingly prices are about the same today, when compared to inflation.

The frame curving around the ear glasses are definitely a post war invention. Most typical had the lenses very small when compared to those of today, the pair I have were originally a set of sample/display glasses. The lenses aren't much larger than my eyes, you are forced to look straight at whoever you are talking to. There is NO peripheral vision with these. Some of the others I was shown that dated to the 1860's and prior were square or hex shaped. There was also a set that were designed to be folded up, those were surprisingly beefy.

Construction was from Brass, braided copper as well as steel. He also had a pair of 1860's glasses that had been coated with gutta percha.

An Optometrist was one of the most highly paid in the medical profession at the time and often traveled quite a bit. He would able to often put together a pair of glasses while you waited from the stock he carried. The collector owned an 1880's Optometrists tool chest which was rather large but still portable. When full he would have been able to both figure out & fill the needed prescription for well over a hundred people. The tools were very similar to a watchmakers or jewelers set and many an eye doctor hand made the frames as well as he could do so more cheaply than sending off for them and it was almost 100% pure profit for him. Needless to say the quality might vary rather dramatically.

Original eye glass frames didn't usually have screws but were fastened with a molten lead plug, which makes it almost impossible to put new lenses in an original set and is a way to date them. As I recall tt was actually during the ACW, in the US, that screws started to be commonly used.

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