A history of ‘i’- wear

Tradtional histories of vision correction have been dominated by descriptions of eye disease or spectacle frames.

  • Eye doctors or oculists have left us written manuscripts of their views of the eye and its failings.
  • Some frames have survived and we can see images of frames in works of art.
  • Unfortunately historical records tell us little about spectacle lens design and even less about how measurements of failing vision were made before the nineteenth century.

Historians generally agree that spectacles, i.e. paired refracting lenses that are either held before the eyes or sit on the bridge of the nose were first used at the end of the 13th or begining of the 14th century, but we have little documentary evidence for who bought these glasses, how they were selected or used and even less as to how these lenses were made.

  • Prior to the appearance of spectacles, clear(ish) glass like 'pebbles' might or might not have been used as magnifiers.
  • However comfortable vision for reading or working can not be obtained by simply yoking together 2 magnifying lenses and placing them infront of the eyes!
  • Recorded history tells us that mathematically designed 'glasses' that were appropriate to an individual's visual needs were not being prescribed until the nineteenth century. Check out a pair of late 19th or early 20th century double-bridge spectacles as seen at Ickworth House.
  • European manufacturers (including British optical companies) dominated the spectacle making market during the 20th century, but English frame manufacturing declined significantly in the years following  the widespread prescribing of NHS eyewear.
  • The 21st century eyewear market is dominated by Far Eastern imports of  mass-produced, cheap, one size-fits-all frames. On the other hand lens manufacturers produce a variety of computer designed lens types some of which can be designed to suit an individual's eyesight requirement – for a price!

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