Monday, December 26, 2011

History of Spectacles

You might be surprised to learn about the history of spectacles. No one knows when the earliest vision aids were used. There are no written recordings from early times. The ancients were aware of the optical effects of water or glass, e.g. the magnifying effect of a drop of water, the enlarged view of a leaf vein seen through a dew drop or the visual effect through a spherical transplant jewel of the underlying surface. Recent findings have shown that the Egyptians and Babylonians knew and utilized rules of optics. The oldest description of sunglasses was made by Pliny (23-79 B.C.). He wrote that the Roman emperor Nero used a polished emerald to view the gladiators. He does not mention if the optical surface was spherical but it is apparent that the light-absorbing nature of the gem made viewing in bright sunlight more pleasant. From the same era one can read complaints by older Roman statesmen that the condition of their eye made reading of legal texts difficult. It is sure that presbyopia was considered a disease in ancient Rome but no one documented any treatment with usual aids. The earliest mention of a visual aid was the reading stone. The stone was a polished hemisphere of the semi-precious gemstone beryl which, when laid on a page, enlarged the text in all directions.

The inventor of spectacles, meaning glasses worn directly on the eye, is unknown.

Classic spectacles that are worn directly over the eyes appeared in more recent times when clear, transparent glass became available at a reasonable price. The first occurred on Murano, a small island near Venice still famous for the production of glass. Developments from spectacle manufacturers no longer required that the lens be placed on the text in order to read; it could now be held in front of the eye.

There were minor improvements made during making: better lens polishing, new methods of stabilizing the positioning of spectacles for reading and some improvements in lens coating. The 16th and 17th centuries saw the appearance of lens expensive spectacles, usually +3D intended for presbyopia (reading), that were framed in leather or iron. Products with horn and copper frames were made for the clergy or public officials while those frames in gold, silver or ivory were rarities reserved for the very wealthy.

It is amazing that the use of curved earpieces is only 100 years old. The history of spectacles is the history of scientific progress. Spectacles have enabled millions of people with visual problems to take part in daily life and to acquire an education. From their beginning as a reading lens made of the gemstone beryl, glasses have improved to include multifocal lenses, contact lenses and implants into the living eye. 

If you have questions about spectacles or eyewear please feel free to ask us at Doctor & Associates-203-227-4113.