History of Science Museum: Collection Database Search


Special Exhibition Label: 'Geek is Good' (15 May - 2 November 2014) - Spectacles

Spectacles in Time

The exhibition features a series of images of historical spectacles from the Museum’s collection – running backwards in time. Why spectacles? In the 20th century, childish name-calling often used spectacles to pick on their wearers, and plain black frames became a symbol of the geek.

But the geeks have had the last laugh. As geek chic became fashionable, black plastic glasses became a mark of style. These modern novelty frames take the joke one stage further, giving the impression of a pixelated outline.

An ingenious pair of spectacles folding down into an extremely compact form, c. 1930.
MHS inv. 98523

Tinted lenses were introduced as a way to provide greater comfort to the eye – an early form of sunglasses. These spectacles look as if they might have been worn by John Lennon in the 1960s, but they actually date from about 1800.
MHS inv. 41583

These dark glasses offer a double protection for the eyes. There are actually four lenses which are hinged in pairs so that the wearer can benefit from either a double-strength tinted view forwards or an additional pair of side visors. The arrangement had been patented in 1797 but this pair dates from about 1850.
MHS inv. 18887

The scientific lecturer, author and instrument maker Benjamin Martin first published his design for “visual glasses“ in 1756. Their characteristic wide rims led to the nickname “Martin’s Margins”. Martin had a serious purpose: just as telescopes and microscopes were given reduced apertures to stop down unnecessary light entering the lens, Martin thought that excessive light would be bad for the eyes. The design was popular well into the 19th century; this pair is from 1811.
MHS inv. 17080

These are not the oldest spectacles in the Museum’s collection, but they represent the simplest style. Made of horn they are worn pinched on the nose and date from about 1690. Spectacles were a medieval invention and already several centuries old at this time. The earliest examples were created in the 13th century and were used to correct long sightedness. The condition affects many people as they get older, making it difficult to focus on things close at hand. In an era when literacy was low, they were a particular boon for aging scholars who had trouble reading.
MHS inv. 13465

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