PDA

View Full Version : Civil War Era Eyeglasses: By: John A. Braden



paulcalloway
02-04-2004, 07:08 PM
<CENTER>Note: We'll try to find the images for the article below. Currently those photos are unavailable.



Civil War Era Eyeglasses

By: John A. Braden

</CENTER>

Judging by the absence of eyeglasses in photographs of Civil War troops, many menwho could have used glasses went without. Perhaps the soldier considered them tooexpensive, or didn’t know his eyesight was bad., or considered eyeglasses too much of abother to wear in the field. At any rate, if your eyesight is bad, one authentic solution is tosimply go without.

But if you are nearsighted and want to see what’s going on at a reenactment, you’llwant to wear something to correct your vision.

Contact lenses are one possibility. However, the daily care required for them,together with the dirt and smoke encountered at reenactments, may render themunsuitable.

Since modern eyeglasses can ruin an otherwise authentic appearance, in most cases apair of authentic eyeglasses is the solution.

But how can you tell what is authentic? Some people think that any old pair f wireframes is sufficient. But if you’re going to spend the bucks on some prescription glasses,you may as well do it right and get some authentic ones.

So here are some things to look out for.

FRAMES
Round frames had gone out of style by the end of the Revolution, to be replaced byrectangular frames (Fig. A). In turn, the rectangular frames lost out to oval frames (Fig.B) around 1860. Another style that came on the scene during the Civil War was thecoffin-shaped frame (Fig. C).

These are, of course, only general guidelines. Thus, though not prevalent, some roundframes were made during the Civil War. Likewise, although the rectangular frames wentout of style by 1860, some people would have continued to wear such frames were by farthe most prevalent, those wanting to represent the typical eyeglass wearer will choose theoval frames.

These are, of course, only general guidelines. Thus, though not prevalent, some roundframes were made during the Civil War. Likewise, although the rectangular frames wentout of style by 1860, some people would have continued to wear such frames into theCivil War. However, since the oval frames were by far the most prevalent, those wantingto represent the typical eyeglass wearer will choose the oval frames.

Another advantage of oval frames is that they remained popular until the twentiethcentury. this means that it will be easier to find examples of such frames in antique shops.

All styles of frames tended to be much smaller than modern frames (though very smallframes indicate reading glasses). However, the smaller frames did not restrict one’s viewas much as you might think because the frames were worn close to the eyes.

As for material, gold or blued steel were most common.

NOSEPIECE
The nosepiece rested directly on the bridge of the nose: nosepads were unknown. Twoshapes were common to American-made glasses: the "yoke" type (Fig. D) and the "C"type (Fig. E). The yoke type gave way to the C type around 1860.


<CENTER></CENTER>

Most of the antique glass you are likely to find will have a nosepiece that is bentforward and flattened to follow the contour of the nose better (Fig. F). This type ofnosepiece indicates that the glasses were made after the Civil War. Nosepieces madebefore and during the Civil War were simpler, with the nosepiece even with the frames,and round in cross-section (Fig. G).


<CENTER></CENTER>
BOWS OR TEMPLES
Most bows were straight (not curving over the ears) with a loop at the end, through whicha string or ribbon could be passed to secure the glasses to the head (Fig. H). Other bowsdid wrap around the ears (Fig. I). Though the wraparounds were less prevalent, they weremore practical for reenactors, since they were less likely to fall off.


SUMMARY
Figure J shows what a typical pair of glasses would have looked like in the 1860’s. FigureK shows a typical pair of 1850’s glasses, which would also be authentic for Civil WarReenactors.



<CENTER></CENTER>PROCURING THE GLASSES
Now that you know what you’re looking for, you need to know where to look. Since thestyle of frames we are talking about are generally not sold by modern opticians, you’llhave to check out antique stores, flea markets, or sutlers. You should be able to get a pairof period frames for between $6 and $12.

Once you get some frames that fit, take them to an optometric establishment to havelenses made to your prescription. You might have to try more than one place to find onethat will fit lenses to such unusual frames. Some places might charge extra to fit suchlenses, but because the frames are cheaper than modern frames, you’ll still end up payingless then you would for a modern pair of glasses.

If your search is unsuccessful, Tom McEvoy (one of Thomas’ Mudsills) can makeglasses to your prescription at a reasonable price. You can contact him at his office at 111North Addison Avenue, Elmhurst, IL 60126 (phone 312-832-2115).
SOURCES
Richard Corson, Fashions in Eyeglasses (Dufour Editions, Chestes Springs, PA 1967)
L.D. Bronson, Early American Specs (Occidental Publishing Co., Glendale, CA 1974)

paulcalloway
01-02-2007, 04:06 PM
These images have been broken for a long, long time. I've scanned the images from my paper copy of this article and have attached them for your edification.

Figure J was split into two pieces on my print-out. I've done my best to piece it together in Photoshop so it appears how Mr. Braden originally intended it.

Rob
01-02-2007, 08:32 PM
Another good essay here:

world_warrior
12-15-2007, 03:26 PM
Quick question and my first post to AC...

What is the opinion of Antique original frames being used, but the lenses being taken out and replaced with modern ones so they can be used in everyday life or at an event?

Is that Kosher or will I be drummed out of camp for ruining a period original?

Second question, if we are not to use original frames with modern lenses, then who makes good repros? Living History is fun, I'd just like to see who cool everyone else looks.

Also, I'm looking for suggestions as to who makes good haversacks and knapsacks FOR THE MONEY. I've seen certain makers sell them on 'the 'Bay' and wondered if they were acceptable.

PM me with responses or post. Thanks brothers.

RJ Basista
4th OVI Co. E
Wooster- Wayne county, Ohio

Dutchman Dick
05-23-2008, 09:05 PM
http://www.focusers.com/mcallister.html

Rob
05-23-2008, 11:28 PM
Use original frames if you have them, and if they fit. Most of them are way to narrow for me.

Ross L. Lamoreaux
05-24-2008, 12:22 AM
Many folks on this forum use original frames with modern lenses. I've found in most cases it is much less expensive to use originals than to buy modern reproduction frames, which are mostly incorrect anyway. Why would you go out and pay between $60 and $100 for the wrong frames when the correct ones can be had between $20 to $50 at antique shops, etc. I've bought over 20 set of frames in the last few years to help friends or new recruits , all under $35 , many of which were gold or silver, and with a little searching you can find an shop willing to put modern lenses.

Dutchman Dick
09-01-2008, 04:27 PM
Won this pair on Ebay. Price seemed pretty decent, now I just need to find a (hopefully) local optical shop that can install my prescription:

http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=220274207269

lukegilly13
09-14-2008, 10:08 AM
Here's a question.....I have found what I believe to be a pair of 1860's glasses (at least the frames) for about 30 bucks. They have the proper bows/temples and the correct nose piece. However, I believe they are reading glasses....or at least have extreme far sighted lenses. Is there really that much difference in the frames? These glasses are very small but I have very small facial features and the glasses actually suit me. Thanks in advance!

Dutchman Dick
09-14-2008, 02:55 PM
Mine seem to have reading lenses in them, too. I think it goes back to the idea that maybe back then it was older people who wore glasses and many younger people avoided it when possible. At least, that's the impression I got from reading the chapter on Civil War eyeglasses in the CRRC.

bazoo
11-08-2008, 04:37 PM
Hi

Looking for information about glasses, I 've read that
" Other bowsdid wrap around the ears (Fig. I). Though the wraparounds were less prevalent, they weremore practical for reenactors, since they were less likely to fall off.

and for all others sources I've read, that kind of bow where post CW ( circa 1880) .
Is it a mistake or you have more information about that?

Thank's a lot

Luc Geraudie

508preach
04-20-2009, 01:33 PM
From what I've read that type of bow was around, just in very very very small numbers and really didnt catch on till later in the 19th Century.

Rob
04-20-2009, 02:25 PM
Riding temples, as they were known (they would not fall off while horseback riding) were invented in the 1880s, taking advantage of newly-developed spring-steel technology.

Pvt Schnapps
04-22-2009, 08:39 AM
Personally I'd be wary of making any kind of flat statement, though the one about riding temples does seem supported by examples I've seen. Other statements, like the ones about nosepieces, seem open to question. Here's a site with examples of glasses worn by historical figures, generally with the provenance: http://www.antiquespectacles.com/people/people_present2.htm

I especially like the examples of blue spectacles (including Robert E. Lee's), which ought to drive a stake through the old myth about their association with STDs.

Elaine Kessinger
04-22-2009, 02:23 PM
I've nothing to add to the research discussions, but several postings have asked about where to find vintage frames and an optomitrist willing to make perscription lenses for them.... I stumbled across the following site that puts those two items convieniently in one location...and the folks I've since past it on to have been very complimentary of the gent's work. http://www.eyeglasseswarehouse.com/

Good luck & I hope this helps.

benjclark
09-03-2009, 04:10 PM
Stumbled across an interesting quote while researching something else, something for the colored lens questions:

DAILY TIMES [LEAVENWORTH, KS], April 18, 1861, p. 3, c. 2
Lost.—J. F. Shroder lost a pair of purple-glass specs, steel bows, in case. Any person finding the same will do a favor by leaving them at this office.

David Fox
09-03-2009, 05:00 PM
Re: use of corrective spectacles by Civil war personnel. A few thoughts. First, these were young armies and need for eyesight correction often comes with age. Second, glasses were expensive (Meade was likely miffed when branches knocked the spectacles off his face as he rode cross country by night to reach Gettysburg the night of 1 July). Third, when I was young and sitting for school portraits, Momma always told me to comb my hair (school photographers in the '50s handed out plastic combs, which we thought was pretty spiffy) and to TAKE OFF MY GLASSES. And I did. And I'll bet a banknote the Boys of '61 usually did, too.
A most enjoyable thread.

Pvt Schnapps
09-03-2009, 05:33 PM
Just as one more thing to contemplate, I thought I'd add the following from Augustus Meyer's Ten Years in the Ranks (p. 310). It opens up the possibility that, contrary to what I thought I knew as recently as a couple of months ago, not all glasses in the period had small lenses:

Captain Came was an elderly man and
very peculiar. He glanced at the papers and in a drawling
voice with a strong "down-East" accent asked me if I had made
them out and if I understood them, to which I replied in the
affirmative. He then slowly and carefully put on a huge pair
of spectacles and taking another short look at the papers,
turned to me and said. "Young man, your threes and your
fives, your sevens and your nines I can tell apart, which is of
great importance; but I have seen better writing."

Mudslinger
09-03-2009, 06:49 PM
I just purchased an original pair of brass oval frames at an Ohio anitique store. They are in MINT condition, and I bought them for five dollars. I'll put pics up soon.

Hank Trent
09-03-2009, 07:04 PM
Captain Came was an elderly man and
very peculiar... He then slowly and carefully put on a huge pair
of spectacles...[/SIZE][/FONT]

I suspect that the man being elderly, and the size of his spectacles, were not unconnected.

Some older spectacles from the 18th century were round rather than oval, and therefore look larger. For example: http://www.eyeglasseswarehouse.com/2159-18.html or http://www.eyeglasseswarehouse.com/2199-02.html or hover over images here: http://www.antiquespectacles.com/topics/cases/cases.htm#

An old man, with round glasses that he'd worn most of his life, might indeed look quaint to someone used to seeing the newer oval lenses.


Second, glasses were expensive

What are you looking at for prices? Locally (rural Ohio), a store daybook sold them for 40 cents with case in 1860, and 40 cents and 50 cents in 1863. Comparatively speaking, that's less than most items of clothing, somewhere around half the price of a shirt.

Hank Trent
hanktrent@gmail.com

Pvt Schnapps
09-04-2009, 11:16 AM
I suspect that the man being elderly, and the size of his spectacles, were not unconnected.

Some older spectacles from the 18th century were round rather than oval, and therefore look larger. For example: http://www.eyeglasseswarehouse.com/2159-18.html or http://www.eyeglasseswarehouse.com/2199-02.html or hover over images here: http://www.antiquespectacles.com/topics/cases/cases.htm#

An old man, with round glasses that he'd worn most of his life, might indeed look quaint to someone used to seeing the newer oval lenses.


What are you looking at for prices? Locally (rural Ohio), a store daybook sold them for 40 cents with case in 1860, and 40 cents and 50 cents in 1863. Comparatively speaking, that's less than most items of clothing, somewhere around half the price of a shirt.

Hank Trent
hanktrent@gmail.com


I suspect you're right :) The second link you posted had dimensions of 1.5" in diameter, which isn't "huge" compared to my 1.25" by 1.5" ovals, but it might have seemed that way. And in doing a search on Google Books for "round spectacles" 1850-1870, it looked like the first twenty hits without exception associated round glasses (sometimes "great" or "huge") with old people. It seems almost as much a signifier as wrinkles or gray hair.

As far as prices, I'm glad you pointed out how affordable they were. What's interesting though, is that the prices today make them one relic that's sometimes cheaper now than it was then.

Abrams
09-04-2009, 02:14 PM
I bought a pair of frames from the website Hank mentioned. http://www.eyeglasseswarehouse.com/index.html

They were indeed reasonable by today's standards, and Walmart was able to put my prescription in them for only a $25 special charge (in addition to my normal prescription fee) for the unusual shape and size. I have just over $100 in them, and that is mainly because of the lenses. I believe I paid about $30 for the frames themselves.

David Fox
09-04-2009, 04:33 PM
Re: expense of eye glasses in 1860s. Are the prices quoted for frames and prescription lenses? I'm amazed one could have both for $.50.

Pvt Schnapps
09-04-2009, 04:45 PM
Fifty cents could be a lot of money, depending on how you measure it. I favor using the unskilled wage to get relative costs, which would put a pair of reading glasses at around $70.

Check out: http://www.measuringworth.com/calculators/uscompare/result.php

In 2008, $1.00 from 1863 is worth:

$17.69 using the Consumer Price Index
$14.40 using the GDP deflator
$141.40 using the unskilled wage
$209.02 using the nominal GDP per capita
$1,894.06 using the relative share of GDP

Hank Trent
09-04-2009, 06:17 PM
Re: expense of eye glasses in 1860s. Are the prices quoted for frames and prescription lenses? I'm amazed one could have both for $.50.

That's all the description that's listed in the daybook, but common sense suggests they would include the lenses. They were sold at a general store in a small town, far from any optician. You can still buy ready-made reading glasses in any small-town drug store (I'm wearing a pair right now), and they run about $15-$20 today, which seems a reasonably comparative price, based on the CPI that Herr Schnapps quoted.

Wages were lower or goods were higher, depending on how you look at it, so it took longer for the average person to earn a pair of glasses in the 1860s than it would today, but it took longer to earn everything.

Hank Trent
hanktrent@gmail.com

Bruleif
10-22-2011, 05:42 PM
Thanks for the great information. As a re-enactor who has to wear glasses to see anything, it's great to find this info. I wear bifocals. What are the chances that after I get the authentic-looking frames I will NOT be able to get the lenses that will fit inside them?

Thanks

Leif Johnson
Mesa, Arizona
Pvt. 71 PA Volunteer Infantry Regiment
Member, Friends of Gettysburg

DougStrong
01-07-2012, 01:19 PM
This is my first post here and I really like what i have read while lurking. I finally decided to join. I do a slightly post civil war (ca. 1870) impression of an aged civil war vet still serving on the western fronteer if that matters to you all. Unfortunately I blind as a bat and cannot wear contacts. I have gone without in the past but my eyes are getting worse.


What is the prevailing opinion of those McAllisters? http://www.focusers.com/mcallister.html or the ones from Eyeglass Warehouse? http://www.eyeglasseswarehouse.com/pages/civilwar.html
Do other authenticity minded reenacters find them to be good? Do they look the part or are they too modern? I would prefer to own modern made frames if at all possible rather than altering an original.

I would greatly appreciate your feedback.

mrbreeze
04-11-2013, 01:36 PM
Rob - I have just joined the 5th NHV and need to find some of the Period frames to get to my optomatrist. I printed your file but cannot make out the descriptions very well. Could you possibly (or someone) help by identifying the frames appropriate for 1861...with an X or something? Then I can go hunting the local antique shops feeling confident that I know what to look for.

Many Thanks