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  1. #1
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    Civil War Era Eyeglasses: By: John A. Braden

    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



    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.




    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).



    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.



    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)
    Attached Images Attached Images
    Last edited by paulcalloway; 01-02-2007 at 04:04 PM. Reason: Adding images
    Paul Calloway
    Proudest Member of the Tar Water Mess
    Proud Member of the GHTI
    Member, Civil War Preservation Trust
    Wayne #25, F&AM

  2. #2
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    Re: Civil War Era Eyeglasses: By: John A. Braden

    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.
    Paul Calloway
    Proudest Member of the Tar Water Mess
    Proud Member of the GHTI
    Member, Civil War Preservation Trust
    Wayne #25, F&AM

  3. #3
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    Aug 2006
    Location
    Central New York
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    Re: Civil War Era Eyeglasses: By: John A. Braden

    Another good essay here:
    Attached Files Attached Files
    Yours most respectfully, your obedient servant,

    R. L. ("Rob") Griffiths.
    Member, Civil War Preservation Trust.
    Authentic Campaigner member since November 10th, 2004.

    "I am not aware of ever having used a profane expletive in my life, but I would have the charity to excuse those who may have done so, if they were in charge of a train of Mexican pack mules at the time." - U. S. Grant.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Dec 2007
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    Hall of fame city, Ohio
    Posts
    37

    Re: Civil War Era Eyeglasses: By: John A. Braden

    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

  5. #5
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    Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan
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    Re: Civil War Era Eyeglasses: By: John A. Braden

    Richard Knack

  6. #6
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    Aug 2006
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    Re: Civil War Era Eyeglasses: By: John A. Braden

    Use original frames if you have them, and if they fit. Most of them are way to narrow for me.
    Yours most respectfully, your obedient servant,

    R. L. ("Rob") Griffiths.
    Member, Civil War Preservation Trust.
    Authentic Campaigner member since November 10th, 2004.

    "I am not aware of ever having used a profane expletive in my life, but I would have the charity to excuse those who may have done so, if they were in charge of a train of Mexican pack mules at the time." - U. S. Grant.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Aug 2004
    Location
    Brandon, FL
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    Re: Civil War Era Eyeglasses: By: John A. Braden

    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.
    Ross L. Lamoreaux
    rlamoreaux@tampabayhistorycenter.org


    "...and if profanity was included in the course of study at West Point, I am sure that the Army of the Cumberland had their share of the prize scholars in this branch." - B.F. Scribner, 38th Indiana Vol Inf

  8. #8
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    May 2008
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    Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan
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    Re: Civil War Era Eyeglasses: By: John A. Braden

    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...m=220274207269
    Richard Knack

  9. #9
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    Jan 2008
    Location
    Tennessee, United States
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    954

    Re: Civil War Era Eyeglasses: By: John A. Braden

    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!
    Luke Gilly
    Breckinridge Greys
    Lodge 661 F&AM


    "May the grass grow long on the road to hell." --an Irish toast

  10. #10
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    May 2008
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    Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan
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    Re: Civil War Era Eyeglasses: By: John A. Braden

    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.
    Richard Knack

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