Oh say! Can you see?!

Posted Mar 12 2018, 3:11 pm


Greetings, Klatchers! Yep, me again with another lil’ historical tidbit for everyone…   They were small. They were decidedly feminine. They offered just enough magnification to read a handbill. What am I chatting about? Why, a LORGNETTE [pronounced: lôrn-yĕt′], of course. And unlike today’s eyewear, the small spectacles were the ‘forerunners’ of the soon-to-follow opera glasses. The lorgnette was held in ‘front’ of a lady’s eyes via a simple frame that bore a pair of lenses attached to an elegant handle on one side. The rather unique name is derived from the French word “lorgner” [to take a sidelong glance] & “lorgne” [squinting].


Although crafted way back in 1770 by optician & microscope inventor, George Adams I, ’twas his son who truly expanded on the idea as a fashion essential in his writings titled: “Essay on Vision” where the lorgnette was described as ‘a kind of substitute for spectacles”. 











The earliest models have handles rarely longer than the width of the glasses & they fit neatly in the hand or clipped onto a chatelaine. But the popularity of this invention reached its apex during the Victorian years when long elegant handles arrived.


You see, at the time, wearing glasses detracted from a lady’s ‘beauty’, thus, the invention of the lorgnette. The desire of all single, ‘blind-as-a-bat’ debutantes who attended the opera [or other grand affair] was to catch the gaze of a potential beau. Indeed, he would sweep the room & the glint of the eye-piece would catch his attention. Then, the comely lass would fold the glasses back inside her lorgnette & be able to ‘flirt’ with the suitor from across a crowded room. Made from brass, solid gold, ivory, tortoiseshell & all other materials, even Mary Todd Lincoln owned a pair. Eventually, the lorgnette was replaced by the introduction/creation of small, yet elegant opera binoculars, but some of the older ladies used them forever. So the next time you’re at a play, the opera or even a sporting event & pull out the binocs…now YOU know how they began.


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