Monday, May 4, 2015

Spectacles Throughout Time: The Enchanting Evolution of Eyeglasses

Glasses are an everyday sight that we take for granted and many people continue to use them in order to help with their vision, although the humble spectacle has had to keep pace with evolution.
Here is a look at some interesting facts and milestones relating to glasses and a glimpse into what the future holds for what so many of us rely on to help with our eyesight.

(photo source:

Early history
It is probably fair to say that the early history of image magnification is about as blurred as your vision can sometimes be without the aid of a pair of spectacles.
An English Friar noted in his writings around 1268 that letters could be seen more clearly and appeared larger to the eye when viewed through less than half a sphere of glass. This experiment was confirmation of a much earlier principle regarding the convex lens.
An Arabian mathematician by the name of Alhazen, discovered way back in about the year 1000 that the convex lens had the ability to assist weak eyes and earned him the tag of the Father of modern optics.
There is evidence of medieval glassworkers in Venice producing what can be described as discs for the eyes, and the idea of spectacles started to gather momentum.
Earliest glasses
A 15th century pair of glasses were discovered under the floorboards of the nuns choir stalls when a church was being renovated in Germany, although they were an incomplete pair, which is not surprising given their age.
Subsequent findings in other parts of Europe such as London and the Netherlands revealed some complete pairs, although none are older than the 15th century, but still excellent evidence that this time in history marked the true advent of spectacle-wearing.
By the time we reached the mid 1660’s, spectacles were considered to be a status symbol and a sign of superior intelligence and ability and by the 17th century you could even get tinted lenses. The oldest existing spectacle case in the world was discovered in 1982 and dates from the 14th century.
So we have been using glasses and probably misplacing our spectacles and their cases for centuries.
Interesting to know
According to some historians, the Roman Emperor Nero used an emerald as a binocular so that he could see more closely what was going on in during gladiator games.
The very first prescription lenses can be traced back to Italy in the 13th century and because they were placed directly on the eye, you could argue that these were even the first contact lenses ever used.
American President Benjamin Franklin is believed to be the first ever recipient of bi-focal lenses, which were created to deal with the fact that he was short-sighted as well as farsighted.
The future
Glasses have been with us for a very long time and will probably continue to play their part in helping to correct our vision problems.
New technologies such as laser eye surgery, which you can find out about here, as well as innovations using nanotechnology, will continue the story of how we correct our vision in the future.
The question is, what will historians find thousands of years from now, that may be evidence of a new discovery, or will they find an ancient pair of glasses from the year 2015?

Finlay Henry works as an admin for an ophthalmologist. He enjoys sharing his insights online. His articles can be found on many health and lifestyle websites.