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The History Of Eyeglasses Cheat Sheet


1200s Italian aristocrats start experimenting with glass lenses.
1700s  Benjamin Martin creates the "Martin Margins"
1750s Benjamin Franklin creates bifocal lenses
1900s  Fashion becomes the name of the game


With so many stylish options available nowadays, it’s easy to forget that the primary function of glasses is - and has always been - to correct vision problems. People have suffered from poor eyesight since the beginning of time, but when were glasses first used to remedy this common ailment? Let’s take a quick look at the spectacular history of eyeglasses.

Ancient Times

Though likely inspired by Chinese inventors, the Romans are credited with discovering that glass could aid magnification. The first eyeglasses are attributed to 13th-century Italy, where wealthy folks commissioned glassblowers to make glass spheres - when placed against small text, the spheres would make letters and words legible.

Minor advancements were made over the centuries that followed, with discs of glass now being contained within rough wooden frames or straps of leather. While these contraptions were not widely available, nor particularly practical, they certainly would’ve felt like a blessing to the monks using them for hours on end.

Looking Ahead: 18th-Century Innovations

During the Renaissance, glasses became a symbol of status, intelligence and sophistication. As such, they were a must-have accessory for anyone who wanted to be taken seriously in certain circles.

In the first five centuries of their existence, glasses were either handheld or perched precariously on the nose - not an easy feat given the thickness of the lenses! The 1700s, however, finally saw designers use the ears as a way to hold the frames in place. 

By this time, Italy was also no longer at the epicentre of the “glasses world”. An English instrument maker, Benjamin Martin, made waves with his newest eyeglass design Martin’s Margins. These glasses began to address the instability seen in older designs, but his main focus was on the precision and lightness of the lenses.

Another Benjamin made his mark on eyeglass design in the 1750s - Benjamin Franklin. Thanks to a process that began with him sawing his glasses in half, Franklin discovered bifocal lenses, modern versions of which are still in use today. Both inventions paved the way for the eyewear industry to really take off, with the glasses craze spreading worldwide during the mid-18th century.

By the 19th century, the Industrial Revolution and the political upheaval that came with it had allowed for glasses to become available to a much wider audience - glasses, though still expensive, were now not exclusively for the nobility.

Modernity Makes Its Mark

As production became easier in the late-19th and early-20th centuries, designers began focusing just as much on style as they did on functional improvements. What was once a “one style fits all” accessory now became an opportunity to make a fashion statement, thanks to the introduction of more colours, shapes, and patterns. Glasses also became more readily available for children during this time. 

By the early-20th century, tinted glasses - now known as sunglasses - were becoming increasingly popular, both because of their stylishness and the protection they offered against sunlight. Plastic lenses didn’t enter the market until much later, in the 1980s, but with them came a revolutionary improvement in accessibility. As well as making glasses much more affordable, this invention made them infinitely safer for wearers.

Today, those who wear glasses have a vast array of options available to them. If you’re interested in bringing vintage eyeglass styles back into the limelight, you needn’t look any further than Ed & Sarna Vintage Eyewear. We have a diverse range of authentic designer glasses and sunglasses available, all of which can be fitted with prescription lenses if needed. Browse our collection online today or contact us for more information.

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