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Early Victorian Eyeglasses; what did Kate Tattersall wear?

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Eyeglasses in various forms date back to the 1200s. By the 1850s they had evolved into a wide array of styles and many of the wealthy enjoyed wearing intricate versions. These spectacles were made with many different materials. Some were corrective, some for protection, and some just decorative.

Rimless with tortoise shell templepads

Tortoiseshell rims with tinted lenses

Pince-nez with black lenses


Most frames that have survived are of silver alloys, sometimes with gold. The spring wire arms people think of didn’t appear until the 1880s, previous to then arms were often hinged like the examples above, or just straight, or none as in the pince-nez (French for pinch-nose).

There were eyeglasses specifically made for certain uses. A good example would be shooting spectacles.

Shooting glasses with yellow smoked lenses in silver frames


Cinder glasses, 1850

With the ever growing popularity of rail travel in the 1840s cinder goggles were mass produced. Originally for the engineers, but then also for passengers because the cars didn’t have glass in the windows (third class didn’t even have roofs). Clothing sometimes caught on fire as coal sparks would blow in from the chimney. To get a hot cinder in your eye would certainly be painful. The highest class cars were the furthest back on the trains, and the first to receive glass in the windows.

When there was a fear of the glasses falling off a strap or string would be used to secure them in place. Straps were made of leather or elastic.*

What did Kate Tattersall’s goggles look like? She wrote of having large bright eyes and cherishing them, and of wearing protective lenses often for shooting and to shield against dust. She described several different pairs as having a strap, being padded for comfort and seal, with smoky yellow to black lenses. Unfortunately we don’t have an example of them in our collection of family heirlooms.

If you would like to see more photos of eyeglasses from the 1800s, I can recommend this site:

* Thomas Hancock patented elastic fastenings for gloves, suspenders, shoes and stockings in 1820. By the 1850s it was used for almost everything we do today.


Kate Tattersall Adventures in China

Kate Tattersall Adventures in China, Spring to Autumn 1849.

Available for purchase from these fine vendors: (Canada) (Japan) (USA) (UK) (Germany) (France)

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