All About Lorgnettes: 1886-7, 1923

Guilloche enamel and diamond lorgnette c. 1910 http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/22468/lot/64/

ALL ABOUT LORGNETTES

Their use Enables a Lady to Display Her Bracelets and Shapely Arm.

Merely a Graceful Affectation Quite as Often Intended for Ornament as Use.

Opera Glasses in Rich and Beautiful Designs

Celebrated Makers and Their Productions.

TWO LOVELY BLACK EYES

An opera without a pair of glasses is like pudding without sauce, salad without dressing, or a marriage without a wedding. Even the baldies in the first three rows enjoy the ballet and premiers better when fortified with a Lemaire or Verdi, and the lovers of music get double pleasure running over the audience between the acts with a seventeen line lens. A society woman would no more think of attending a play or opera without a pair of glasses than of dispensing with her fan or gloves. She may not use it much, but must have it to toy with if nothing more, for it helps her to display her suede and bracelets and is a decided aid to grace, as the bouquet may be wet enough to soil the gloves and the fan too frail for convenience. Let her forget the pretty pearl bound pebbles, and she would call the gentleman in her party “monster!” and cut him dead the next day if he neglected to hire a pair from the opera-glass boy.

There is nothing newer than the lorgnette which has been the rage among fashionable ladies for a couple of years. As the cut shows, the lorgnette is nothing more than a pair of spectacles attached to a handsomely carved stick. It is a mistaken idea to think that the lorgnette is intended as a n opera-glass, properly focused and polished for long distances. It is merely a graceful affectation, quite as often intended for ornament as use. Ladies like them because they are a pretty and pleasing oddity, designed to exhibit a beautiful hand, a well-turned wrist, or nicely-modeled arm. Ladies who have old or weak eyes often select the lorgnette as a dress-spectacle, suspending them from a chatelaine and using them at church, over hymnal or litany, while calling, shopping, or promenading, to read the casual card, sign or address, and to make change with, in which case the glass is fitted to the eye by an oculist and framed in shell or metal by the jeweler.

Among the fashionables the fad is simply a foil to the eye-glass solitaire, and considered very English, don’t you know? For this stylish use the holes are set with clear white glass that has no more magnifying influence than a window-pane. These harmless pebbles are found in all styles of sticks. Tortoise is the most popular and varies in price from $12 to $20, according to the amount of work on the shell; gold-mounted lorgnettes in the Roman metal range from $40 to $60, and the silver sticks, in repousse, are worth $60, while double that figure is charged for enamelling. There is no mistake about it, these lorgnettes are “sweet things.” Put in the hand of a pretty woman at an opera or an art gallery the looker on is lost in admiration, and sees nothing but the artful creature—her dainty arms, upturned eyes, graceful throat, and charmingly posed head. One look from these long-handled glasses will wither a saucy clerk, a presumptuous dude, or an insolent servant. You can argue with them; flirt, play, read or paint with them; laugh or sing with them,, and be doubly gracious, charming, and effective.

There are widows and belles in society who wear the lorgnette without any glasses, and succeed in doing double the mischief they could otherwise accomplish. It may interest some of the sleepy dames on the West Side and up along the Evanston shore to know that the lorgnette is as common as the vinaigrette in the East. At Tuxedo the men have eye glasses, and the ladies stare back at them through silver and shell lorgnettes. A few Newport belles wear an eye glass even to the dance, but the majority affect the carved stick. In season the fat dowagers and the slim spinsters with quince-color complexions never dream of taking the red rock or vichy waters of Saratoga without putting up their glasses.

 

In opera glasses there are styles by the dozen from which to select. Pearl mountings are passé. The smoked pearl which has enjoyed such splendid popularity is less stylish than the pure white mother of pearl, mounted throughout—casing, slide, bridge and rim; and neither is comparable to the silver bound glass, the Prince of Wales’ choice. The design shown above represents one of the finest Bordou pebbles mounted in sterling silver, exquisitely carved from an Alhambra frieze. The glass is worth $62, but there are cheaper goods that will give just as good satisfaction. After the silver comes the brass glass, treated with black lacquer and bound in seal leather, which may be had as low as $4. There is a Bosch glass for that price, which an emperor might rejoice to own. Aluminium glasses, mounted in alligator or snake skin, sell at $25 and are just the thing for gentlemen, and very popular with the Eastern fellows. The charm of these leather and aluminium glasses is their extreme lightness. Actually you can float a pair in fresh water.

French enamel opera glasses c. 1900 http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/20172/lot/92/

The most artistic glasses are mounted in porcelain and gold, and delicately enameled to represent a sylvan or ball-room scene. A glass of this kind may be bought for $22, because there is little call for the style just now.

Pocket glasses in black leather are worth $18, and those in mother of pearl sell for $15. They are distinctly a club man’s luxury, to be carried in the vest pocket to look at pretty women in the surf, across the street, at the piano, or gliding round the rink.

Miniature Bardou telescope, Second quarter of the 19th century. http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/21932/lot/152/

And now a word about the different brands. The Bardou & Sons is the best glass ever put upon the market, and the very one that buyers are most likely to know nothing about, for the reason that the bulk of the trade is controlled by Berlin and Vienna dealers, only a few lenses getting into American markets. The glasses are very powerful, being so carefully centered and highly polished as to strain the eyes after a brief usage. In their construction the manufacturers designed them for quick, short sights, and made no provision for those curious theater-goers who surfeit the eye, and exhaust the subject by a continuous focus. They are the highest-priced glasses in trade, but a poor one is never permitted to leave the factory.

The next best, but the most popular glass, is the Lemaire, of Paris. There are two qualities, and the buyer needs to have his wits about him unless he is amiable enough to take what is offered, pay his money, and smile away.

It is a waste of money to buy a glass of less than thirteen lines, as the field is too small. For that reason vest-pocket styles are rarely satisfactory, because it is impossible to get the proper power in so small a glass. Trying to cover a stage or beach with a lens having the surface of a silver dime is as difficult as viewing a multitude through a key-hole.

The great objection to the aluminium is its yielding quality, the slightest bend or twist being sufficient to double or blur the vision. This defect may be produced by sitting on the glass or by a slight blow, and only an oculist will be able to reset or rebend the frame. With the brass mounting accidents of this sort never occur.

Daily Inter Ocean [Chicago IL] 20 November 1887: p. 21

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil previously reported on spirit-filled opera glasses, carried by persons of irregular habits who should have been refused admission at the door.

Lorgnettes were seen as an affectation when they first became popular.

A FASHIONABLE FOLLY.

Long-Handled Eye Glasses and the Dudines Who Buy and Use Them.

“Will you kindly let me see some of your tortoise shell lorgnettes?” languidly inquired a fashionably dressed young lady the other day as she stood before the counter in a leading optician’s store on Chestnut street and looked the clerk steadily in the eye.

“Beg pardon, do you mean opera glasses or eye glasses?” asked the clerk.

“Eye glasses.”

Thereupon the clerk produced a large box in which was an assortment of the most absurd specimens of the opticians handiwork ever sold for failing eyesight. They were lorgnette eye-glasses, so-called because like the ordinary opera or field glasses, they have to be continually held to the eyes while in use. The eyeglass part is shaped like a pair of spectacles except that instead of two bows to go back over the ears there is a long handle to be held in the hand. Ultra-fashionable people have decided that these are the proper things and in consequence spectacles double eye glasses and even the single eye-glass or “quiz” have been relegated to the use of the vulgar herd. The young lady mentioned bought one of the “lorgnettes,” and went out of the store after paying a ten dollar bill for her purchase.

“Do you sell many of those things?” was asked of the optician.

“Quantities,” he answered, “and the sale of them is constantly increasing. The ‘lorgnettes were introduced from England about two years ago, but it is only lately that there has been anything of a fashionable craze for them. They are the most ridiculous thing in the way of eye-glasses I ever saw. They are clumsy, and one has to hold them up to the eyes whenever they are used, which becomes quite tiresome in time. I sell them to young ladies mostly although their mothers buy them too. They hold them to their eyes with a Lady Clara Vere de Vere air and try to look haughty and well-bred. My observation is that only women with very shallow brain pans use lorgnettes. Many order plain glasses in them and extra-long handles. The longer the handle the more stunning the effect and the shallower the brain…At home the lorgnette users are glad enough to wear spectacles or eye glasses which further goes to prove that the newfangled arrangement is only another of Dame Fashion’s freaks.” Cincinnati [OH] Commercial Tribune 10 November 1886: p. 6

The lorgnette fad returned, along with a renewed enthusiasm for fans, in the 1920s.

OLD FASHION LORGNETTE NEW CRAZE IN LONDON

London, July 28. There seems to be craze for the old-fashioned lorgnette among young women in London at present. It has, in the last few weeks, becoming increasingly rare for a girl to wear spectacles, even of horn, in the ball-room. The modern short-sighted beauty prefers the lorgnette of her grandmother, which she can fold and put away in her vanity bag or hang fanwise over the arm of her partner while she is dancing.

Dancing in the ballroom of the Savoy Hotel last night were several American women how had adopted the lorgnette, among them Miss Mabel Forve of Los Angeles, using one which had square eye pieces and a microscopic handle, one inch in length. Mrs. James Louis of Brooklyn used a lorgnette which had a handle no less than two feet in length; the eye pieces were oblong. Mrs. M.A. Monohan of Chicago had a pair which were heavily encrusted with precious stones and must have been worth a small fortune. Dallas [TX] Morning News 29 July 1923: p. 4

One would think that a handle two feet in length was a reflection of its user’s eccentricity, but perhaps the lady, like so many persons in middle age, needed to hold her lenses at some distance from the object of inspection.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

 

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “All About Lorgnettes: 1886-7, 1923

    1. chriswoodyard Post author

      Lorgnettes seem to have always been the preferred accessory for the Haughty. Now, of course, the Haughty have sun-glasses that cost more than a London flat…. The US President does seem to have the requisite squinting-down-one’s-nose expression much of the time. Perhaps an oculist or a good lorgnette might help.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s