Last month I discussed what the nearsighted young ladies of the 19th century did to avoid walking into walls and other people (though walking into a handsome young earl wouldn’t have been such a bad thing!). This week, I thought it would fun to take a closer look at quizzing glasses and lorgnettes.
Remember what quizzing glasses are? Those small lenses worn as a piece of jewelry round the neck for when the wearer wished to have a better look at something (say, a handsome young earl coming into the ballroom)? Well, here you go: This one dates to about 1820 and is made of silver, with decorative scrollwork around its rim and a simple twisted loop handle. It measures a little under three inches long. It came with a small leather holder, which suggests it might have resided in someone’s pocket or reticule for occasional use rather than being worn around the neck on a ribbon or chain. Interestingly, the glass is held in with a screw (you can just see where it fits in, between the small loop and the lens frame) so that it could be changed; the one in there works well as a magnifying glass, so maybe the owner used it for reading.
And then there’s the lorgnette, or specs on a stick. These appear to be a nice sturdy brass, about five and a half inches long with the lenses about an inch and a quarter across. But wait! you’re saying. Where’s the other lens?
Well, this is pretty slick. See the small rings around the handle near the small loop at the end of the handle? They’re actually a latch: if you slide them down just a little, a catch releases and voila! The second lens is released and swivels out. This certainly makes it less awkward to wear them on a necklace. There’s some pretty ornamentation on the nose bridge as you can see in the second photo, and like the quizzing glass above, the lenses can be changed.
And just as a side note, I noticed a gent (the one in the green coat, peering at the horses) wearing specs in this 1820 illustration by Cruikshank from Pierce Egan’s well-known Life in London, or The Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorn, Esq. and his Elegant Friend Corinthian Tom in Their Rambles and Sprees through the Metropolis. Tom and Jerry weren’t the only ones making a spectacle of themselves at this time.