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The History of Glasses and Spectacles


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The UK population is becoming more and more reliant on glasses, 66% of the population are glasses wearers and yet there is no definite reference to who invented glasses.

Egyptian hieroglyphics from 500 BC, show the use of a basic lens and this is believed to be the earliest reference to the use of lenses to help improve vision. More conclusive evidence suggests that during one of Marco Polo's explorations into China and the Far East, he is believed to have observed the Chinese wearing glasses, but there are also reports that the European monks and scholars were wearing spectacles at this point, approximately dated to 1270, although this usage is clearly not widespread. The history of glasses in Europe can be traced back to Salvino D’Armate, an Italian inventor, who is thought to have created glasses between 1280 and 1300, but this is after references to monks in 1270. The Chinese also claim that spectacles were invented in the 11th century and imported to China from Arabia.

Illiteracy levels would still have been very high when glasses were first introduced to England, with only the upper classes and aristocracy enjoying an education, so the need for reading glasses would have been scarce. However, the invention of the printing press in 1452 contributed to the need for greater production of reading glasses. The increased amount of literature, available at much cheaper costs, brought about the rise in the need for spectacles amongst the middle classes. The lenses were quite expensive, but the cost of the glasses was reduced as the frames were produced from leather, wood and steel. Ornate gold and silver frames, often embeded with precious stones were the frame of choice for the upper class.

There were a vast number of advancements in the design of glasses throughout the 16th and 18th centuries, not only was the quality of glass improved, helping to create more accurate lenses, but the design of frames was also developed, with quizzing glasses, single lens monocles, scissor glasses and temple glasses introduced to the market. The next significant breakthrough was the invention of bifocals, invented by Benjamin Franklin. Theodore Roosevelt wore trifocals, making them a very popular glasses choice in the late 1800s.

Technological advancements have continued with high quality, durable lenses being created in plastics, with protective coatings ensuring that lenses last longer. The development in plastics and glass manufacturing also means that lenses are considerably thinner nowadays and this has brought about the use of glasses as a pure fashion accessory, with plain, un-curved lenses being inserted into frames. Frame styles have become an important fashion statement and are often featured in catwalk shows, with many leading designers adding glasses frames to their ever increasing line of products.


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