Eyeglass styles change while keeping world in focus

Eyeglass styles change while keeping world in focus By Bob Karolevitz For 53 years I've been wearing eyeglasses. (They called them spectacles in the old days.)

I got them when I flunked a Marine physical. I could read the big E at the top of the chart. The lower letters are the ones that gave me the trouble.

Since 1943 I've graduated to bifocals and then tri-s. Thank goodness they don't have fourfocals!

Those of us who wear glasses share a variety of aggravations. They pinch our nose. They hurt behind the ears. They smudge a lot, and the lens keeps falling out.

But when you squint � or your arms aren't long enough � you have to do something about it.

Spectacles, they say, have been around since the 10th century when the Chinese put magnifying glasses in frames, probably to read their fortune cookies. They also get credit for tortoise shell frames because the big turtles were supposed to bring them great riches and a long life. Tortoise shell frames were so fashionable, it seems, that wealthy Chinese even wore them without lenses.

A early as 1267 Roger Bacon, the English monk-philosopher, wrote about lenses for weak-sighted people. Three years later Marco Polo said he saw eyeglasses in the court of Kublai Khan.

Since I'm on a history kick, I should tell you that St. Jerome became the patron of the spectacle-makers' guild when, in 1480, an Italian artist painted his portrait with eyeglasses dangling down from his desk. That was after Johann Gutenberg invented moveable type printing, so St. Jerome might have used his specks to read the Bible.

Actually, it was Gutenberg's invention in the mid-1400s that gave the spectacle-makers a big market. People started to read more, and strolling street vendors peddled glasses to them until optical stores got into the act.

As long as I'm telling you more than you ever wanted to know, I'll throw in the fact that monocles were supposedly invented in 1727 by Baron Philip Von Stosch, a German who had eyes of unequal vision.

And in 1784 Benjamin Franklin made the first bifocals by cutting the lenses of two different pairs of spectacles in half and fitting them in a frame. Then he wrote to a friend: "I have only to move my eyes up or down … to see distinctly far or near."

Eyeglass styles change even more than neckties. I still have my steel-frame GI pair, and for a long time I wore horn rims like Drew Carey. However, I never got caught up in the tortoise shell fad. Nowadays you're nobody if you don't have a pair designed by Christian Dior or even Laura Ashley.

Incidentally, George Washington wore four-sided lenses in steel frames, which might have been fashionable in his day but they haven't been in vogue since then. Not yet, anyway.

I remember when you couldn't hit anyone wearing glasses; instead, you called them uncomplimentary names like "Four Eyes." That's when they took off their glasses and hit YOU!

Way back in the early 1500s, that genius-of-all-trades, Leonardo da Vinci actually made drawings of his idea for contact lenses. However, it was some four hundred years or more before they became practical � and stopped basketball games when everyone got down on hands and knees to look for one that popped out of the eye of some near-sighted athlete.

I suppose I should try contacts myself, now that they're making them in colors to match the clothes you wear. On the other hand, I think I'll just stick with my regular specks, at least until the George Washington quads become popular again.

© 2000 Robert F. Karolevitz

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