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Eyeglasses-A Brief Historical Account


Though many credit Alessandro di Spina with introducing glasses in Italy, there are earlier accounts of various forms of magnifying lenses to aide in reading and writing far before this time.  A review of historical accounts, works of art, and other such telling documents, provides a loose timeline of the history of glasses.

Circa the year 1,000, monks used ground crystalline pieces referred to as ‘reading stones’.

Roger Bacon, the English philosopher explored the use of ground lenses and documented his findings in his Opus Majus in 1268.

In the year 1298, glasses were mentioned in an Italian manuscript entitled “Traite de con uite de la famille” by Sandra di Popozo. Di Popozo proclaimed that despite the fact that his age was causing him weak eyesight, he was able to read and write thanks to a new invention called spectacles.

Glasses Manufacturing

The first eyeglasses that came out during 1286, or the Medieval Period, were two pieces of glass or crystal stones. These were framed and did not sit on the face, but instead were supported by a handle so that the glasses could be held close to the face.

It is also interesting to note that during the time eyeglasses were being used in Italy, glass production was at its peak in Venice. Just a few years before eyeglasses were first introduced, Venetian crystal workers formed a guild, which later on developed a set of guidelines for manufacturing eyeglasses. These eyeglasses were rendered in a painting by Tommaso de Modena during the year 1352.


During the sixteen hundreds, Spanish eyeglass manufacturers attached silk ribbons to the frames, which could be placed around the ears. Meanwhile in China, ceramic and metal weights were attached to the strings.

It was not until 1730 that Dr. Edward Scarlett developed sidepieces that were sturdy enough to be placed on top of the ears.


Britannica Online Encyclopedia

Petersen, Julie
Handbook of Surveillance Technologies
3rd ed. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 2012. Print.


Expert Opinion

Quote: “In 1268 Roger Bacon made the earliest recorded comment on the use of lenses for optical purposes, but magnifying lenses inserted in frames were used for reading both in Europe and China at this time, and it is a matter of controversy whether the West learned from the East or vice versa. In Europe eyeglasses first appeared in Italy, their introduction being attributed to Alessandro di Spina of Florence.”

Source: Eyeglasses, Encyclopedia Britannica.

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