Spectacles through the ages and period inaccuracies

medieval eyeglasses -The 'Glasses Apostle' by Conrad von Soest (1403)Spectacles through the ages and period inaccuracies

By Glyn Walsh

Optometry Today, Vol.41 (2001)

Introduction: Not all producers of historical shows require the same degree of accuracy. For example, a battle re-enactment society or a theatre company may only need to look authentic at a distance. However, a considerable proportion of re-enactors, along with period cinema and television producers, require props that look correct close up. At the same time, a smaller number of purists will require an item which is as close as possible to being exactly correct for the period.

A major problem with period spectacles is that many of the activities for which they are used are hazardous. This puts the practitioner in an awkward situation – modern safety spectacles are unacceptable. How many times have we all seen workers in historical theme parks breaking protective eyewear regulations on television. However, there are no period safety spectacles meeting current regulations. The position of a practitioner supplying something, which is better than the only alternative of nothing, is unclear – although any pretence that they offer a worthwhile degree of eye protection (even if they do) is probably unwise.

Most re-enactment, and indeed theatre, represents periods in which spectacles were available. It would be easy to flood the market with a small number of designs – every spectacle-wearing re-enactor I have ever met has asked whether an appropriate pair can be made for them. Potentially, there is an untapped market here possibly running into the tens of thousands.

Although many will not require spectacles or will wear contact lenses, the number for whom spectacles are more convenient, safer or even mandatory (but at present ignored) remains significant. For theatre and television, the figures are much less predictable as it depends on what is being produced and where – but must be considerable nonetheless.

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