Spectacles of Well Known People in History

Portrait of Mrs. Chase of South Dennis, MA, by William Prior, 1844, Fruitlands
Portrait of Mrs. Chase of South Dennis, MA, by William Prior, 1844, Fruitlands
John Winslow-anonymous, circa 1810, Pilgrim Hall Museum
John Winslow-anonymous, circa 1810, Pilgrim Hall Museum
Self-portrait of Anna Therbusch, circa 1780, with her well-known spina-frontalis-monocle, Schlossmuseum
 Self-portrait of Anna Therbusch, circa 1780, with her well-known spina-frontalis-monocle, Schlossmuseum
anonymous, circa 1810
anonymous, circa 1810
Abner Bennett Wheeler,M.D., circa 1840, Framingham Historical Society
Abner Bennett Wheeler,M.D., circa 1840, Framingham Historical Society

+ Larger Font | - Smaller Font

We are very fortunate that the personal vision aids of many important individuals have been preserved at institutions and in private collections. Much insight into the development of eyewear during specific time periods can be gained by reviewing examples which have known dates of use. Provenance information associated with the numerous examples presented here is assumed to be mostly correct. It has been difficult to establish in several cases and for some of the others listed, it has not been 100% proven. We have basically tried to confirm that each object and its provenance is believable based at least in part on the known date of death of each person. Hopefully any related information also seems correct. We do know that the more famous the person, the more objects which seem to appear over time following his/her death. We have chosen to believe everything that appears below. Kindly write in if you have questions, concerns, or other knowledge which might be useful in the regard. The advantage of a website is that it is “alive” and can always be updated and corrected. For comparison you are invited to visit “Treasures - Mistaken” where the dates or descriptions unfortunately appear to be false.

Many of the descriptions specifically under the heading “Contributions” have been taken directly from Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia. This is an excellent resource and is very highly recommended for others to use. Included below also are known examples of spectacles used by several American Presidents. The eyewear of these famous individuals will likely appear again on this same website but under a different key heading.

Certainly there must be other examples (out there) of noted leaders or famous people whose lives and accomplishments have impacted mankind during the past five hundred years of history. If you are aware of any examples which might belong on this page, kindly email the website and we will actively pursue any available information as well as the appropriate image. The Vatican Museum does not have any rivet spectacles. But we hope that their curators will eventually appreciate our international educational efforts here. Any discoveries in this realm would be considered world-class treasures and if objects of this nature are ever displayed on their Vatican Museum website we will link to these images in order to present this to our visitors also.

Early descriptions of eyeglasses are present when one reviews the literature but the objects listed below have apparently never surfaced. The earliest ones on this list (likely Rivet Spectacles) include the following:

1282 - a priest named Nicolas Bullet is mentioned in the archives in the Abbey of Saint-Bavon-le-Grand in France to have used spectacles to sign an agreement
1316 - Arnaldo, Dominican Bishop of Bologna – evidently bought a pair of eyeglasses and case for six Bolognese soldi.
1320 - Margarita de Arras – eyeglasses were mentioned in her will
1322 – Antonio degli Orsi, Bishop of Florence, eyeglasses framed in gilded silver were listed in his inventory of possessions.
1326 - Walter de Stapeldon, Bishop of Exeter - rivet spectacles were in his inventory, possibly a gift from Rome
1329 - An official complaint lodged by a notary from Bibbiena from eastern Tuscany included a pair of eyeglasses purchased in Florence which had been stolen from him.
John Lydgate (?1370-1440) was among the first English poets to wear spectacles
1365 Bishop Giovanna di Magnavia of Orvieto had crystal glasses framed in gilded copper with a case and also one framed in black bone with a case.
1372 - The Queen of France - mentioned in her will
1379 - Charles V - he bequeathed two pair in a silver carrying case
1385 Augustinian Convent of Santa Maria del Fiore near Florence bought four pairs of glass lenses for spectacles
1416 - William Hugham – spectacles were noted in his will
1423 - Henry Bowet, Archbishop of York – evidently had silver gilt spectacles
1428-1431 - A Kings Lynn customs official searching local merchant ships recorded the contents of a barrel of hardware goods including 12 vitri pro spectaculis valued at 5d.
1446 - Archbishop Antonius of Florence - he bequeathed his clothes and also his prized possessions, including his eyeglasses
1450 - Vitko Zuimovic - had a silver spectacle case and spectacles
1454 - Queen of France - used a reading glass encased in silver
1463 - John Baret of Bury - eyeglasses were mentioned in his will
1482 - Stanula, widow of Rikard Bozidarevic - auctioned 38 pairs of spectacles
1524 - Margaret of Austria – Berille were mentioned
1547 - Henry VIII - horn spectacles were mentioned in the inventory of his estate.
Also, Saint Philip Neri's horn spectacles date from the 16th century.
Undated In a wedding ceremony in Vienna, the mayor of Padua attracted attention when he “appeared with glasses on his nose”..

Finally one additional point must be stated here. In the course of gathering the images and information for this important webpage, a group of 20th century vision aids have also appeared. Although they are NOT antiques in the strict sense of the word, they are still quite interesting to observe and these are presented at the bottom of this listing. A few have quite fascinating stories as you will notice.

Part One: Birthdates From 1436 to 1710

  • Part Two: Birthdates From 1712 to 1749

  • Part Three: Birthdates From 1749 to 1769

  • Part Four: Birthdates From 1770 to 1805

  • Part Five: Birthdates From 1807 to 1844

  • Part Six: Birthdates From 1845 to 1889

  • Part Seven: Birthdates After 1890


  • Home ] Introduction & News ] History & References ] Identification & Preservation ] Public Collections & Virtual Museum ] Interesting Topics ] Education & Games ] Links ] About Us ]