Chart of Known Examples

Even including the fragments these are all such rare and important objects. The people listed at the bottom of the page have provided information and remarkable digital images for this chart. It is with great pleasure that I acknowledge these individuals for their kind assistance and wonderful support in creating this major chart for this key page or our website.

NO LOCATION DATE OF DISCOVERY MATERIAL DATE GIVEN PHOTO CREDIT TO INFORMATION COMMENT
1

Kloster Wienhausen (near Celle), Germany

In 1953 when the wide oak floorboards were lifted during renovations of the nun’s choir. Located between the seats (purposely hidden or accidently  placed there)

Lindenwood and Beechwood (boxtree)

Mid 14th century, closer to 1330

Type 1 wood frame, Wienhausen Abbey, Germany
Type 2 wood frame, Wienhausen Abbey
Type 3 wood frame, Wienhausen Abbey
Type 3, from the side, Wienhausen Abbey. Notice the two pieces of wood creating a sandwich to hold the lens
Glass lens likely from the 14th century, Wienhausen Abbey. What a single treasure since so few have survived!!

Two complete rivet spectacles (TYPE 1 and TYPE 3), and nine other fragments (including a TYPE 2).  All the lenses were plano-convex. Four leather spectacles were also found. 

Sacred images, scissors, rosaries, and prayer books were also discovered between the floorboards. Described in detail in Zeiss Werkszeitschrift #27, Jan 1958 (Horst Appuhn.

OLDEST SURVIVING EXAMPLES IN THE WORLD

2

Excavations of the Monastery at Alvastra, Sweden

Leader of the excavation was Dr. Otto Froedin and the fragments were discovered between 1922 and 1938

Bone

Probably 15th century; Monastery was founded in 1143, then dissolved just at the beginning of the 16th century. Its heydays were in the 13th – early 15th centuries, when the Bridgettine Abbey of Vadstena became active.

Type 1, Museum of National Antiquities, Stockholm, Sweden. Notice the 7 pieces of bone

Seven fragments without any lenses found in 5 different locations. There is a V-shaped groove in the pieces. In the hole in the little shaft there are traces of corrosion from an iron rivet.  Robert von Sandor, Ph.D. maintained that “the Alvastra spectacles are the oldest spectacles in the world.”. Certainly they were the FIRST EXAMPLE ever uncovered (though fragmented)

Shows that spectacles were in use in Sweden in the High Middle Ages. Now located in the State Museum in Stockholm. These are described but not pictured in Glasoegon I Nordiska museet, 1947 by Otto Ahlstrom

3

Bergen-op-Zoom, The Netherlands ––

Discovered in August 2001, by an archeologist working near the neighborhood of the Grote Kerk (main church)

Oxen bone 

Late 14th – very early 15th century

Type 1 bone frame, without the lenses, photo credit to the Municipal Archeological Department
Note severe deterioration of the glass lenses secondary to prolonged contact with moisture (but they were determined to be biconvex to touch).
Note the groove in the bone for the lens, photo credit to Peter Louwman
Note the riveted hinge

One complete pair (TYPE 1) in superb condition with both convex  lenses opaque (because of dampness)

When felt with thumb and forefinger, some degree of thickness was noted in the middle of the lenses, indicating they were, as expected, convex.

These were only complete because they had been protected by a case which apparently disappeared over the years in the moist soil. The unique decorative feature of these was the silhouette of a face on each handle.

 

4

Freiburg in Breisgau, Germany

Found in 1982 in a waste dump at the Augustine Hermite Cloister  (built 1278)

Beechwood

14th century approx.

Type 3 wood frame, Museum fur Ur-und Fruhgeschichte, Freiberg, Germany
Wooden case, oldest in the world, Museum fur Ur-und Fruhgeschichte der Stadt Freiburg

One nearly complete pair (TYPE 3), two damaged half parts of a pair, and four other broken parts. Included the original rivet.  Lenses were plano convex
had a groove for lens noted best in some of the fragments placement

OLDEST CASE IN THE WORLD found also which was wooden (made of upper and lower pieces).It was made for spectacles with a single layered frame.)  Fragments of lenses also

5

Swan Stairs, City of London, UK

1994 found during metal detector searching on the banks of the River Thames in London

Antler or bone, experts are not sure.

Late 14th to the beginning of the 15th century

Type 1, Swam Stairs, Reside in the Medieval Gallery of the Museum of London

A pair of rivet spectacles (TYPE 1)

Ref: "London Archeologist" Vol.7 #12, p.321-327,  (Judith Stevenson)
6

In Florence, Italy

 

1982, located in the ancient well of Via de’ Castellani near Piazza della Signoria

Bone, medium brown color

After 1450

Type 2 bone frame, photo credit to Maurizio Pallone, permission granted by the University of Florence, Superintendancy for Archeologica of Tuscany
Notice how the lens fit in

A complete pair with
rims rounded off, a feature absent in the
earliest spectacles,
without lenses.  Breaks are present to allow lenses to be inserted. They are
remarkably thin, 2-3 mm at most.

ONLY PAIR EVER DISCOVERED IN ITALY. They are very similar to the ones on St. Jerome (Ognissanti Church in Florence) painted by Ghirlandaio in 1480. A variety of objects were found in the well (ceramics, metal objects, glass, worked bone and ivory objects, etc.), which testify, in a most vivid manner, to various aspects of daily life in a large city between the end of Middle Ages and the beginning of Renaissance.

7A

Lueneburg, Germany

Found before 1982

 Wood

15th century

Type 1 wood frame, Museum for the principality of Lueneburg

One pair with one lens opaque (TYPE 1), also a remnant of another pair

Ref; Oculus" Auf Reise II, Feb 1990 (Paul Aangenendt)
7B
7C

Lueneburg Town Hall, Germany

Known to historians since 1849

Small gothic casket 8.5 cm X 23 cm X 22.5 cm

Circa 1330

Lueneburg casket, circa 1330, Lueneburg Town Hall – historically unique
Lueneburg casket, top view, carved raised relief represents the Judge of the Universe with the four medallions of optical (plano-convex) lenses, each has a painting of an evangelist on the back. Left above - Angel - Matthew; Left below – Lion – Mark; Right below – Bull – Luke; Right above – Eagle – John. The lenses are firmly cemented in the wood.

Four small medallions of optical glass (plano-convex discs) with paintings on the back of each symbolizing four evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) 

Not rivet spectacles but these have been shown to be optical lenses from the same time period as the ones found at Wienhausen

 

8

Isenhagen, Germany 

Found in 1961 in the cloister choir stalls which date from approximately 1350

 Wood

Late 14th century

Type 1, half of a pair with original green lenses, copyright Kloster Isenhagen

One half of a pair, including a green lens

Ref: Paul Aangenendt in "Oculus" Auf Reise II, Feb. 1990.
 
CONSIDERED TO BE THE SECOND OLDEST SURVIVING EXAMPLE

9

Huis ter Kleef (site of former castle) Haarlem, Netherlands

Discovered during two finds: Handles 1/29/1994 and Rim 12/18/1993

Handles of willow wood and the rim is of bone

Dated between 1350 and 1573.

Type 1, two partial handles, wood, courtesy of Archeologisch Museum, Haarlem. Also a small portion of the rim from another example, made of bone

Both handles of a pair of rivet spectacles about 3mm thick.  Also part of one rim of another pair with a thickness of about 2 mm.

“Huis ter Kleef” built in the 13th century and destroyed by the Spaniards in 1573
Lots of pottery fragments were also found

10

Trig Lane, near Blackfriars, London, UK

Discovered in 1974-75 in a mid 15th century garbage dump
 
 The earliest from a  “sealed dated deposit”,  these London spectacles are especially important because they can therefore be very accurately dated.

Made from the wide shaft of the metacarpal bone from the forelimb of a bull
 
Bone plate was about 2.5 mm thick

Circa approx 1440

Type 1, bone, from the Trig Lane discovery; reside in the Medieval Gallery of the Museum of London

A pair of spectacles (TYPE 1) with nearly half of each rim missing, and without lenses. Weigh only 5 grams. And the lenses were likely plano-convex.

Three teeth on each handle served to grip the nose just above the nostrils. Three small pinholes on each handle are assumed to have been an optical aid…"thus functional for distance vision”.

Ref: The Antiquaries Journal" LXII, 1982 Part 1 p.57-73,(Michael Rhodes)

11

Konstanz Museum, Germany

Found in the trash layer in Freiburg


Smaller third piece, in bone, found in a medieval trash layer in Konstanz

Wood

Bone

possibly 14th -15th century

(on the left) Type 2 in appearance, wood, (on the right), portion of a rim, bone, possibly Type 1, three fragments reside in the Konstanz Museum

Two pieces from one rivet spectacle and a small piece from another
 
On the left side of the photo are two pieces. On the right side of the photo is the bone piece

These may be included in the larger number described above from Freiburg

12

Windesheim, Zwolle, the Netherlands

Discovered in1986 at the site of a monastery built in 1386 and destroyed in 1560 (or was it 1572)

Probably  Horn

First half of the 15th century

Type 1, probably horn, reside in the Stedelijk Museum, Zwolle Stichting promotion Archeologie Zwolle

One complete pair, no lenses

Found in an excavated garbage pit under the foundations of the monastery

13

City of Vlissingen, The Netherlands

In an archeological dig January 1972 in a garage pit on the foundations of the former “Castle Souburg”

Bone

2nd half of the 15th century

Type 1, bone, Stichting Cultureel Erfgoed Zeeland (SCEZ), Vlissingen
Notice the groove on the inner part of the frame, to hold the lens in place

A complete pair but no lenses

Ref: "Philips van Marnix van Sint Aldegonde" 

14

(Wal)Raversijde, near Oostende, Belgium

Discovered in 1997 by the Flemish Heritage Institute at a site that was the last remainders of the “Atlantic Wall”

Bull- Bone

Second half of the 15th century

Type 1, bone,  real one on left, replica is bone on the right, Museum Walraversijde, Province of West-Flanders, photo by Hans Denis-VIOE’

Just a part of a rivet spectacle, and an approximate case

Dated because coins were also found

15

Syon Abbey, UK

Syon Abbey was a Bridgettine foundation (nunnery) built in 1426 and dissolved by King Henry V111 in 1539

Bone

Probably 15th century

Type 1 probable, two fragments, bone, displayed at Syon House, Brentford
Drawing on a person, most likely a nun, with the spectacles as they may have appeared to others, displayed at Syon House, Brentford

2 joining fragments

Time Team worked on this in 2003 as well as the Wicken Church find in 2006.

16

Battle Abbey,
Battle (near Hastings), East Susse,x UK

From an early 15th century deposit relating to the construction of a drainage system. Found between 1978-80

Bone

c. 1420

Fragment of a frame, bone, Battle Abbey
Image from the English Heritage Archeological Report No. 2  Battle Abbey The Excavations by J.N. Hare.  Chapter 10 by J. Geddes, figure 46

Small fragment of a bone frame with groove on inner curve for lens and tab for junction piece of adjacent frame. 

“Work on manuscripts, often carried out in poor light had its own hazards as this fragment discovered at Battle Abbey shows”.

17

Chester Dominican Friary, U.K.
Grey Friars Court

From a post Friary context, after 1538.  Sites were  investigated 1964-1983

Bone

 

Fragment of a frame, bone, from the “Grosvenor Museum Archeological Excavation and Survey Report # 6”, Excavations at Chester, by S.W. Ward, 1990, Organic Artifacts by Lloyd Morgan, figure 126
From the same article as the last, Excavations at Chester, figure 127

Larger curved fragment, about 3/8 of the rim

A digital image has not yet been made available
18

Hailes Abbey, Near Winchcombe, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, U.K.

From a deposit of demolition rubble in the area of choir stalls

This had been founded in 1246 by Richard of Cornwall, brother to Henry III

Bone

 

Type 2 (probably) fragment, bone, copyright Museum of London
Drawing of the Hailes Abbey spectacles by Michael Rhodes, from an English Heritage publication

Curved arm frame – part of the rim and handle

Bone plate is between 1.8 and 2.2 mm thick
 

Notice the drawing by renowned researcher Michael Rhodes
 

 

19

Melrose Abbey, Melrose, Scotland,  U.K.

From a 16th century drain that was excavated in the 1920’s

Bone

 

Type 1 fragment, bone, Melrose Abbey, Crown copyright - reproduced courtesy of Historic Scotland

Partial lens frame and an arm

 
20

Fleet Valley
Project:

Blackfriars-Holborn Viaduct Station, City of London, U.K.

Found at excavations in the context of a post Medieval date, perhaps 1550 - 1666

Both are bone

 

Type 1 fragment, bone, Fleet Valley 1 obverse, copyright Museum of London Archeology Service, photography Andy Chopping.
Reverse of the last image, copyright Museum of London Archeology Service, photography Andy Chopping.
Type 1 fragment, bone, Fleet Valley 2 obverse, copyright Museum of London Archeology Service, photography Andy Chopping.
Type 1 fragment, bone, Fleet Valley 2 obverse, copyright Museum of London Archeology Service, photography Andy Chopping.

Fragments – two of them  VAL88 # 4199 and # 4777
 

These are briefly mentioned in Medieval Households by Geoff Egan, 1998, but no images or details were included. 

21

Topping’s Wharf, Southwark, London, UK

This was found among contractor's spoil from a building site.

Bone, iron, copper

 

Type 1 fragment, bone, Toppings Wharf, courtesy of Museum of London

Fragment of riveted bone spectacles, half of bridge with part of one frame, bone with pivot of iron with copper alloy surround

L 35 mm; W 28 mm

Museum of London accession number 84.384/1

22

Merton Priory in Surrey, south of  London, UK

Excavated in 1988, from a 16th or 17th century context, though assumed to be residual from the priory (demolished 1538).

 

 

Fragment, bone, Merton Priory, courtesy of Museum of London
Bone fragment, Merton Priory, compared to Trig Lane example (drawing on the right by Kate Armitage from The London Archeologist, Winter 1980), the entire illustration comes from “The Medieval Household Daily Living c. 1150-1450” by Geoff Egan, 1998

Part of a spectacle frame that has delicate openwork decoration (but may not be a rivet)

MPY88 no.4354

Pat Miller and David Saxby The Augustinian Priory of St Mary Merton, Surrey: Excavations 1976-90 (Museum of London Archaeology Service Monograph 34, 2007) p 129 fig 157, and p 230, catalogue entry by Geoff Egan.

23

Museum of Dublin, Ireland  

The history of this find is not currently being made available for this website

Bone/antler

Dated 14th-15th  century.

Fragment possibly Type 2, at the National Museum of  Ireland - Archeology and History, on display in their Medieval Gallery, kindly drawn by Judith Stevenson (unfortunately a digital photo is not being made available for our website)

A spectacle frame fragment –on display in the Medieval Gallery  
 

Accession number 92E109:61:1 – an image was formally requested but is not currently being made available for this website

Note the drawing kindly offered by Judith Stevenson
24

Medieval Church at Wicken, Northamptonshire, Buckinghamshire, UK

Discovered in early 2007 by Wessex Archeology, who carried out the Wicken Project
Near Milton Keyes

Bone c. 1450

Fragment of a rim, bone, medieval church at Wicken, photo by Neil Emmanuel
Same as last, note the groove for the lens, photo by Neil Emmanuel

One third of a rim, similar to the Trig Lane specs

 

note the groove to hold the lens

Tony Robinsin led the Channel 4 Time Team

http://www.channel4.com/
history/microsites/T/timeteam/
/2007_wick_found.html
).

 

25 Daisenin Temple, Kyoto, Japan Unknown ivory late 15th century Type 2, ivory, spectacles and case, used by Yoshimasa Ashikaga (1436-1490), Daisenin Temple (Kyoto)

These are very decorative and beautiful  in their original special case.

This pair, supposedly used by eighth Shogun Yoshimasa Ashikaga (1436-1490) and then handed down to the twelfth Shogun Yoshiharu Ashikaga (1511-1550), is probably the oldest vision aid in the world with known provenance.

26 Madame Heymann 1911 book Part of her original collection horn perhaps 16th century Type 1, horn, slightly tinted lenses (presumed original), found is a case from the early 15th century, Musee National de la Renaissance, Ecouen, France These appear to have their original light green lenses. They were found in a very rare case that is probably also 16th century. The frame and lenses will eventually undergo further evaluation
27 Private collection Date unknown, discovered in 2009 as a result of our research. horn 14th-  16th century Type 1 horn, original lenses lenses look original with some inclusions and bubbles, one is cracked The frame and lenses will eventually undergo further study. What appears to be an original very early pull-off case houses the glasses and it will also be examined.
28 Cologne Cathedral 2012 leg bone mid-15th c rivet spec frame fragments recovered from the Cologne Cathedral
notice the apparent groove to hold in the lens
here is a unique circa 1450 example of the C bridge, the earliest known
From an archelopgic dig in the area of the catherdral, yielding about 40 artifacts “the information gained here is critical to our knowledge of the early optical frame, its evolution, and its manufacturing stages”

Even including the fragments these are all such rare and important objects. The people listed below have provided information and remarkable digital images for this chart. It is with great pleasure that I acknowledge these individuals for their kind assistance and wonderful support in creating this major chart for this key page or our website.

Cath Maloney, Julie Cochrane and John Clark-Museum of London, London, UK
Geoff Egan, Andy Chopping, Dave Saxby, Tracy Wellman and Roy Stephenson-Museum of London Archeology Service, London, UK
Carina Stiefel and Maren Dieke-Museum für Ur- und Frühgeschichte, Freiburg, Germany
Dr. Ralph Roeber-Konstanz Museum, Konstanz, Germany
Dr. Maartin Poldermans-Haarlem, The Netherlands
Dr. Marnix Pieters-Domein Raversijde, The Netherlands
Henk Hendriks-Vlissingen, The Netherlands
Dr. Michael Klomp-Zwolle, The Netherlands
Dr. Marco Vermunt-Bergen–op Zoom, The Netherlands
Luca Moioli, Private Collector
Dr. Eckhard Michael- Museum fuer das Fuerstentum Lueneburg, Lueneberg, Germany
Dr. Edgar Ring-Stadt Lueneburg, Lueneberg, Germany
Dr. Corinna Lohse- Klosterkammer, Hannover, Germany
Göran Tegnér and Elizabet Regner- Alvastra, Stockholm, Sweden
Frau Äbtissin Barbara Möhring-Kloster Isenhagen, Germany
Frau Abbess Renate von Randow and Herr Wolfgang Brandis-Kloster Wienhausen, Germany
Richard Pailthorpe-Syon Park (Abbey), United Kingdom
Richard Welander, Hugh Morrison and Bryony Coombs-Melrose Abbey, Historic Scotland
Rebecca Tyreman-Battle Abbey, United Kingdom
Michèle Bimbenet-Privat and Michaël Caucat- Musée National de la Renaissance, France
Lorraine Mepham and Channel 4's 'Time Team' - Wicken Church, Wessex Archaeology, United Kingdom

Dr. Ulrich Back, archeologist, Cologne Cathedral


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