Adam's Patent Spectacles, 1797

“Certain Spectacles upon an entire new principle”

Special thanks to Adrian Whicher of the Science Museum.  From the Institute and Museum of the History of Medicine Zurich, Professor Christoph Moergelhi  and Margaret Wyder were helpful. Ronald Macgregor and Colin Fryer had each written informative articles on this topic for the OAICC Newsletter. Those articles proved to be a worthwhile and informative read. Contributions to this webpage were also made by optical historians Udo Timm, Werner Weismueller and David Goss. Finally, this webpage is the direct result of a PowerPoint lecture presented to members of the Ocular Heritage Society at its April 21, 2012 Annual Meeting in Cleveland, Ohio.

(Move your mouse over any of the section titles below for more information and slide shows.)

The Examples

The Patent


Similar Models

Known Examples

Distinguishing Features (all are Sterling silver, except for example #9)

1  Science Museum, London 1 – no lenses and no date letter.
2  Science Museum, London 2 (in the Wellcome Collection) - Date letter capital “A” - case with push-button securing clasp.
3  Science Museum, London 3 (in the Wellcome Collection) - no case,  NO MARKS AT ALL.
4  Institute and Museum of the History of Medicine, Zurich -  Date letter capital “A” – case in storage.
5  Private Collection 1 -  Date letter capital “C”- case with push-button securing clasp.  
6  Private Collection 2 – Date letter capital “A” – case with SIDE-TUCK FLAP.
7  Private Collection 3 -  Date letter capital “D” provenance the Hugh Orr Collection.
8  Private Collection 4 - Date letter capital “C” – case with push-button securing clasp.
9  Private Collection 5 -  tortoiseshell frame -no marks, red leather case, early 19th c.
10 Bonham's sale - Date letter capital "A" - no case

A number of similar examples have been evaluated, but they do not have ALL of the features of the Adam’s Patent. (Notice slideshow # 4 above).

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One of the most unusual styles of glasses in history was created and then patented by London optician Dudley Adams back in 1797.
These glasses exhibited the ability for the wearer to adjust the distance between the pupils. This was remarkable and fully innovative for that time. The optics were moveable since they attached to the rim of a forehead frame which basically went nearly all the way around the head. This eliminated pressure on both the nose and temples. The headband folded into a small space because it was made up of several pieces hinged together. The lenses were suspended in a way that each could also be moved individually higher or lower. Due to these creative features the glasses were unlike any existing prior to the end of the 18th century. Great Britain patent #2155 was awarded, the second earliest patent granted for eyeglasses.  

The Adam’s family of London was made up of instrument makers and several members contributed in a significant manner to optical science (spectacles and scientific instruments) during the late 18th and into the 19th century in England. George Adams I (1709-1772) began work in 1734 on Fleet Street where his sign was the head of astronomer Tyco Brahe. George established a family business of microscopes, telescopes, spectacles, globes, and instruments for astronomy, geometry, surveying, navigation, and meteorology. In 1746 he published the book Micrographica Illustrata which eventually went thru four editions. He was appointed Optician to the Prince of Wales who later became His Majesty King George III (1738-1820). s to protect against dust and wind. He suggested they could be beneficial in the treatment of strabismus if glazed with black discs and central holes. In these regards however, the chance of Adams Spectacles being used as goggles was unlikely since they provided only a small area of protection. It is also doubtful that his suggested treatment for strabismus was ever truly effective without full correction of any likely refractive error.

George II (1750-1795) apprenticed to his father and is important here (our area of interest and study) for the introduction of the “Adam’s-type” lorgnette. He was also appointed to the court of the Prince of Wales, the future King George IV (1762-1830). George wrote and published several illustrated pamphlets and essays on the physical sciences including his 724 page catalogue An Essay on Vision in 1789. He had taken the family optical business to Southampton but on his death it was brought back to London by his wife.

Dudley Adams (1762-1830) was the youngest son of George, Sr, from his second wife Ann Dudley (1721/2-1809). He served his apprenticeship with his brother beginning in 1777. He wanted to emulate George, Jr. but ten years later he left his brother in order to create an independent shop. While his mother stayed focused on globe drawings Dudley was awarded the Royal Appointment as a globe-maker to H.M. King George III beginning in 1794. Then by 1796 he had taken over the shop at 60 Fleet Street where his father had also worked. Following the Napoleonic Wars Dudley was forced into bankruptcy in 1817 but overcame this and was still in business 10 years later. Interesting also is the fact he had a son George Adams III, the product of his marriage to Margaret Sophia de Langlade.

George Adams Sr. had owned (with Richard Jack) one patent, George Jr. had none.  Dudley received three patents in all between 1797 and 1815. These were in force from 1797-1811 (spectacles), 1800-1814 (multiple tube telescopes – patent #2407), and 1815-29 (drawn vellum tubes).

Dudley called himself an ‘optician’ and Feb 11, 1797 he applied for patent rights #2155. His invention was given the short title ‘Certain spectacles on an entire new Principle’ and the drawings included forty-two figures. They are remarkable for showing, among other details, nine eye frame shapes and fifteen different spectacle sides. They were available in gold, silver, steel, tortoiseshell, horn, ivory, and bone. Evidently these were not totally constructed in Dudley’s own workshop. The silver examples at least, all but one, show a stamped English maker’s mark “TP” representing Thomas Phelps, spectacle-maker and mathematical instrument maker who worked at 159 Fleet Street.

Most of the known examples still have their original unique lozenge-shaped cardboard-based red Moroccan leather-covered case. These cases were custom-made to accommodate the special sides. Not all the existing examples have been found with their case so the cases are now considered even rarer than the glasses.

From all this gathered information it is easy to surmise examples of Adam’s Patent Spectacles are very rare. Perhaps in time a few others will surface? But perhaps not? They do remain one of the most interesting, elusive and unusual styles ever created in history, highly sought after, especially by the most advanced knowledgeable collectors.

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