Hello and welcome to my blog. What I'm doing here is documenting my personal expression of "hands-on history" from a craftsman's perspective. I've been on this path for a large part of my life and it's taken me to some interesting and challenging places. I hope to share the processes and the historically inspired objects I've crafted along this journey into our past. This adventure has deepened my appreciation for past craftsmanship and the intelligence of common place things in Early America. Besides, now I have all this cool stuff to play (teach) with.

Jim Miller

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Making a Spectacle "for" Myself, A Revisit to 17th Century America

   Once apon a time I was quite the collector of old stuff. Apparently I had more disposable income back then or antiques were more affordable. Much of my accumilation focused on early to mid 19th century personal items like men's clothing and accessories. One of my favorite accessory catagories was historical eyewear. I still have a nice, small collection of spectacles including the oldest pair I could every find or afford, circa mid-18th century. Spectacles have been around for 700 years but the further back you go, the rarer and pricier they become.
   Lately I've been interested in the kinds of spectacles that might have been worn in 1600's Colonial America. With auction prices around $3,000.00 to $4,000.00 for early Nuremberg wire or leather nose-bow spectacles, it's pretty certain they won't find their way into my humble collection. Oh darn !! But then, would I deny myself the fun of replicating a pair ?....... not likely.

A Sweet Pair of Nuremberg Wire Nose Specs
 From a Recent Online Auction
 $3,000.00 + !!

    Every successful project begins with research and luckily I have a few good books on the subject. "A Spectacle of Spectacles", Carl-Zeiss-Stiftung Jena 1988, has some nice representative replica pairs. Pierre Marly's "Spectacles & Spyglasses" 1988, documents many 17th century nose besicles in whalebone, horn and brass wire. "Eyeglass Retrospective", Nancy Schiffer 2000, has a whole page devoted to 17th century leather frames. Most of them appear to be rather crudely made but I have seen more carefully crafted examples, like the one below.

A Nice Original Leather Pair With Green Lenses
Image Source Unknown

       An amazing opportunity for studying leather spectacles, is in the recovered cargo from what is known as the Gnalic shipwreck. Lost in a storm in 1583, near the rocky islet of Gnalic,south of Croatia,  archaeologist began recovering its cargo in 1967. Included in that recovery, were 20 boxes of Nuremberg type leather spectacles in an amazing state of preservation. Each box contained 12 pairs, which greatly increased the number of know surviving examples in the entire world.

Treasure from the Sea
Image Courtesy
 The Institute of Nautical Archaeology

      Today there are some pretty awesome online resources for studying spectacle history. One recent discovery that I've been revisiting is "The Online Museum and Encyclopedia of Vision Aids".

German Masterpiece Spectacles
The Inspiration for My Case
Image Courtesy
The British College of Optometrists
      I finally decided on replicating a pretty typical leather Nose Bow Spectacle that might have originated in Germany (or what would become Germany) in the 17th century but made its way to America. For the leather I chose vegetable tanned cowhide, approx. 4mm thick. First I used a 1 1/4" punch to knock out the circles that would accept the lenses. Luckily, I had some vintage lenses that worked as "readers" for my weak eyes. To cut out the outside shape of the frames, I used a No. 11 xacto and carefully followed my pencil marks. The lens holes were slightly smaller than my lenses and that tension kept them in place. I then dampened the leather and molded it nicely around the lens edge. When you carefully study the Gnalic specs, it appears that they might have been two pieces of leather,sandwiched together but I'm no expert.

My Case Closed
Photo by Author 2013
Note the Stapled Hinge Pins and Hook

     The case I decided on was a simple wooden version with some typical features that I had seen in several original examples. I found that wire loop-pin hinges and a simple wire hook closure suited my needs. For the body, pine seemed like a good choice for carving because it's a common wood that's easy to work.

      I couldn't resist the look of the marbled paper for a lining. This shows my replica leather specs inside their case.

And Outside Their Case

Thanks for looking !



  1. Nifty idea, replicating very old spectacles !

    The Doc


  2. I just added the online spectacle museum to my favorites !

    The Doc