Antique Eyeglasses Identification and Value Guide

September last year began with the welcome gala. Dressed in a black suit with hair gelled to the sides, I smothered perfume onto my shirt before grabbing the car remote. The incredible look was loved by many, but I felt as if something was missing. The cuff of my shirt brushed across my suit’s pocket, only to realize that I was missing the much-loved antique eyeglasses my girlfriend had gifted me on my birthday.

Being a history fanatic my entire life with a deep-rooted love for antiques, vintage eyeglasses are not a subject I’m uncomfortable with. However, receiving one as a family heirloom or going out and buying that perfect piece are two very different matters requiring different skill sets!

So, to make things easier, I’ve developed this guide to address all your queries regarding antique eyeglasses. This will include a brief history of eyeglasses and a comprehensive description regarding valuation. I will also provide guidelines regarding the identification of antique eyeglasses and a price guide, so you don’t end up buying the wrong piece/end up selling yourself short.

Antique Eyeglasses – A Brief History:

Whether you’ve received one from your grandparents as a family heirloom or dusted some up in the attic, coming across a set of eyeglasses is always a treat for anyone.

The history of spectacles goes back a long time, particularly to 1000 AD, when scholars and monks used simple reading stones to magnify texts for more straightforward readings. These reading stones were in the shape of a half-sphere and were very similar to the modern-day clear paperweights.

Antique Eyeglasses
Image Source: sdmcphail

Historians frequently debate the exact date of the invention of magnifying glasses. Still, all unanimously agree that the first eyeglasses appeared in Italy but did not resemble today’s spectacles. These featured a combination of crystal and glass, mounted in individual frames with a handle. In turn, the handles were connected through a rivet. People with complaints of poor vision could hold up the riveted lens for an improvement of vision.

However, these glasses were built on a standard design and were not accommodative of the individual’s specific needs.

Many countries quickly followed Italy, and soon after, the market was flooded with eyeglasses from different makers worldwide. The development of print media was responsible for the outburst, providing awareness to the general public. Photographs of people wearing eyeglasses were stamped all over newspapers, almost forcing the reader to go and buy a piece.

The best part? Due to the massive demand, companies were quick to take advantage. They provided customers with millions of styles and frames they could choose from while keeping costs low. These eyeglasses were available in stylish outlets and display centers. On the other end, you could contact the vendor at the end of the street and get your hands on one.

 Germany was the biggest gun and led the market for a good two centuries until technological advancements followed. Lenses at the time were made of gold, silver, or quartz, while companies built frames of gold, brass, silver, tortoiseshell, and steel.

Image Source: bestveniceguides

It took a couple of hundred years before framing found its foothold in the eyeglasses industry. Companies desperately tried to set the standard but were unable to do so. Many secured their lenses using handles, while others used leather and metal straps to attach them to the face. Some even went to the lengths of putting the lenses in everyday items such as fans or walking sticks.

It wasn’t until the end of the 19th century that temples were commonly used. The first temples featured short arms that squeezed the temple region (hence the name temples) but were quickly replaced by a design that rested on the ears (modern-day earpieces).

Ultimately, this was when eyeglasses consisted of Italian lenses coupled with German framing.

Today, technology has ensured the presence of many options to treat your vision. Spectacles, contact lenses, Intacs, and surgeries are some of the available options in the market. Lenses in various forms, convex, concave, or cylindrical, are successfully used by physicians to treat an individual according to their requirements. Surgeries, on the other hand, ensure a lifetime vision correction with best-suited rehabilitation for its user. Whichever side you choose, you’re born in the right era!

Antique Eyeglasses Identification:

Whether you’re an avid collector pursuing your interest in eyeglasses collection or you’re wondering about the manufacturing date of an antique piece you found at a garage sale, identifying your unique eyeglasses is challenging.

It is essential to understand that eyeglasses are termed antique when they reach the ripe old age of 100. So, if the piece you’re holding was manufactured any time after 1922, it won’t technically be considered antique.

There are several things that one must look out for when identifying an antique eyepiece:

Types of Eyeglasses:

Owing to the various designs present over time, the spectacles’ overall structure can provide insight into when it was produced. Some of the designs that you can commonly come across are:

Rivet Spectacles:

They are considered the earliest forms of eyeglasses. They feature two lenses secured to a rivet, allowing them to sit safely on the bridge of the nose. The name was later changed to Prince-Nez Spectacles and was composed of leather and wood.

Tinted Eyeglasses:

As the name suggests, these spectacles consisted of a unique colored lens that protected the eyes from harsh and dangerous light. They were trendy during the 17th century.

Threaded Spectacles:

These originated in Spain and were later produced in Asia. They featured lenses held to the face using loops of cords or ribbons and were sometimes weighted down to help them settle on the front.

Nuremberg Spectacles:

Named after the city of Nuremberg in Germany, they were particularly popular among Germans. They featured circular lenses with a U-shaped bridge.

Nuremberg Spectacles
Image Source: sciencemuseumgroup

Slit-Bridge Spectacles:

The design didn’t take off well as it had flaws, which makes it one of the rarest pieces to be produced. It featured a slit in the middle of the bridge region to allow for more elasticity.

Temple Spectacles:

These were the first eyeglasses to squeeze their way onto the temple and were produced in the 17th century.

Double-Hinged Temple Spectacles:

The double-hinged temple spectacles were invented in 1752. They were similar to the older temple models with one key difference: they had four arms instead of two to better secure them to the head.

However, this design had significant flaws and was quickly dusted under the rug.

18th Century Bifocals:

As the name explains, these eyeglasses consisted of lenses that supported multiple vision problems. American President Benjamin Franklin famously wore them. They consisted of lenses that aided vision for both conditions that he suffered from, presbycusis and far-sightedness.

Pin-in-Slot Spectacles:

Developed in the 19th century, these eyeglasses have the most significant similarities to modern-day designs and feature an arm attached to the lens.


Since the earlier eyeglasses featured materials of various types, the overall make and the use of material can significantly assist you in the identification process.

The earliest lenses were manufactured using glass, quartz, beryl, and pebble. On the other hand, frames were constructed using common commodities available, such as gold, silver, steel, tortoiseshell, and brass.

As technological advancements pursued, these materials were mainly replaced by economically viable articles that accommodated the user. Plastics and glass are modern-day materials commonly used and come in various forms, hard and soft.

Markings On Antique Eyeglasses:

Most, if not all, eyeglasses feature unique markings that reflect the era they were produced in. These markings may be logos, or simple digits and letters considered hallmarks of a particular manufacturer. They provided information regarding the maker, the country of origin, the production date, and sometimes the material they were made of.

Focusing on the markings is a standard method of identification. However, most antique eyeglasses are dirty and require some maintenance before you can examine them. It is essential to understand that these old testaments of time are incredibly delicate and must be handled with care while cleaning so you don’t end up damaging an expensive piece.

Once you’ve cleaned the spectacles, carefully analyze the antiques and use magnifying glasses to look for markings. They can be present anywhere on the frame and the temples, but most commonly at the bridge that supports the weight of the spectacles.

Markings On Antique Eyeglasses
Image Source: iantiqueonline

Reference Books and Online Platforms:

Books and information centers are always great sources to get ahold of information about your antique. Papers and books published by well-known historians and professionals can provide great insight into what you should look for. They contain information about the history and advancements of eyeglasses and also include photographs to help you pick out the piece that resembles your antique the most.

Some examples of such reference books include:

  • Eyeglass Retrospective: Where Fashion Meets Science (Schiffer Book for Collectors and Designers) by Nancy Schiffer. It is available on Amazon.
  • Collectible Eyeglasses byFrederique Crestin-Billet. You can find it here.
  • Fashion Spectacles, Spectacular Fashion: Eyewear Styles and Shapes from Vintage to 2020 by Simon Murray and Nicky Albrechtsen. It is also available on Amazon.

Similarly, online resources provide the same features but are easily accessible and more user-friendly. Many online platforms provide users with detailed analyses of their antique eyeglasses. However, one significant drawback to this source is that biasing may be involved. This means that users may not guide you in the best possible manner, owing to personal gains and reasons. Therefore, you should be extremely careful while investing your time, energy, and antique in online platforms.

Suppose you’re aware of the maker of your antique eyeglasses. In that case, the company’s website is another source you can use to gain better knowledge of your piece. Most websites feature an in-depth review of their models, and you can successfully use that.

Suppose you can’t make use of any of the methods mentioned above. In that case, you can always go to the good-old community library and try looking for texts and books that might be able to assist you in your quest for identification. The advantage of using libraries is that you don’t have to pay for the ownership of the book/text and only have to pay a fraction of the library’s charges while having an extensive collection to research from.

Identifying an antique eyeglass is arduous, but focusing on the style and material and using reference sources can help you successfully identify your antique.

Antique Eyeglasses Value Guide:

Suppose you’ve developed a newfound obsession with antique eyeglasses. In that case, you must sigh relief because these remarkable examples of engineering are lighter on the pocket than other antiques.

Once the identification step is over, the next question is, “Are old glasses worth anything?” If so, how much are antique eyeglasses worth? This greatly depends on the ability of the frame to accommodate modern prescription lenses. Antique eyepieces can’t be modified to fit modern frames, but they are a great addition to any enthusiast’s collection.

The value of antique eyeglasses is affected by several factors, some of which I’ll be covering next.


As already mentioned, the price of antique eyeglasses is greatly influenced by the ability of the frame to accommodate prescription lenses without damaging the glasses. Dealers value a frame that can easily accommodate such lenses at a much higher price than others that sit on the shelf as collectables.

Materials Used:

This holds true for antiques, and eyeglasses are no exception to it. Glasses built using luxurious materials such as gold and silver are valued at a higher price than more explicit materials, including steel and brass. This is because these materials symbolized wealth and reflected an elitist lifestyle. In general, 14K gold eyeglasses can sell for upward of $400.


The most critical factor for all antiques is the condition. Eyeglasses with scratches, damage, chipped paint, and signs of wear and tear sell for significantly lesser prices than others in mint conditions.


Provenance is another factor that significantly adds to the value of an antique eyepiece. If a celebrity or personality wore the eyepiece you’re holding, it would fetch a much higher price than an article with no history attached to it. For example, the bifocal lens spectacles worn by Benjamin Franklin are valued much higher than a standard piece.


The manufacturer is the final factor in determining the overall value of antique spectacles. If the eyeglasses are the hallmark of a famous manufacturer, collectors and dealers will be over it like honeybees. Similarly, enthusiasts will pay little attention to pieces belonging to street vendors.


The age of the eyeglasses doesn’t play a significant role in determining the value, as some eyeglasses that were 400 years old recently sold for as little as $10 a piece because they lacked the ability to accommodate modern lenses. Similarly, many counterfeit frames and eyeglasses are in the market that you can easily mistake for original items, so you must keep an eye out for these!


To get an idea about the value of your piece, you can use reference books and the online platforms mentioned above. One example is ValueMyStuff, a platform that provides appraisals within 24-48 hours. Professionals make the estimates after carefully studying and evaluating the article you submit.

However, it is always better to get a second opinion before submitting your item up for auction/selling it.

If you’re a collector on a budget, antique eyeglasses are a great place to begin your quest for old items. Being cheaper, trendier, and easier to get your hands on, they bring a sense of ownership without going too hard on your pocket.

Antique eyeglasses holding signs of wear and tear can be brought for a fraction of the price compared to a piece in mint condition. For example, damaged pieces sell for as low as $10 a piece, while others in mint conditions can go anywhere above $100.

In general, if you have the greenback supporting you, higher-end antique eyeglasses are the go-to. Still, suppose you’re trying to save up and keep your antique collection dream alive simultaneously. In that case, the damaged pieces might be the perfect fit for you!

Final Thoughts:

Antique eyeglasses have been around for hundreds of years and are present in various forms and shapes. Hence, coming across a piece is not the most challenging process. However, identifying and dating the article is a task that takes one to the wallows!

Considering that these items were particularly delicate, only a handful of them are present in original and mint condition and sell for the highest. I hope this article provides insight into the identification and valuation of your antique eyeglasses.

So, the next time you stumble upon an old family crate in the attic or find your eyes glued to antique spectacles at a garage sale, make sure you’ve read up and researched well before spending a hefty amount of greenback, so you don’t end up regretting your decision!

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