Eyeglasses started as rare, handmade pieces in 14th century

TERRY AND KIM KOVEL
Kovel’s Antiques and Collecting

The earliest use of eyeglasses was recorded about 1300. Rock crystal was shaped and set in round frames to wear and improve clarity. Glasses with temple arms that sit on the ears were not created until the 1700s. Glasses with dark lenses were worn for medical reasons by the late 19th century. Sunglasses that just cut glare were not used until 1929.

President Theodore Roosevelt wore a monocle, probably the first president to admit he had trouble seeing. In 1784, Benjamin Franklin had special spectacles that had bifocal lenses. Benjamin Martin (1704-1782) invented Martin’s Margins eyeglasses in the 18th century period. They were round, had thinner and more accurate lenses set in two round frames of iron or steel, trimmed with cattle horn or tortoiseshell and arms that wrap around the ears.

Next came “scissors spectacles” that could be folded to fit in a pocket. The side pieces looked like those on a pair of scissors. They were first used in the early 1800s. Once glasses could be made by machine, they became less expensive, less of an ornament, and more an item used by working men and women.

The glasses pictured here are Windsors, a style started in Victorian times. This pair has leather side flaps, a leather nosepiece, and a thin metal frame with round lenses and arms that wrap around the ears. There are many collectors of medical devices today, even auctions that feature only medicines, original containers and small medical tools. Prices are still low.

Question: My grandmother left me a set of spoons with a note saying these spoons represent the Allied countries in World War I in 1917. They each have an emblem or shield at the top and a banner identifying the country they represent. There are spoons for Great Britain, France, Russia, Belgium and Austria-Hungary, and one that says “New York.” What can you tell me about them?

Answer: Five of your spoons represent countries involved in World War I, but they were not all Allies. Great Britain, France and Russia were allied beginning in 1914. Italy, Japan and Portugal joined the alliance in 1915. The United States became an Associated Power in 1917. Belgium was among the 27 countries listed as Allied and Associated Powers when the Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919, ending the war. However, Austria-Hungary was not an ally; it was an enemy, one of the Central Powers, which included Germany, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire. There were many souvenir spoons made commemorating World War I armies. This is not a complete set. The “New York” spoon is just a souvenir of the city. Simple sterling silver souvenir spoons sell for $20 to $30; plated spoons sell for $5 to $10.

Q: I’d like information about a Wilhelm Schiller & Sons pottery vase I recently purchased at a garage sale. It has an impressed mark with “WS & S” inside a rectangle. Can you tell me about its history, antiquity and possible value?

A: Schiller started in partnership with Friedrich Gerbing in Bodenbach, Bohemia, in 1829. Wilhelm Schiller & Son was in business in Obergrund, Bohemia, from 1850 until about 1914, when World War I broke out. After Gerbing died, Schiller moved to Bodenbach and opened his own factory, where his son joined him in the business. They became the largest manufacturer of majolica in Bohemia. The pieces had elaborate raised decoration and they sell for about $150.

Q: I once owned a glass Alaska green celery dish by Northwood. I want to find a replacement and have no idea how. What can you tell me?

A: Northwood glass was made by the H. Northwood Co., founded in Wheeling, West Virginia, in 1901 by Harry Northwood. He and his brother, Carl, manufactured pressed and blown glass tableware and novelties. Harry Northwood died in 1919, and the company closed in 1925. The Alaska pattern was made between about 1897 and 1903. It was made in several colors, including blue opalescent, emerald opalescent, green and vaseline, a greenish-yellow glass. Some pieces are offered for sale in online shops. Try contacting a matching service like Replacements.com. Many dealers who sell early glass keep a “wanted” list to help customers. Let them know what you’re looking for and they will contact you if they find it. Your dish would retail for over $100.

Q: I was left two figurines when my uncle died. They appear to be a Dutch boy and girl, both holding flowers. They are red and white and are marked on the base “Meiselman Imports from Italy.” Can you tell me anything about the maker?

A: Meiselman Imports was in business operating in New York by at least 1965. The company imported pottery, porcelain and glass items from several European countries. Meiselman marks don’t include the name or mark of the manufacturer, but do include the country of origin. After the McKinley Tariff Act was passed in 1891, the country of origin had to be marked on ceramics imported into the United States. Meiselman Imports became Ben Har Imports in 1980. It went out of business in 1981.

TIP: Fabrics decorated with metal threads should not be washed. Wipe with a cotton swab and ammonia.

This is an early pair of glasses with tinted lenses.