Eyeglasses are a technological marvel. Chances are, many of you are reading this through glasses or contact lenses. But we didn't invent these devices overnight, and there were some pretty weird versions along the way. See for yourself.

The Horned Helmet, Innsbruck, Austria, 1511-1514

Part of a suit of armor presented by the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I to Henry VIII, made by Konrad Seusenhofer.

(via Royal Armouries and Retronaut)

The first lens, the Nimrud lens or Layard lens, ca. 750-710 BC

This piece of rock crystal from the Neo-Assyrian culture may have been used as a magnifying glass, or as a burning-glass.

(via Wikimedia Commons/Geni)

Emperor Nero in the 1st Century A.D.

The Emperor have watched the gladiatorial games using an emerald as a lens.

(via TVMovie/Screenshot from Quo Vadis, 1951)

Reading stones, 9th-13th century

These were developed from the 8th century, after the development by Abbas Ibn Firnas of a proces for converting sand into glass. The reading stones were placed on top of the text to magnify the letters.

(via The Story of Microscope and Birth Story)

Abū ʿAlī al-Ḥasan ibn al-Ḥasan ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen): Book Of Optics (De Aspectibus or Opticae Thesaurus: Alhazeni Arabis), 1021

The seven-volume treatise composed by the Muslim scholar Alhazen (965-1040) contained an image from a convex lens for the first time. The Latin translation of these books was essential to the invention of glasses.

(via Bibliothéque Nationale de France)

Robert Grosseteste: De iride (On the Rainbow), between 1220-1235

Grosseteste, the scholastic philosopher and Bishop of Lincoln wrote a host of scientific works including a text on astronomy, cosmogony, and De iride (On the rainbow):

This part of optics, if fully understood, shows us the way in which we can made objects at very long distance appear at very close distance, and large things, closely situated, appear very small, and small things at a certain distance we can see as large as we want, so that, it is possible for us to read the smallest letters at incredible distance, or count the sand, or grain, or grass, or anything else so minute. In what way, however, it is necessary to understand how this wonderful happens, so it will become clear to everybody.

(via Cornell University Library and Wikimedia Commons)

The first magnifier constructed for scientific purposes: Roger Bacon, 1250

(via Wikimedia Commons)

The first wearable glasses, Italy, between 1260-1290

(via Wikimedia Commons)

First paintings of people with glasses by Tommaso da Modena, 1351-1352

A fresco of Cardinal Nicholas of Rouen, Chapter House, Basilica San Niccolò, Treviso

Hugh de Provence, Basilica San Niccolò, Treviso

(via Web Gallery of Art and Veneto Uno)

The earliest surviving spectacles from Kloster Wienhausen, Germany

The former Cistercian Catholic nunnery, now a community of Evangelical Lutheran women, is famous as the home of the earliest surviving spectacles, which were found beneath the floorboards between the choir stalls. The finds included four black leather bow spectacles, two complete wooden rivetted spectacles with plano-convex lenses and nine other rivet spectacle fragments, from between the 15th and 17th century.

(via Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München)

The spectacles and spectacle case of King James II, late 17th and early 18th century

(via V&A Museum)

The first modern sunglasses by James Ayscough, 1752

Ayscough introduced the spectacles with double-hinged side pieces. He recommended lenses tinted blue or green to treat some vision problems.

(via Folie Vintage)

Spectacles with tortoise shell and silver rims and a shagreen case, c. 1770

(via Susan Ewington)

The first bifocals from the late 18th century

Some sources credited Benjamin Franklin with the invention of bifocals, but the idea was born few decades earlier.

(via College of Optometrists)

Lorgnettes, the spectacles with a handle

This invention of George Adams, from the 1770s, was used as a piece of jewelry, rather than to enhance vision.

(via College of Optometrists)

Chinese tortoise shell spectacles, 19th century

(via Phisick)


Monocles were used in the early 1700s, but only became popular in the 19th century, after introduced in the 1790s as a high fashion accessory. The upper class loved it, but since World War II (when these were stereotypical accessories of the Nazi military officers) they're rarely used.


(On the photo: The actor Billy Leonard in the P.G. Wodehouse play 'Anything Goes', 1935, via Sasha/Getty Images)

Polarized Lenses

Edwin Land patented the polarizing filter in 1929. Eight years later he founded the Polaroid Corporation, and started to sell sunglasses.

(via Midwest Lens)

Contact lenses

After the ideas described by Leonardo da Vinci (1508, Codex of the eye, Manual D), René Descartes (1636) and John Herschel (1845, Encyclopedia Metropolitana), a German ophthalmologist Adolf Gaston Eugen Fick was the first, who constructed the first contact lens from heavy blown glass. In 1936 William Feinbloom introduced the first plastic lenses, but the modern contact lenses (which are only on the cornea) were born in 1949.

(via Earlytech)