When considering Civil War spectacles, it is perhaps ironic that the man who did more than any other American entrepreneur to create the immense popularity of pince nez glasses and their successors, Oxfords – John Jacob Bausch, an immigrant from Germany who arrived in the United States with the superior manufacturing techniques of the Old World in his brain – and his company – Bausch & Lomb – should also be largely responsible for the most significant advances in spectacle design of the mid-19th century.
A massive disconnect with the styles and engineering of spectacles of the immediately preceding period is clear to even a casual glance. The spectacles of Benjamin Franklin’s and George Washington’s times featured round lenses to the exclusion of nearly any other shape, and the double-hinged flat strap temples that tied around the head or secured to the powdered wigs of 18th century “fashion plates”. Antique eyeglasses from the Civil war era have a very different arrangement.
The lenses of Civil War spectacles were almost all either oval or an elongated octagon (a horizontally stretched rectangle with the corners cut off). Round lenses from the time of Gettysburg and Bull Run are very rare indeed. The temples also have a very different look. Most of these changes can be traced by inference to Bausch & Lomb, who owned a large market share in spectacle sales as well as being the undisputed kings of pince nez, soaring in popularity thanks to wartime conditions.