18th Century Tinted Spectacles

Last updated: Jan 7, 2024

A collection of references to the use of tinted spectacles, including links to extant examples. (This is a subset of research published on a page about 18th century spectacles in general.)

  • From Pepys’s diary:
    “For these three or four days I perceive my overworking of my eyes by candlelight do hurt them as it did the last winter, that by day I am well and do get them right, but then after candlelight they begin to be sore and run, so that I intend to get some green spectacles.” (December 13, 1666)
    “I do truly find that I have overwrought my eyes, so that now they are become weak and apt to be tired, and all excess of light makes them sore, so that now to the candlelight I am forced to sit by, adding, the snow upon the ground all day, my eyes are very bad, and will be worse if not helped, so my Lord Bruncker do advise as a certain cure to use greene spectacles, which I will do.” December 24, 1666
    (See also The Big Brown Eyes of Samuel Pepys for further analysis of his condition.)
  • On Malta: “Head-aches are dangerous there, and fore Eyes, becauſe of the whiteneſs of the Earth, which makes many Commanders and Knights to wear green Spectacles, though I cannot tell but that the Glaſs by contracting the beams of the Sun, may burn their Eyes.” (The Travels of Monsieur de Thevenot into the Levant, 1633-1667)
  • Sotheby’s 27 October 2021, Lot 213, a pair of spectacles with emerald lenses (spectacles are 19th century, the lenses date to the 17th century); see also William Dalrymple on the Mughal Emerald and Diamond Spectacles
  • The trade card of Joseph Hurt, Optician advertises “Spectacles of the right Venetian Green Glaſs”
  • A pair of Venetian “Goldoni” spectacles in the collection of the Museo Luxottica, c. 1750
  • Benjamin Franklin’s -account of purchases at Franklin & Hall (1750-1754) includes “1 Pair of green Spectacles” for 7s. 6d.; he writes about his observations on green spectacles in Experiments and Observations on Electricity, Made at Philadelphia in America (1769)
  • GEORGE ADAMS … MAKES and SELLS … Spectacles of the true Venetian Green Glaſs,” 1753
  • In A Short Account of the Eye and Nature of Vision (1754), James Ayscough writes:

    “It has been found that the common white Glaſs gives an offenſive glaring Light, very prejudicial to the Eyes; and on that Account green and blue Glaſs have been adviſed, though they make every Object appear with their own Hue; for theſe Reaſons, that white Bodies in general, and all Objects ſtrongly illuminated, are more painful to look upon than Objects tinged with theſe Colours.

    “… Glaſſes of theſe Colours have been found ineffectual, excepting in Caſes where the natural Defect of the Eye requires ſuch; or for Workmen looking on luminous Objects, to whom they are of very great Service, rendering thoſe Objects eaſy to be viewed; but to others are very prejudicial, making the Objects too dark through the Deepneſs of the Tinge of the Glaſs, and even affecting the Eye in ſuch a Manner, that all Objects appear in the ſame Tinct for ſome Time after they are uſed.

    “Upon theſe Conſiderations, ſome Time ago I was induced to make Trial of a new kind of Glaſs, and recommend it to the Publick, as being fitter for the Purpoſes of Spectacles than any other Sort whatſoever; on thesſe Accounts, it is harder, freer from Veins, and being of a greeniſh Caſt, takes off the glaring Light ſo much complained of in the White, yet ſo tranſparent as not to be liable to the Objections ſo juſtly made to thoſe of deeper Colours.”

    (The author’s trade card may depict some of these sorts of lenses; another trade card advertises “SPECTACLES and READING-GLASSES, either of Brazil-Pebbles, White, Green, or Blue Glaſs, ground after the trueſt Method, ſet in neat and commodious Frames.”)
  • A letter from Captain Joseph Shippen in Lancaster, Pennsylvania to his brother Edward, June 27, 1757, mentions that he has sent “a pr of green Spectacles”
  • In a letter sent from Horace Walpole, 4th Earl of Orford, to Sir Horace Mann, September 3, 1757: “Between disgraces and an inflammation in my eyes, it is time to conclude my letter. My eyes I have certainly weakened with using them too much at night. I went the other day to Scarlet’s to buy green spectacles; he was mighty assiduous to give me a pair that would not tumble my hair. 'Lord, Sir,' said I, 'when one is come to wear spectacles, what signifies how one looks?'”
  • An advertisement for goods “to be ſold by HANNAH BREINTNALL” (Pennsylvania Gazette, March 30, 1758) includes “true Venetian green Spectacles for weak or watery Eyes, of various Sorts”
  • The trade card of Henry Shuttleworth, Optician (c. 1760) advertises “Spectacles of Brazil Pebble, or Green and Blue Glaſs.”
  • “Venetian green (for weak Eyes)” (The Pennsylvania Gazette, September 10, 1761)
  • Spectacles of Doge Alvise Giovanni Mocenigo, c. 1763-1778
  • In The Vicar of Wakefield (1766), the vicar’s son Moses sells a family horse for “a groſs of green ſpectacles, with ſilver rims and ſhagreen caſes”; see also The Vicar of Wakefield, The 'Groce of Green Spectacles', and the Philosophical Tale
  • Science Museum Group Y2000.202, sunglasses with green lenses and pegged joints, made c. 1770-1790
  • “SOLD at John Greenhow’s Store, near the Church in Williamſburg, very cheap for ready money … green, blue, and purple Spectacles, for preſerving weak Eyes” (Virginia Gazette, April 11, 1771)
  • MoV 1988.012.00074, with round-rimmed green lenses, c. 1775
  • “Sometimes a cold in the head, a lowneſs of ſpirits, or long poreing with the eyes, will cauſe people to ſquint, that never do it at other times. This is a fact I am well ſatisfied of; and the cauſe of it probably is, a kind of ſoreneſs or tenderneſs of the retina, which make the impreſſions of the light offenſive, or hurtful; to avoid which, the perſon ſo troubled turns his eyes about different ways, without being able to fix them attentively to any one object: that is, he avoids as much as he can ſeeing at all, and then he ſees but very obſcurely. This diſtemper vaniſhes with the cauſe, and may be remedied generally by uſing green ſpectacles with flat glaſſes, or ſome other contrivance, to leſſen the light coming to the eyes.” (A Treatise of Optics, 1775)
  • The probate inventory of Samuel Fayerweather of Rhode Island (d. 1781), includes “a pair of green spectacles and a reading-glass”
  • MoV 1984.000.00386, with dark green glass lenses, c. 1780-1800
  • PVMA 1904.14.03, with green-tinted lenses, c. 1780-1790; a 1908 catalogue of the collection of relics in Memorial Hall lists two pairs of undated green spectacles donated to the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association by Mrs. Nettie Eddy and Mrs. C.E.B. Allen
  • “Your black eyes ſeem to have done ſome execution already; but you, more cruel than the Princeſs of the Steel Caſtle, who pitied the Knight of the Burning Peſtle, have diſcarded your Strephon without a ſigh. But if you continue invincible to love fifty years hence, when your black eyes begin to twinkle through 'a pair of green ſpectacles, with ſilver rims and a ſhagreen caſe,' you may poſſibly repent.” (The posthumous works of Ann Eliza Bleecker, letter to her half-sister Susan Ten Eyck)
  • From the arson trial of David Clary and Elizabeth Gombert, April 2, 1788:

    JAMES MEAD sworn.

    I was insuring clerk at the time that Clary’s house was insured; I do not remember the man, nor any conversation that I had with him, there are so many gentlemen that come.

    Prisoner. That is not the gentleman that took the money of me; that gentleman wore spectacles.

    Mead. I wear spectacles sometimes.

    (Puts on a pair of green spectacles.)

    Prisoner. I do not recollect his person at all.
  • Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology 1923.1303, found in the garden of the rectory at Horseheath in England, late 18th century
  • A pair of silver-framed sunglasses in the collection of the Museo Luxottica, 18th century
  • A Treatise on One Hundred and Eighteen Principal Diseases of the Eyes (1790) recommends “Green ſpectacles, which moderate the light” to strengthen the retina for those who suffer from “Amblyopia from a topical atonia of the retina. The cauſes which occaſion this debility is an hereditary diſeaſe; looking too long at the ſun, moon, &c., as happens to aſtronomers, or at fire, as in ſome trades; too intenſe viſion, which happens to thoſe who view conſtantly minute objects, write much at night without a ſhade, or read or paint perpetually in a ſtrong light; or the abuſe of venery, which frequently debilitates the ſtomach firſt, and then the eyes.”
  • “I go every other ſunday, in the early part of the evening, to an old aunt, who lives at the antipodes of the faſhionable part of the town, and there I retail to her in the hiſtoric ſcandal of the fortnight; and then ſhe reads to me, through her green ſpectacles, out of a folio, a ſermon of the laſt century.” (The Welch Heiress, a comedy, 1795)
  • Robespierre is described as wearing green spectacles in Letters containing a sketch of the politics of France (1793) and Biographical anecdotes of the founders of the French Republic (1797)
  • “I aſked him, if he approved of green ſpectacles? — Pozz. 'As to green ſpectacles, Sir, the queſtion ſeems to be this: if I wore green ſpectacles, it would be becauſe they aſſiſted vision, or becauſe I liked them. Now, Sir, if a man tells me he does not like green ſpectacles, and that they hurt his eyes, I would not compel him to wear them. No, Sir, I would diſſuade him.'” (An Extract from the Life of Dr. Pozz, 1798)
  • Thomas Jefferson’s green spectacles