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How to Clean Antique Wire Frame Glasses

Antique glasses with gold wire frames, silver wire frames, or other metal frames are a unique accessory. Like any pair of eyeglasses, they require some general maintenance to keep them looking their best. Correct handling and regular cleaning to remove dust and oils is a necessary step of eyewear maintenance, including vintage spectacles.

Before you rush into cleaning and polishing, it is important to remember that your antique eyeglasses are likely already decades or even more than 100 years old. They were made to be durable, but these older materials have some special care requirements to prevent degrading the metal wires. By following these steps, you can keep your antique glasses looking their best for several lifetimes.

Cleaning Vintage Glasses with Wire Frames

The most effective way to avoid dirt on your glasses is to practice care. Storing your glasses in their case when not in use and avoiding handling them when you have dirt on your hands reduces the amount of debris your glasses will come into contact with. But regular wear is going to expose your glasses to different dust  in your environment, as well as the oils on your skin and in your hair. This grime can cause wire frame glasses to look dull.

Cleaning needs to be gentle. Some Civil War era wire frame glasses and 1900s glasses are gold plated, and rough cleaning can wear away the plating. Antique glasses made of gold or silver can also be susceptible to scratching.

To safely clean your glasses without damaging the frames, use these steps:

  • Mix Water and Dish Soap – Add a few drops of dish soap to a bowl of warm water. The dish soap is gentle enough for gold, silver, steel and other metals, but will cut through the grease that builds up on glasses frames.
  • Soak Your Glasses – Soak your glasses for several a couple of hours or overnight in the water and soap mixture to break down oils.
  • Rinse the Glasses – After removing them from the bowl of water and soap, rinse your glasses with more warm water to get rid of any remaining soapy residue.
  • Wipe Your Glasses – Use a soft, clean towel to wipe off any lingering oils or dust. You will want to move in the direction from the outside of the temples towards the bridge since most of the oil is on the temples. A microfiber towel works especially well for this as it will not scratch the frame.

How frequently you should clean your glasses depends on how often you wear them. If antique glasses are your daily prescription glasses, a weekly or bi-weekly cleaning will keep them in good shape. For those who wear their wire frame glasses only for occasional Civil War reenactments or costumes, cleaning them after use and before storage is best.

You can polish your glasses from time to time with jewelry polish, but it should be done infrequently. Too much polish can wear away at the sensitive metals and lead to noticeable damage.

Vintage glasses from the 1800s and early 1900s are a fascinating addition to any wardrobe or costume, and regular cleaning will help you enjoy them for decades more. If you are still looking for your perfect pair of antique wire frame glasses, be sure to check out our selection of wire rim glasses at Eyeglasses Warehouse.

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A Study of Metals for Vintage Wire Frame Glasses

When looking for vintage spectacles from the 1800s and the first half of the 1900s, metal wire frame glasses will likely be the style you see most often. Metal was the material of choice among opticians in the 19th and 20th centuries. It was durable and simple to manufacture. Until plastics came about in the mid-1900s, metal was also one of the most affordable options.

Today, gold, silver, and other metal rimmed glasses have an antique look that makes them one of a kind accessories. Learn about the different metals used in manufacturing vintage glasses to help you choose which style is right for you.

Types of Metals Used for Wire Rim Glasses

Gold and silver had been commonly used metals in accessories and glasses for centuries, and remained popular. They were highly obtainable, relatively inexpensive, and easily shaped into the round glasses or oval glasses common at the time.

But recent advances in chemical science at the beginning of the 1800s had created other metals that were even more affordable and versatile than gold and silver for eyeglasses. These included:

  • Brass – A mixture of copper and zinc, brass has an almost golden color. Brass eyeglasses were more inexpensive than gold.
  • German Silver – Invented in 1829, German silver looks like genuine silver, but is actually composed of nickel, copper, and zinc. It was cheaper and more durable than silver, making German silver glasses popular.
  • Common Steel – Steel contains carbon and iron. Steel glasses were common for their durability and often look like silver.
  • Blued Steel – The bluing process uses an oxidized layer to keep the steel from rusting, and gives the metal a blue coloring. Blued steel eyeglasses are often from the Civil War era.

Gold and silver frames were typically alloys to make them affordable and provide structural stability since both metals are easily bendable. A popular silver alloy was known as “coin silver,” which you will often find when looking for antique silver glasses. It consists of 80 to 90% silver and the remainder copper.

Tortoiseshell and animal horn were alternatives to wire, but they did not offer the same durability as metals. This meant they were less frequently used during the 19th and early 20th centuries, and even fewer pairs of vintage tortoiseshell glasses from that time have survived.

How Wire Eyeglasses Frames Were Constructed

For brass and steel frames, the optical manufacturer would shape the commercially made wire into the desired shapes for eye wires, temples, and bridge. With gold and silver, however, there were various options for making the wire, and each method would produce glasses with different price ranges and durability.

The first method was “filled” wire. Gold filled wire was made by layering dozens of thin sheets of either 10k or 25k gold around each other until the wire reached the needed thickness. 

The alternative was silver plate or gold plate glasses. The interior of the hardware would be an inexpensive alloy like steel or brass and the outside was covered with a thin layer of gold or silver. Often more affordable, the plate would often begin to rub off on these glasses after years of use.

At Eyeglasses Warehouse, our selection of authentic antique wire frame glasses includes wire frame glasses in a variety of metals, shapes, and sizes with an inventory that is always changing. If you are looking for metal frame eyeglasses, start by browsing our selection today.

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Sunglasses in the 19th Century

Glasses designed to reduce either the intensity of the sun’s rays or the exposure to them have been around for centuries, but it wasn’t until the 1920s when sunglasses became a stylish accessory. In the 1800s, sunglasses were only for health and sunlight reduction.

The first use of tinted glass in glasses was likely in the mid-1750s by British optician James Ayscough used green and blue glass as a means to help improve vision in standard eyeglasses. By the 1800s, opticians and ophthalmologists were using tinted glass of several different colors to help protect their patients’ eyes from harsh sunlight.

Uses of Sunglasses in the 1800s

Rather than being fashionable, sunglasses began the 19th century as a sign of old age or illness when they were most often worn by people whose eyes were too sensitive for exposure to sunlight. Syphilis patients were the first to have colored glasses prescribed. Light sensitivity is a symptom of syphilis, as is deterioration of the nose. Tinted glasses could dull sunlight and the bridge of the glasses provided a convenient place to attach a metal nose.

Elderly people or those who were blind or suffered a visual impairment frequently wore glasses with colored lenses in the 1800s to help reduce discomfort. Throughout the 19th century, some doctors also suggested that different colors of lenses could have health benefits for the wearer.

By the 1850s, the use of tinted glasses was more widespread. Coquille glasses with colored lenses became popular with women and men, and were imported in mass from abroad, often cheaply as they were made with inexpensive steel frames. During the Civil War, soldiers commonly wore Coquilles to help protect their eyes while marching.

The majority of 19th-century sunglasses kept the same shape as other glasses of the era. Straight temple sunglasses, sliding temple sunglasses, and turn-pin sunglasses were all available. One possible addition was the use of double lenses that would fold out to the sides for extra protection.

With sunglass styles mirroring eyeglass styles in the 1800s, our customers at Eyeglasses Warehouse can create a pair of vintage sunglasses by fitting their antique glasses with colored lenses in blue, green, grey, or yellow shades. We carry a wide variety of refurbished 19th century eyeglass styles here on our site that can be the basis of your antique sunglasses.

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About Our 1930s Glasses

The 1930s saw the continuation of the development of vintage eyewear from the early 20th era of pince nez, thin wire frame glasses and windsor style John Lennon glasses, into the stronger, more decorated 20’s and 1930s glasses that would eventually lead to vintage frames as more of a fashion accessory and less of a medical device.

Throughout the 1930s women’s glasses had much more detailed etchings and engravings than did 1930s men’s glasses. Men’s 1930’s eyeglasses were much more plain and simple. The ones with engravings were more simple and linear. Women’s 1930s eyeglasses were fancier and more decorative.

1930s vintage eyeglass frames

The modern nose pad, as opposed to the saddle bridge, had the effect that frames were now larger than they were before nose pads were invented. 1930s vintage eyeglass frames were on average 1/4 to 1/2 an inch wider than earlier antique eyeglasses.

1930s Sunglasses

Another one of the advances of this decade was 1930s sunglasses. The emergence of 1930s style men’s sunglasses, as well as women’s vintage 1930s sunglasses, was a big deal in a brand new world of mass-produced vintage sunglasses and these frames continued to evolve from their modest beginnings until they reached peak popularity with B&L 1930s sunglasses.

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About Our 1920s Glasses

During the 1920s eyeglasses went through many shifts and changes in mechanism and style.

Prior to the 1920s glasses did not have nose pads. They had saddle bridges which sat directly on the nose. During the 1920s eyeglasses started appearing with nose pads as we know them. They haven’t left since.

Another one of the changes introduced to vintage 1920s glasses was the introduction of gender to vintage eyewear. Antique eyeglasses had been seen as a medical device and therefore gender neutral. As eyewear started becoming more fashionable they started making them gender specific. 1920s mens glasses and 1920s womens glasses.

1920s vintage eyeglass frames were sturdier than the frames in the decades before. They were made of a thicker material and with improved manufturing techniques.

1920s style eyeglasses make a great fashionable statement. has a large selection of 1920s mens glasses as well as 1920s womens glasses. We also have a large selection of retro glasses for men and women.

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About 1940s Glasses

At we have a large selection of 1940s glasses. During the 1940’s there were a few kinds of vintage eyeglasses that were popular. There were wire rimmed glasses in both gold and silver. There were rimless vintage glasses in gold and silver. The 1940s was also the beginning of the era of cat eye glasses which was expanded upon later in the 1950s and 1960s.

Many vintage 1940s eyeglass frames are fulvue glasses, which means the frames meet the temples in the corner and not in the center as had been common until then. 1940s Men’s glasses were pretty similar to 1940s female glasses in style and type, with the difference in etched design patterns being one of the only things differentiating these vintage frames.

We have a large selection of 1940s Men’s glasses as well as 1940s glasses for Women. Whether you are looking for 1940’s glasses WW2 era glasses, or fulvue glasses, we are sure to have something to meet your needs.

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About Wire Rim Glasses

One of the earliest styles of eyeglass frames was wire-rim glasses.

Long before the use of plastic, zyl, tortoiseshell or any other material in antique eyeglasses, there were silver or gold wire-rim glasses frames. Originally made of very thin stainless steel or gold-filled, wire-rimmed glasses didn’t have modern temple manufacturing methods, rather they stayed on the face with cable temples, wrapping all the way around the ears.

Wire rim eyeglass frames generally had a saddle bridge, as nose pads hadn’t yet been invented. This was a nose bridge style where the frames sat directly on the nose without any pads. This resulted in the wireframe glasses sitting close to the face and being very narrow overall. Later on, mother of pearl nose pads were invented, enabling these wire-rim glasses to sit further away from the face and having a wider frame width.

Wire Rim Glasses At

At we have a large selection of all types of vintage wire rim eyeglasses including wire-rimmed reading glasses, gold wire rim glasses and round wire rim glasses frames. from 1880s glasses to 1940s glasses. We also have a selection of modern vintage inspired wire rimmed frames.

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About Windsor Glasses

Windsor Glasses are a style of popular round vintage frames. The Windsor style of eyeglasses was introduced in 1880 and remained popular until after the First World War. Characteristics of windsor frames are: round lenses, a nose saddle (no nose pads), and temples that loop behind the ear. These round vintage glasses came in silver, roman steel, gold filled, white gold filled, and nickel. Often, the lenses and sometimes the temples were covered with Zylo (celluloid). Common Zylo colors are black, brown, blond, and tortoiseshell.

John Lennon Glasses

This style frame was worn by John Lennon, Ernest Hemingway, Groucho Marx, Theodore Roosevelt, William Hurt, Mahatma Gandhi, Joseph Stalin, and of late by David Letterman, and Whoppie Goldberg.

Sometimes referred to as John Lennon Glasses, as he often wore round windsor style eyeglasses. Windsor’s aren’t the only style of John Lennon’s Glasses, he often wore Marshwood and various types of vintage sunglasses. We have a large selection of all different types of John Lennon Frames.

Vintage Round Glasses

Windsor eyeglass frames are one of the more popular styles of vintage round glasses. There were many other styles of round vintage glasses, such as tortoiseshell glasses, pince nez glasses, marshwood and others.

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About Pince Nez

Pince Nez are a style of antique eyeglasses that stay on the face by clipping onto the nose rather than with standard eyeglass temples.

There were many types of pince-nez manufactured in the 19th & Early 20th Century, but generally speaking, there were two designs: the spring bridge pince-nez and the hard bridge pince-nez. Generally, it is easier to adjust the spring bridge pince-nez type for fit. The spring can be bent in or out to increase or lessen the bridge width.

The hard bridge pince-nez type is preset at the factory. Generally, such frames have very little adjustment. When ordering, you must know your bridge width to get a proper fit. Your optician can provide this information.

Pince Nez Sunglasses & Pince-Nez Reading Glasses

Many people today purchase pince-nez to be used as pince nez reading glasses or pince nez sunglasses.

Factory set bridge width varies between 14 and 26 mm. Generally, 14 to 16 is considered very narrow. Sizes 18 to 22 are the most common. Sizes 24 and 26 are considered wide.

Frames without metal rims offer more opportunities for today’s needs. The new lens can be cut wider. The area below the pupil can be dropped down to make room for bifocal or progressive lenses. Frames that originally held round lenses can be adapted easily to hold an oval lens and vice versa.

Wire rimmed frames work best with a single prescription, either reading or distance.

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Eyeglasses Popular in the Civil War

The Civil War spanned 1861 to 1865, although historians often consider the Civil War era as spanning from the mid-1840s to the mid 1870s. In terms of eyeglass styles, there were few changes from earlier decades, and many frame styles that had been introduced in the 1830s remained popular. Eyeglasses were primarily about function at this time, and contemporary designs made glasses as inconspicuous as possible.

Authentic Civil War era glasses are a unique addition to a collection for history buffs. They also make ideal Civil War reenactor glasses or prop pieces by providing a historical element to your kit whether you choose an antique pair or a recreation of an original style.

Civil War Eyeglass Frame Styles

Eyeglass frames for during the Civil War were largely similar for men and women. The frames used a narrow guage wire, often of gold, silver, brass, or steel. Tortoise shell was also an option for frames. Oval lenses were the predominant shape, but octagonal glasses were common as well.

Perhaps what is most notable about eyeglasses from the Civil War era was their size. Glasses were approximately ⅔ the overall width of the wearer’s face with much smaller lenses than modern glasses due to the more limited technology for grinding lenses. Larger lenses were impossible at the time.

There were three main types of eyeglasses available during the Civil War. These were:

  • Straight Temple Eyeglasses – These glasses have a temple style that is straight with no curvature around the ear. This frame was primarily used for reading or seated tasks as the straight temple meant they would fall off during any activity. Those who needed to wear them while moving would tie them around their heads with a cord. Because of their limitations, many straight temple glasses were melted down, making them a rare find today.
  • Sliding Temple Eyeglasses – First introduced at the end of the 18th century, the temple pieces on these glasses could retract to fit in the case. When worn, they were not as likely to fall off as straight temple glasses as the wearer moved about. This made them the most popular style amongst the general public during the Civil War era, although they were still unsuitable for vigorous activity like horseback riding.
  • Sharpshooter Glasses – Also known as shooting lenses, these glasses used a frosted, amber colored lens with a smaller unfrosted circle in the center of each lens. The amber tinting provides better contrast against a blue sky and, like other colored lenses, was said to have health benefits. It was suspected that sharpshooter glasses were used by Civil War snipers and recreational hunters, but military historians have cast doubt on this theory and suggested these were merely sunglasses.

Eyeglasses Warehouse provides a range of Civil War eyeglasses in various styles and materials. These glasses have a classic style that makes them popular for recreational use, and can also be used for reenactors, films and plays, and collectors. We have both men’s and women’s Civil War eyeglasses available. See the glasses we have available on our website and check back frequently as our inventory changes and we bring in new styles.