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Dating a Pair of Vintage Eyeglass Frames

If you have found or recently purchased a pair of vintage eyeglass frames, determining when they were first made can be an interesting exercise. It provides useful information about their history and the value of your antique glasses as well. Dating glasses can also help you prove authenticity between a pair of retro glasses and authentic antique spectacles. 

Fortunately, many changes in glasses design makes it possible to pinpoint the manufacturing dates on glasses to at least within two decades, if not within an even more narrow time period. These are the different features on eyewear that you use to help pinpoint the age of a pair of frames.

What to Look for When Determining the Age of Your Antique Spectacles?

The first place to look for clues about age is on the temples and rims of glasses frames. From the late 1800s onwards, many manufacturers stamped information about the glasses into the metal, horn, or plastic to record the maker’s name, materials the glasses are made out of, and temple measurements. 

These marks are often small, so you will likely need a magnifying glass to clearly read them, but they can provide a source of valuable data information. For instance, if you find a maker’s mark, you can narrow down production time to when that optical company was in business. For gold frames, marks will list the gold content, whether 10K, 12K, or 14K. A significant part of the value of gold wire rimmed frames will come from the gold content rather than the age of the glasses themselves.

If marks are illegible, have been rubbed off, or did not contain the all the information you need these are some of the features you want next examine to help you date your glasses:

  • Style – Style can be the clearest indication of the earliest possible date for your glasses, although it is important to remember that styles have come back into fashion throughout the years and you may find reproduction glasses of many popular styles. But in general, sliding temple glasses or straight temple glasses will be from the 1800s. Pince nez often date to between the 1890s and 1920s. Rimless glasses were produced from 1900 onward. Horn rim glasses were in style from 1920 and later, cat eye glasses from the 1940s onward, and browline glasses from the 1950s onward. 
  • Plastic Rims – Manufacturers first began using plastic for glasses in the 1930s, but only sparingly. These early plastic glasses from the 30s and 40s were also very fragile so few remained today. Rims that were made of plastic will generally be from the 1950 or later years. 
  • Size of the Lenses – Lens size and placement has changed since the earliest glasses. In the 1800s, lenses were generally small and sat within the eye socket. After the 1900s, they became larger and moved to sit further away from the face. Checking how your glasses fit on your face can help you determine the age.
  • Temple Style – If the temple does not have a curvature in it, and is either a straight or sliding temple, it is almost certainly from the 1800s since these styles  had almost completely disappeared by the 1890s. Temples with an extreme curve that wraps around the ear, called either riding bow temples or cable temples, were widely available from the 1880s up until the 1940s, although they did go later on vintage military glasses. Skull temples that have a slight curve started to be more widely used in the 1930s and later. 
  • Lens Shape – The most popular lens shapes have changed from decade to decade. Prior to the 1900s, lenses were often rectangular or oval shaped. In the 1900s, ovoid, or egg shape, became popular as did the hexagon. Moving further into the 19th century, the cat eye shape was popular.
  • Nose Pads – Nose pads were not invented until the 1920s. If your metal rimmed glasses have nose pads, they were made in the 1920s or later.
  • Temple Placement – The idea to move temples to the top corner of the lenses rather than the middle did not occur until the mid 1920s with Ful Vue glasses. While some vintage glasses were still made with temples as the midpoint, this feature is a good way to distinguish pre and post 1920s glasses.

Another good way to determine the age of your glasses is to check out some of our many resources here at Eyeglasses Warehouse such as our guide to different nose bridge styles throughout the years and glasses from the World War I and World War II eras. 

For a more in depth overview of the different features you might see on a pair of vintage glasses from different time periods, you can also browse through our inventory of antique spectacles and vintage frames from the 1800s and 1900s to see styles that may look similar to your own pair.

Our wide collection of antique eyeglass frames is also the best place to buy vintage glasses online if you are searching for a pair of spectacles from a specific era.

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