Eyeglass Nose Bridges Through the Years

When you think of glasses, the style of the frames is the first thing that comes to mind for many people. The shape and size of the lenses are often the most defining part of a pair of glasses. The material, color, and embellishments of the frames can make eyewear stand out.

The nose bridge is often rather innocuous in comparison for most spectacles. It rarely has decoration and is usually simple in shape.

But the nose bridge is essential for the comfort and function of a pair of glasses. It can also be a defining element of the overall frame style. As form and function have changed over the past centuries, the shape of the nose bridge has as well. You can find dozens of bridges on the various styles of vintage glasses. These are some of the memorable glasses nose bridges – and a few more unique ones – over the decades.

What Is the Bridge of Glasses?

A pair of glasses consists of the lenses, rims (unless they are rimless), the temples, and the bridge. As the name suggests, the bridge of glasses frames “bridges” the nose to connect both lenses. It also shares its name with the part of your nose that it crosses, called your nasal bridge or the bridge of your nose.

The nose bridge has two dimensions. The bridge bump provides the space for the top of your nose, or the nasal bridge, to fit while keeping the glasses secured on your face. You can see the bump if you look at your glasses from above and notice how the bridge extends forward from the lenses.

The bridge aperture is the space between the lenses for the width of your nose. This is the bridge measurement you will see when purchasing glasses, and is one of the most important dimensions for ensuring fit.

These features are present on every pair of glasses, but the specifics depend on the shape of the bridge.Changes in nose bridge styles often occurred when new materials or manufacturing techniques became available, letting opticians and optical companies create bridges that were:

  • More Comfortable to Wear
  • Customized to the Wearer
  • More Stable
  • Affordable to Produce
  • Faster to Make

If you are picking out a pair of vintage glasses to wear either as your daily glasses, sunglasses, a costume piece, or an accessory, understanding what kind of bridge you want can help make the process easier. You can narrow down frame styles based on whether you want stability, comfort, or a particular vintage look.

The First Nose Bridges on Antique Glasses

Glasses in the 1700s and early 1800s were made of heavy metals like iron, silver, and steel with simple oval-shaped spectacles. They were unadorned, and the nose bride was similarly plain, there to hold the lenses together. New, lighter metals like gold and common steel came into use in the 1800s, and nose bridges changed slightly

Advertisement from 1832 for C-bridge spectacles

:

  • C-Bridge – The simplest and most popular bridge shape, the C-bridge is a simple upward arch that connects both lenses. Although it offered an easy fit for any face, the C-bridge provided little in the way of stability. It was the prevailing style up until about 1835.
  • English Bridge – Also called the crank bridge, this bridge came into style in the 1830s and later. It has a more wave-like shape, extended outward from the rim at a slight upward angle at first, before arching dramatically over the nose. This caused the bridge to fit more snuggly around the nose.
  • X-Bridge – The X-bridge had a piece that curved down from the top of the rims and another that curved up from the bottom, creating a cross like shape similar to an X. The wide bridge was not very secure despite being visually interesting. This was never a popular style, but was most often used on inexpensive, internationally-made frames so it can be somewhat difficult to find in antique glasses today.

  • K-Bridge – Similar to the X-bridge, the K-bridge had less of a swoop in the top part of the bridge, yielding a more K-like shape. The spectacles that bore this shape were often “Invisibles” or “Coquilles,” which were a preferred style of glasses for women. These are also a rare find as antique eyewear for women, but an interesting one when you do.
Gold wire rim glasses with an English bridge (Eyeglasses and case, Auckland Museum, licensed under  CC BY 4.0)

Most of these names are modern, used by collectors and historians to describe nose bridge styles of past years. The

Antique spectacles with an X-bridge (Photo licensed under CC BY-ND 4.0, Paul Maeyaert 29 Jan 2015)

frames at the time were all individually made by opticians, making it possible for frames and bridges to vary significantly in antique spectacles from the 1800s.

Because there was no standard sizing in antique glasses as there would be in later years, you will want to pay careful attention to the bridge measurements if you are buying antique wire rim glasses to wear. The average face width was also smaller at the time than is today, and many original nose bridges may be too small to wear comfortably. The right bridge width in any style will keep antique glasses from pinching or slipping off your face.

Nose Bridges in the Civil War Era

During the mid-1800s and the American Civil War, the options for glasses were largely carried over from successful designs of the years before. Glasses were still solely for vision correction, and worn only when necessary. Bridge and frame styles largely reflected these needs.

Civil War glasses had straight temples or sliding temples, both of which kept the glasses on the face mainly by squeezing the wearer’s head. The early bridges like the C-bridge, crank bridge, and X-bridge added some additional support, but were still not able to endure all of the activity that later glasses could. This is part of the reason that antique glasses are so small to help minimize the weight and keep them in place.

There were still a few advancements in nose bridges on antique frames during this time. Most notably was the scroll bridge in the late 1850s which simplified the process of manufacturing glasses.

Previously, the optician would solder in nose bridges at a right angle to the rims, which was finicky to do and created a weak joint. The scroll bridge had flanges that flared upwards at the ends and were attached parallel to the rims for a strong connection point.

Opticians could now produce glasses more quickly without losing quality. They could also produce glasses in larger numbers and they started mass producing glasses. As this made glasses more affordable and accessible to the general public, innovations in nose bridges on vintage glasses began to occur more rapidly.

Movement Toward Modern Bridges with the Saddle Bridge

Historians do not entirely agree on when opticians first started using the saddle bridge. Some claim it was in use as early as the Civil War, but illustrations, advertisements, patents, and existing glasses seem to indicate that saddle bridge glasses appeared in the 1870s or 1880s.

The saddle bridge is also called the W-bridge due to the shape it makes if you were to look at a pair of wire frame glasses from above. From the attachment point on the lenses, the bridge angles back towards the face before turning sharply and arching around the nose.

Windsor glasses with a saddle bridge

This design offered a more secure fit than previous bridge styles, making it possible to manufacture glasses with larger lenses that sat slightly away from the face, similar to today’s designs.

The main vintage frame style to use saddle nose bridges were Windsor glasses. A pair of antique Windsor spectacles were circular frames with metal rims. The temples were usually riding bow temples that were attached at the midpoint of the lens and curved over the ears, offering even more stability.

Like the saddle bridge, Windsor glasses also came into style in the 1880s and remained popular until the 1920s, although celebrities like John Lennon brought them back into style in later decades.

Optical companies continued to use the popular saddle bridge on vintage metal frame glasses in other styles as well. Even in the later half of the 1900s and today, the saddle bridge is often the nose bridge of choice when nose pads are not in use.

Spring Nose Bridges for the Pince-Nez

Another innovation in eyewear in the late 1800s was the pince-nez, in which the nose bridge was a key part of the spectacles. These glasses do not have arms, but instead pinch the nose (the name literally translates to “pinch nose”) in order to stay on the wearer’s face.

This pinching is possible because the bridge is like a spring. The wearer slightly compresses the spring by pulling the lenses apart, places the pince-nez over the nose, and releases the lenses to let them spring gently back together and create enough tension on the nose to stay in place.

Pince-nez first came into usage in 1820, and grew more popular over the next decades to reach the height of their popularity between 1880 and 1900. During this time, pince-nez had several different bridge styles to choose from:

  • Spring Bridge Pince-Nez – This pince-nez experienced the longest lasting popularity. First used in the 1820s, the bridge on this pince-nez is shaped like a C, accounting for the alternative name “C-bridge pince-nez.” The
    Gold rimmed spring bridge pince nez

    flexibility of this bridge enables it to fit almost any person, but limits it in the ability to correct vision. Having the spring in the bridge also made this style delicate and the bridge was prone to breaking after extensive use.

  • Astig Pince-Nez – Also called the “bar spring” pince-nez, the bridge on this eyewear is a sliding bar with a spring. The astig had the ability to correct astigmatism as other pince-nez bridge styles did not since using a fixed bar for the bridge kept the lenses from rotating.
  • Hard Bridge Pince-Nez – On this eyepiece, the bridge is rigid and the springs are in the two nose pieces. The nose pieces had levers that extended to the front of the glasses which the wearer could pinch to compress the spring. It took several years for this style to gain popularity after its invention in 1893, but then it quickly became the dominant pince-nez. You may also hear this pince-nez design called “Fits-U” after the brand name they were marketed under.

    Hard bridge pince nez spectacles
  • Oxford Spectacles – Whether Oxford spectacles are pince-nez depends on who you ask, but they are at least related. Vintage Oxfords have nose pads and a separate sprung bridge, combining features of both the astig and C-bridge pince-nez.

The pince-nez bridge offered several benefits. The wearer could put them on and take them off quickly, and the fit on most pince-nez was extremely adjustable to work with any size nose. Rimless pince-nez have the additional advantage of being compatible with lenses of any size and shape since the only connection point is at the bridge.

Although the bridge was effective at keeping a pince-nez on, it was still not as functional as glasses that also had temples. Because the eyewear sat wherever the wearer placed them on the nose instead of at a fixed distance, it was impossible to account for pupillary distance.

Pince-nez also had a reputation for falling off, and this eventually caused them to go out of style in the 1900s, first becoming an accessory for older adults before going out of fashion altogether by the 1930s.

The “Marshwood” Style Reinvents the Nose Bridge

The primary feature that the early nose bridges lacked were nose pads. Almost universally, the bridge sat directly on the nose and was entirely responsible for the placement of glasses on the face. This often required the small lenses that are characteristic of antique spectacles, and the distinct look of either wearing the glasses very close to the face or at the end of the nose.

When nose pads did appear as part of the bridge, such as on pince-nez, they were often made of cork to provide cushioning between the nose and the pinching bridge.

Wire rim spectacles with nose pads on the bridge

The invention of nose pads on traditional glasses radically changed the fit and comfort of antique spectacles.  One of the earliest styles to use nose pads were vintage Marshwood style eyeglasses in 1921, also known as P3 frames from their military designation. Marshwood glasses had nose pads attached to the rims just below the bridge with thin wires, enabling the wearer to adjust them for fit. The early nose pads were made of bakelite or mother of pearl.

The bridge style used with nose pads depended on the brand. American Optical “Ful-Vue” glasses used a saddle bridge, as did vintage Art Craft glasses. Shuron had an adjustable bridge similar in shape to the old C-bridge although the top of the bridge curved outward at a right angle.

Adjustable nose bridges also caused rimless glasses to become more popular. Prior to the 1920s, rimless glasses used a curved bridge that held the lenses practically flush in line with the brow. Opticians quickly added nose pads to 3 piece glasses – called so because they had 2 temples and 1 bridge, giving them 3 “pieces” of hardware – and these glasses became a leading style in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s.

Like their rimmed counterparts, vintage rimless glasses most often used a metal saddle bridge in conjunction with the adjustable nose bridges, although you will find small variations based on the brand of eyeglasses.

Horn rimmed glasses were another leading style during the 1920s. As the precursor to plastic glasses later in the century, these used a simple saddle bridge carved into the horn or tortoise shell. There were no nose pads to help stabilize them and they simply rested on the bridge of the nose.

The other major change in the nose bridge during the 1920s was its placement in relation to the lenses. Earlier glasses had the bridge at the halfway point of the lenses. In the later half of the 1920s, the bridge and temples rose and attached near the top edge of the lenses. This changed the bridge dimensions since it now arched over a narrower part of the nose, although the overall shape remained the same.

Plastic Frames in the 1950s and Nose Bridge Styles

By 1950, the dominant style for all wire rim glasses was a saddle bridge and nose pads regardless of the frame shape. Browline glasses, cat eye glasses, and other wire frame styles relied on this arrangement. This bridge style also carried over into the plastic frames that appeared in the decade and quickly became popular.

Vintage plastic frames were made of cellulose acetate. The early plastics were fragile, but already offered several advantages over gold, nickel, or steel frames. They were much lighter, meaning there was less weight that needed to be distributed over the nose bridge. Plastic frame fronts were also made of a single piece of plastic in molds that made any shape possible.

Cellulose acetate glasses with a saddle bridge and plastic nose pads

These plastic frames were a replacement for the horn or tortoiseshell opticians used to make horn rimmed glasses in the earlier decades, so the bridge style was similar. But he flexibility of shaping and contemporary fashions made two different nose bridges popular on vintage glasses of the 1950s:

  • Saddle Bridge – Like the saddle bridge on wire frame glasses, a saddle bridge on plastic glasses is a simple arch. It quickly became popular on glasses in the 1950s for its ease of wearing and low maintenance since there were no moving parts, and is now considered the “regular bridge” on all plastic glasses. Without nose pads, the saddle bridge has a more even distribution of weight which can provide a less customized fit but is often more comfortable.
  • Keyhole Bridge – While the arch of a saddle bridge conforms to the shape of the wearer’s nose, a keyhole bridge has a shape like a keyhole. This creates small nose pads that are a part of the plastic frame and a bridge arch that goes above the nose instead of resting directly on it. The keyhole design distributes the weight of the glasses along the side of the nose instead of on top of it. These glasses tend to sit lower on the nose and also offer more space for those with large noses.
Vintage cat eye glasses with a keyhole bridge

There were two limitations to plastic nose bridges. The first is that plastic is not malleable like gold or nickel, so there is little to no opportunity to adjust the fit of the bridge. Second, without nose pads, the slippery plastic could be more likely to slip down the wearer’s nose.

When purchasing vintage plastic frames, these limitations make it important to get glasses with the correct bridge measurements. Fortunately, the average face measurements were not as small in the mid-1900s as they were in the 1800s when compared to today, but sizes and styles have still changed. Using measurements makes it possible to get a pair of retro frames with a bridge that fits comfortably and securely.

Nose Bridges in the 1960s, 70s, and Beyond

For the most part, these bridge styles remained unchanged over the next decades. The quality and durability of materials improved and frame shapes changed, but vintage glasses and modern frames continued to offer the same nose bridge styles as glasses from earlier in the century.

Wire frame glasses primarily used a saddle bridge or adjustable bridge with nose pads. Plastic frames had either a saddle bridge or keyhole bridge on nearly every pair. Certain novelty frames are one of the few exceptions, and glasses manufacturers have added other features to help improve fit.

The bridge options on vintage glasses from the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s included:

  • Aviator Double Bridge – Aviator glasses first debuted in the 1930s when Bausch & Lomb and American Optical designed them for military pilots. The bridge on aviators combined a saddle bridge with plastic nose pads between lenses and a wire rod connecting the top of the lenses, creating a double bridge that gave the glasses more resistance. Vintage aviator glasses became a popular civilian style in the 1970s and 80s, and have remained an in-demand retro style today.
  • Low Bridge Glasses – Different face shapes require different nose bridges. Many optical companies today make low bridge fit glasses for people whose nose bridge is flush with or a little below their pupils. Having a low nose bridge can make it difficult to keep regular bridges on your face without sliding down. The low bridge glasses use larger nose pads and a more significant lens tilt to provide a fit that works with all face shapes.
  • Pad Bridge – Usually an addition to an existing pair of glasses, a pad bridge covers the entire bridge, offering padding at every point at which the bridge connects with the face. This distributes the weight over a greater area than just two nose pads, but in a more comfortable way than a simple wire bridge. They can also improve the fit if a bridge is too big for your face. They are usually silicone or acetate.
  • Silicone Nose Pads – Another new material, silicone is slightly soft, cushiony, and non-slip. Some plastic glasses made today will swap out the plastic nose pads with silicone nose pads in a similar shape. This creates a more comfortable bridge on plastic glasses that is unlikely to slip down the nose. While you will not find authentic vintage glasses with this newer innovation, retro glasses in classic styles may have this upgrade available.

Other options for bridges are available as either standard or as add-ons to a pair of existing glasses, all generally with the purpose to hold glasses in place more securely and give the wearer more comfort. As anyone who has worn eyeglasses or sunglasses from any era, vintage or modern, will know, getting the right nose bridge can make all the difference in the fit of your spectacles.

How to Choose the Right Nose Bridge for Your Glasses

When you are looking for vintage glasses, the majority of options are going to be a C-bridge, saddle bridge, keyhole bridge, or double bridge on aviators. Nose pads will generally be an option on any glasses produced after 1930, particularly for metal frames.

If you want a more unique bridge, you will likely need to search for it specifically as these tend to be rarer.

The bridge will almost always depend on the frame style. In the 1920s, 30s, and later as glasses manufacturing moved away from individual optical shops to large companies, and eyeglasses became as stylish as they were functional, the various styles were made with a few select bridges.

When options are available, many people find that a bridge with nose pads offers the best comfort and fit since you can adjust the pads slightly. A metal saddle bridge has a more retro look, and when paired with cable temples can still be stable for regular wear. For plastic glasses, the saddle bridge or keyhole bridge are both simple and relatively comfortable as long as you measure beforehand to be sure the frames will fit your nose.

In fact, measuring is the number one way to choose the right bridge, after catering to your personal tastes. The other way is to try several styles to see what feels most comfortable, especially if you will be wearing vintage glasses that have a different nose bridge than your contemporary frames.