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.