Anecdotes from the Archive

Anecdotes from the Archive: Taking On the Monocle Problem


Eyewear has always carried both positive and negative consequences for those who wear it either out of necessity or fashion. This article from March 11, 1911 gives a bit of background on one of the more prevalent eyewear options of the time, the monocle:

"The ridicule which was cast upon the wearers of spectacles and eyeglasses, before the utility and need of those aids to sight became generally recognized, seems now to be concentrated upon the monocle, and not without reason. The conclusive facial distortion and peculiar appearance of the eye caused by the monocle, and especially the fact that it is used only by members of the ‘higher classes,’ and often, obviously, through sheer foppery, have brought the monocle into discredit with the general public."

Here, you can see the effect the monocle has on the face of this ordinary man, making him look at once distorted and coxcombical.

Despite these obvious drawbacks, the monocle remained an important tool for those with impaired vision in 1911, especially for "One-eyed patients (and an astonishingly large proportion of humanity is one-eyed in the sense of possessing only one good eye) usually find monocles more convenient than spectacles or double eye-glasses, as the second glass is only an annoyance."

Luckily, the monocular pince-nez was invented and put to use. It was fashioned just like a regular pince-nez except it had one of its lenses removed.

With one lens missing and causing an imbalance, the frame had to be constructed to secure the single lens from falling.

Notice the difference once the man switches to the monocular pince-nez. If he still appears foppish, we can safely say it’s no longer the fault of his eyewear.

About the Author: Mary Karmelek is a production assistant for Nature Publishing Group and is currently working on Scientific American's Digital Archive Project, where she spends countless hours scouring articles and ads of decades long ago. She graduated with her M.A. in English from Fordham University in 2010 and currently resides in New York City. While her educational background is in gender and war trauma in modernist literature, Mary also has a keen interest in the historical and visual documentation of science, nature, and medicine.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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