Monday, June 15, 2009

Eye Spy: Monocles and Lorgnettes

I must report my eyebrows recently achieved lift-off when I came across, for the first time, the BBC's long-running Sky at Night, hosted by the splendid Sir Patrick Moore (above). The reason? Not the discussion on different sorts of galaxies, interesting though it was, but Sir Patrick's stout orbicular embrace of a monocle.

Which got me wondering about these old-fashioned eyepieces, and why they seemed almost exclusively worn by men (cf the New Yorker's Eustace Tilly, and Planter's Mr. Peanut).

A bit of research revealed that there were a small number of female monocle wearers--like Una, Lady Troubridge, (left) sculptress and translator of Colette--who were by and large of the lesbian persuasion.

A more traditionally feminine bit of eye kit was the lorgnette, which unlike the monocle, has two lenses and a stem. These seem to me a lovely alternative to halfway-down-the-nose reading glasses. (painting by Henri Georges Jean Isidore Meunier)

Some gorgeous antique examples, like the fab art nouveau versions below, are readily found on eBay.


  1. Such a coincidence - I have just acquired a wonderful 1950s 'cat eye' style gold and black folding lorgnette. Has very good magnification - approx 4x normal. I put it out on my stand at the Hammersmith Vintage Fashion Fair alongside pairs of 1950s 'cat eye 'glasses/sunglasses and it was very popular among visitors who loved to try it. But while the regular glasses sold, the stylish and useful lorgnette remains waiting for a buyer.( And yes, Patrick Moore is quite out of this world as a presenter!)

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