|A pince-nez-wearing President Franklin Delano Roosevelt|
(note stylish cigarette holder, too)
As a child I thought that a magnifying glass was a mere curiosity, most well employed in the focusing of the sun's rays on a combustible object so that it would eventually burst into flames. It didn't occur to me that one would ever require such a thing to read fine print.
|A selection of our magnification tools at Darlington House|
Growing up, Reggie's grandparent Darlings had beautiful magnifying glasses on many of the tables in their house, made with handles of ivory, bone, silver, and brass. Reggie also recalls one that had a pale lavender shagreen handle. As a boy I thought they were merely decorative (my grandparents had lots of wonderful things), but I have since come to appreciate that my grandparents owned as many magnifying glasses as they did not only for their beauty, but also because they were useful. I haven't a clue as to what became of their collection of magnifying glasses, but I wish that I had it today. Since I don't, I have collected a number of my own over the years. And I use them . . . because I need to.
But one cannot, or should not, exclusively use magnifying glasses to read in one's office or at one's computer, so one must also employ the use of spectacles designed for such activity. But as many of my middle-aged readers well know, if one doesn't require the wearing of glasses at all times it is devilishly easy to misplace them. Or, in Reggie's case, lose them.
The first pair of reading glasses I bought were foolishly acquired from the very carriage trade optometrist Friedrich's Optik on Park Avenue in New York. No, I was not foolish for frequenting such a purveyor, but rather I was foolish to think that I wouldn't soon lose such a purchase, given my propensity to losing umbrellas, keys, and gloves. To give those unfamiliar with Friedrich's an idea of exactly how carriage trade it is, their only other store in the U.S. (they are based in Hamburg, Germany) is on Worth Avenue in Palm Beach. I think I paid over $700 for mine, and that was over ten years ago. They were a thing of great beauty, and beautifully made . . . and I lost them within a week of acquiring them.
|The sad, empty case that once held Reggie's reading glasses|
Fortunately, I still have the sunglasses that I bought at Friedrich's several years ago.
|Woodrow Wilson, President and pince-nez wearer|
Which reminds me of a story. Once upon a time, long, long ago, when Reggie was a little boy, no more than six or seven years old, he accompanied his mother, MD, to the drug store, where she was picking up a prescription from the pharmacist. Both of his parents, and each of his older siblings, wore spectacles at the time, all of which were procured from traditional, independent optometrists. Reggie did not yet then require wearing glasses, but he did have his eyes checked regularly, as it was assumed to be only a matter of time before he would require spectacles himself. While standing in the drug store with his mother, waiting in line for the pharmacist, Reggie noticed what appeared to him to be an old man looking through a rack of spectacles. It had never occurred to Reggie that spectacles could be bought from anywhere but an optometrist, and he found it fascinating that this man was considering buying ready made ones at the drugstore. "Mummy," Reggie said, "why is that man looking at those glasses?" MD replied that he likely needed them to read. "But why is he buying them here instead of going to the Eye Doctor like we do?" She said that the glasses we bought were expensive, and maybe this man didn't want to pay so much for his. This astonished Reggie. "Then he must be very poor, isn't he, Mummy, because he can't afford to buy them from an Eye Doctor?" Reggie felt intensely sorry for this man who was reduced to such base poverty that he couldn't afford "real" glasses like Reggie's family could. MD responded that Reggie shouldn't speak so loudly in public and that she would explain it to him after they left the store.
It was with amusement that I recalled this exchange many years later when I found myself in a drugstore, searching through a rack of cheap reading glasses for my prescription. I had, in fact, become the very man that Reggie had felt so sorry for, all those years ago.
|A favorite pair of eyebobs reading glasses|
But one needn't be reduced to buying one's reading glasses at drug or discount stores any longer. A number of years ago I came across a purveyor of ready-made reading glasses that bridge the gap between expensive optometrist ones and flimsy cheap ones. They are made by a company called eyebobs, which was started by a graphic designer who--like Reggie--was frustrated that there were no reasonably priced, good looking reading glass options available. eyebobs designs and markets numerous lines of reading glasses that are terrific looking and well made, and that sell for around $65 a pair. They are available at specialty retailers (Reggie bought his first pair at Neiman Marcus) and also online at www.eyebobs.com. So now, thanks to eyebobs, Reggie sports a collection of handsome reading glasses instead of nasty cheap ones (although he hasn't thrown the cheap ones away, he just doesn't wear them in public anymore).
|eyebobs spectacles are cleverly named|
But Reggie doesn't only wear reading spectacles, for he also has a pince-nez. That's right, a pince-nez. In fact, I am wearing mine as I sit writing this essay. Here's how that came about. Half a dozen or so years ago Boy and I attended a benefit for the local historical society in the county where Darlington House sits. The benefit was held in conjunction with an antiques show where there were dozens of dealers in "smalls." One of the dealers had a display of antique spectacles, including a dozen or so pince-nez. Boy zeroed in on and bought a pair of dashing spectacles made with silver frames and green glass lenses, probably dating from the first half of the nineteenth century.
|Boy's rather swell antique green spectacles|
I, on a lark, tried on several pince-nez. And much to my surprise, one of them was in my prescription! With but a moment's hesitation, I bought it on the spot. And I have worn my pince-nez regularly since then. Not only does it aid my vision when reading print, but it is quite comfortable lightly pinched on the bridge of my nose.
|Reggie's steel-framed pince-nez|
Reggie does admit that he rarely wears his pince-nez outside the confines of Darlington House, for even he recognizes that most people would likely stare and point at him if he did, and that those of the basest sort would likely burst into derisive laughter once they realized what Reggie had perched on his nose.
|President Theodore Roosevelt,|
arguably the most famous pince-nez wearer of all time
But that doesn't dissuade Reggie from wearing his pince-nez, at least at Darlington House. Not only is his pince-nez a wizard at doing the job it was designed for--allowing Reggie to read the printed word--but wearing one also puts Reggie in good company: at least three of our presidents--both Roosevelts and Woodrow Wilson--wore them. While researching this post Reggie came across a number of other, like-minded afficionados of said spectacle, including one by the name of LeDandy, who has devoted an entire blog to the subject: Pince-Nez Renaissance.
I encourage those of you who require reading glasses to consider buying an antique pince-nez to wear from time to time. Almost every antiques mall or show has several dealers with antique or vintage spectacles and pince-nez for sale, and if you try enough of them on you will likely eventually come across one with your prescription. Reggie isn't suggesting that you should make a pince-nez your primary reading spectacle, but he does like having one to wear every now and then, and he thinks you might, too.
All color photographs by Boy Fenwick. Black and white images of our pince-nez wearing U.S. presidents courtesy of the Library of Congress