What's so funny about glasses ?

Some people burst into laughter over bifocals; to others the monocle is sidesplitting. Cartoonists make a living hiding them from professors. And six million Canadians can’t read the comics without them

BOB COLLINS February 15 1953

What's so funny about glasses ?

Some people burst into laughter over bifocals; to others the monocle is sidesplitting. Cartoonists make a living hiding them from professors. And six million Canadians can’t read the comics without them

BOB COLLINS February 15 1953

What's so funny about glasses ?

Some people burst into laughter over bifocals; to others the monocle is sidesplitting. Cartoonists make a living hiding them from professors. And six million Canadians can’t read the comics without them


AT BEDTIME tonight six million bespectacled Canadians will brush the cooky crumbs from their nightshirts, finish a chapter of a whodunit, snap off the light and go to sleep. Some will forget to remove their glasses, bend the frames as they slumber on their faces and wake up looking two ways at once. A few will put their glasses on the floor beside the bed and step on them when they get up, pulverizing twenty-five dollars’ worth of lens and frame. Most will weather the night without incident, but may easily run into trouble tomorrow, for man hasn’t had much peace since he first perched a pair of magnifying lenses on his nose seven centuries ago.

In Los Angeles, for example, Harvey Bornstein is still looking for the stranger who stopped him on the street, plucked off his spectacles, made Harvey count the number of fingers he held up, then broke the frame in half and stalked away muttering, “You don’t need glasses.”

A housewife in Winnipeg took home a friend’s glasses by mistake, assumed they belonged to her ten-year-old son and made him wear them all winter, in spite of his plaintive protest that he couldn’t see across the room.

Millions of other lens wearers are merely bemused by the way their spectacles get lost, dropped, sat on, steamed up, smeared up and mixed up. Even the people who can’t see without them are rarely grateful. Most glasses wearers share the sentiments of a tombstone inscription in Florence, Italy:


Men spatter their glasses with lather when they shave, yet can’t see the mirror if they take them oil. Some absent-minded souls wear them into the shower. Others push them up on their foreheads like Venetian blinds, then forget where they’ve put them. Babies rejoice in dashing them to the floor. Photographers hate them because the lenses cast glints and shadows on their subjects’ faces. Housewives who bend over steaming roasts come up with a greasy soap-defying sludge on their windshields.

Friends who don’t wear glasses themselves love to borrow them, try them on, peer at themselves in the mirror and delight their mothers and girl friends. Then, since only a practiced wearer knows the delicate art of handling glasses by their frames, he usually gets his lenses back stamped with a set of thumbprints.

Sometimes glasses even thwart romance. Bespectacled couples who dance cheek to cheek,

sometimes lock frames and have to be chiseled apart at the end of a waltz. Courtships may wither and die if every good-night kiss is punctuated by the clash of lenses and frames.

Nevertheless, glasses aren’t always a handicap in love. In 1945 the Canadian Institute for the Blind sent an expedition to the Arctic to fit Eskimos with eyeglasses. At Pangnirtung, on Baffin Island, they found a native in his thirties who couldn’t see well enough to hunt, therefore could not support a family and was getting the cold shoulder from the local girls.

Optometrist A. H. Tweedle, of Midland, Ont., fitted the patient with lenses in a sturdy gold-filled frame, restoring both his eyesight and his status as an eligible bachelor. Word came through later that he soon found a wife.

Spectacles can even bolster your personality. In an experiment at Purdue University, psychology students studied photos of men and women both with and without glasses and rated the subjects by the characteristics revealed in their faces. Glasses wearers were invariably rated higher in dependability, integrity, industriousness and honesty.

Although there is no official count, Sydney Hermant, an executive of the Imperial Optical Company, estimates that three out of five Canadians wear glasses. More conservative estimates, based on statistics of the American Optometrie Association, are that forty - three percent of

Canada’s fourteen million people—at least six million—wear spectacles all or part of the time.

If you don’t wear them now you probably will later. According to the Better Vision Institute of America twenty-three percent of children under fifteen, ninety-five percent of adults over sixty, and six out of ten of all ages combined need spectacles.

Generally spectacles are worn to correct one of the five most common visual defects: astigmatism, myopia or nearsightedness, hypermetropia or farsightedness, presbyopia and muscular imbalance. Presbyopia (middle-age sight) occurs when the crystalline lenses in the eye lose their elasticity and can no longer adjust for near objects.

“Everyone’s focusing power begins to decline at about ten years of age and continues until about forty,” says Dr. O. B. Richardson, Toronto oculist. “Between forty and fifty the average person needs spectacles for close-up work.”

To correct one or a combination of these faults spectacles wearers have access to single-vision lenses, bifocals or trifocals (for reading, middistance and full-distance vision) in about ten million different prescriptions and nearly one hundred different shapes of frames.

In the days when a frame had no sex appeal the lens was all that mattered. Spectacles were square or round; frames were plain metal and their wearers peered throughout life with a perpetually startled expression. Small girls who wore glasses were always the maiden aunts in school plays. Rig girls who wore glasses were always maiden aunts.

Then about fifteen or twenty years ago American humorist Dorothy Parker wrote, “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.” Bespectacled females, realizing what they were missing, groped along streets for a while, stumbling over mailboxes and hydrants, half-blind but unblemished by drab frames. Unfortunately they often passed up eligible young men because they couldn’t see them.

They were saved by the new plastics and a subsequent wave of glamour frames. Today spectacles are trimmed ¡ in scores of tints and shades; in plaids, pin stripes, hound’s-tooth checks and mottled effects; studded with brilliants, metal inlay or tiny plastic flower clusters.

For about five dollars a girl can frame her eyes with plastic; for five hundred she can do it with solid gold and for around ten thousand she can go ! for diamonds.

Small jeweled clips, which can be I worn on a gown, unfold into lorgnettes.

! These sometimes come in sets—one for ! distance vision, one for reading—so that at plays or banquets a woman can read her program or menu with one lorgnette, then count the house or spy on her friends with the other. There’s a gold pencil which, at the flick of a catch, fires a lorgnette from its barrel.

Women can now match their spectacles to their hair, their lipstick, their complexions, and their clothing. A bride in the States once asked an optometrist to install a sample of her lingerie in her frames. There are even mother-and-daughter sets.

Spectacles must nowadays be cosI metically correct. Sybil Whalen, salon j manager for a Canadian branch of the Helena Rubinstein organization, says, j “If your face is large with a rather I square jaw, a heavy frame on your ! glasses balances the strong lines of your I face. A small frame of lighter hue is more becoming on a small oval or j round face.”

Extroverts can wear flashy frames, says Miss Whalen, but shy types should i stick to inconspicuous glasses. Bej spectacled women must wear waterj proof mascara in case the glasses steam up, avoid clashing costume jewelry with dazzling frames and never let their noses become red or shiny.

Cliff Shorney, a Toronto optician

whose firm claims the largest assortment of frames in Canada and has furnished Canadian governors-general with glasses since Lord Tweedsmuir, says, “You can’t change a woman’s ideas about glasses but you have to try to guide them, make them think your suggestions are their own ideas.” Shorney, with Gus Blocker, a leading New York city optician who once supplied the Aga Khan with fifty pairs of spectacles, were pioneers in the art of “cosmetic fittings” about fifteen years ago.

Students of spectacles psychology often scoff at people who wear glasses for effect: aspiring young businessmen with dark aggressive frames, college professors with stout spectacles that lend themselves to waving in lectures, insurance salesmen in rimless lenses that twinkle in a friendly reassuring fashion.

But Shorney, who fits frames to a man’s personality, says they actually do influence people’s opinion of you. Professional men who are short on forcefulness get substantial rugged frames rather than rimless or fleshcolored lenses. Several young lawyers have requested plain glass spectacles which they use in court to occupy their hands and cover up nervousness.

An industrialist who’d worn rimless spectacles all his life tried the aggressive dark frames for a change and was amazed at the new respect he and his glasses generated. “These are the greatest substitute for brains I’ve ever seen,” he told Shorney.

E. J. Fisher, dean of the Ontario College of Optometry, once had a patient who wore glasses but didn’t need them. As an experiment, unknown to her, he fitted her with clear gia&s lenses having no correction. She was perfectly happy with them until one lens broke, then immediately complained of eye trouble.

“People like that may merely imagine they need glasses,” says Fisher. “Or again, their eyes may be slightly sensitive to light. Class only transmits ninety-two percent light and possibly spectacles make their eyes more comfortable.”

Eye examinations are made by ophthalmologists, oculists and optometrists. Ophthalmologists and oculists are medical doctors who have taken postgraduate work in eye diseases, and ophthalmologists specialize in surgery. Optometrists are in the nonmedical category but have graduated from schools of optometry and are trained to test vision and prescribe corrective lenses, which they dispense themselves. Like eye doctors, they may also prescribe eye exercises. Experts say such exercises help fifteen percent of the people whose eyes are bothering them and enable some of these people to avoid glasses. Unlike doctors, optometrists aren’t allowed to use homatropine, a drug which dilates the pupil and permits a more detailed examination. That’s because homatrr ;ne is harmful if dropped into eyes affected by certain diseases. Rut, according to the Canadian Association of Optometrists, ninety-six percent of all Canadian eye problems are nonmedical, and optometrists do seventy percent of the eye testing. Opticians dispense lenses but can’t examine eyes. They work in conjunction with ophthalmologists and oculists, filling lens prescriptions, and their relation to eye doctors is similar to that of druggists to other medical practitioners.

Spectacles lenses start as crystalclear blanks of glass about an inch and a half square. Optical goods manufacturers heat these blanks and stamp out rough lenses which are cooled slowly, ground on the convex side with diamond or emery wheels, polished for hours with jewelers’ rouge, inspected individually for flaws, then ground on the concave side, checked for proper power, packaged for distribution.

When a prescription is to be filled, the lenses are cut to the size and shape of the frame and the edges beveled. Then the plastic frames are warmed in hot salt until they expand enough to let the lens slip into place.

Most glasses wearers wonder if even this process justifies the price of spectacles. In 1948 a Combines Investigation Commission, examining an alleged combine in the manufacture and sale of optical goods in Canada, found that the combine no longer existed but that prices were still extremely high. At that time plastic frames with lenses that cost the retailer $4.20 were sold for ten to fifteen dollars. Today optometrists say their laboratory bill for an average pair of single vision spectacles in plastic frames is approximately ten or eleven dollars. They charge a customer this plus their fee of about ten to fifteen dollars for examination and fitting.

In Ontario you can still walk into a five-and-ten and buy glasses for as little as thirty-nine cents. However, in most cases, these lenses are merely magnifiers or reducers, says an optical firm. They will not correct such visual defects as astigmatism. In at least one case the customer tests his new glasses by reading a page from the dictionary.

Naturally, skilled workmanship and examination by a trained professional man should cost more; just how much more is what all the shouting’s about when people start attacking or defending the high cost of cheaters.

There’s some doubt about whether Salvino Armatie, the man named on the tombstone in Florence, actually invented spectacles but they did come into use during his day. Unmounted lenses were known earlier and, before glassmaking was discovered, were made of quartz.

In Rome, around 50 AD, Emperor Nero’s eyes were so bad that he tired of squinting every time he went to the fights. So he mounted a concave emerald on a burnished gold handle and watched his gladiators through the world’s first lorgnette.

The invention of printing in the fifteenth century stimulated reading and aroused a demand for glasses, but the science of refraction was still unknown. British peddlers sold spectacles for two to four farthings each. Queen Anne, last of the English Stuarts, had a onetime tailor and a former preacher for opticians.

Around 1600 the monocle appeared. Originally it was designed for army officers who by regulation couldn’t wear spectacles; then it became a mark of

fashion. Opticians today estimate that no more than twenty monocles a year are sold in Canada.

In 1784 Benjamin Franklin invented bifocals. But scientific refraction was still a century away. Seventy years later Abraham Lincoln was able to walk into an Illinois jewelry shop and pick up a pair of glasses for thirty seven and a half cents, in the days when America coined half cents.

Although contact lenses have been heralded as the successors to spectacles they still present some problems. Contact lenses are smooth nonirritating plastic molded to the contour of the eye, and are practically invisible in use. There are lenses which fit under the eyelid and cover the entire eye, and smaller cornea lenses which cling by suction to the central portion of the eye.

But they are not easy to wear. Dean Fisher of the Ontario College of Optometry has worn contact lenses for

the last twelve years, alternating them with his spectacles.

“Wearing contact lenses is not the end of all eyeglass inconvenience,” says Fisher. “Perseverance is essential when you begin to wear them. You have to wear contacts for only about one hour the first day and gradually build up to longer periods. But the maximum promise that can be safely made is this: contact lenses can be worn an-average of four or five hours at a time, no more.”

Science and the optical trade are striving to make spectacles wearers love their glasses in spite of themselves. Lenses may now be rubbed With tissues, liquids or grease sticks which are said to prevent misting for several hours,. In the U. S. you can now buy spectacles with periscope-style prismatic lenses which enable you to lounge flat on your back, look toward the ceiling and still read the book on your chest or watch TV across the room.

One manufacturer puts out a shatterproof lens, forty times the strength of ordinary glass. In tests, it withstands the impact of a five-eighths-inch steel ball dropped three feet, and each pair of spectacles carries a Lloyd’s of London five-thousand-dollar policy, covering injuries resulting if the lens shatters.

England has a bifocal with its closevision segment hinged to the frame like a swinging door. To get unobstructed full-distance vision you simply swing the bifocal piece aside.

In keeping with the times. University of Pittsburgh chemists have developed spectacles glass which repels atomic rays, while a professorat the University of Sydney maintains that a good pair of glasses will prevent most people from seeing flying saucers. Saucers, he says, may be just spots before their eyes.

But science can’t do much abou*t women who force their spectacles into bulging handbags, or about the man who came to a Toronto optician recently with flattened frames and no lenses whatsoever.

“How could you possibly manage to break both lenses completely?” asked the optician.

The customer hung his head. “They fell out of my pocket and I backed over them with the car.”