Some Very Cool Evidence of Early Eyeglass Use

Medievalist.net found this story about some incredibly neat evidence of eyeglass use from a medieval manuscript. No, it wasn’t a mention in the manuscript: it was on the manuscript. Witness:

Someone placed their eyeglasses, most likely leather-framed spectacles, inside the flyleaf, closed the book, and then went off and forgot about them or got killed by Huns or something. It’s like a coffee ring, only made by leather eyeglasses.

They might have looked something like this:

That’s some cutting edge technology, right there: world-changing, in fact, and quite beautiful. Here’s what the discoverer of the evidence deduced:

Advanced scientific methods for dating aside, we can get a good estimate of the age of the eyeglasses that left the impression on the parchment by first examining the script on the parchment (to establish the earliest possible date) and then by looking at the shape of the impression itself. The text is what is known as Southern Textualis or Rotunda. Southern Textualis was popular in Italy and Southern Europe between the late 1200s and the late 1400s. Alternately, the 1568 publication of the printed text provides us with a possible later date. Regardless, the spectacles conform to the physical features and rough time period for early medieval leather-framed spectacles. But dare we hope for more? Because the book was printed in Venice, Italy, the tantalizing possibility exists that the wearer who deposited his spectacles in between the parchment leaves may have been using a pair of the earliest eyeglasses ever made, because Florence, where eyeglasses were invented, is less than 165 miles from Venice. Although we may never know exactly how (or when) these spectacles left their mark on the parchment, their faint impressions nevertheless offer an intriguing glimpse into the early history this important invention.

 

About Thomas L. McDonald

Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.

  • Nordog

    I can’t see anything.

  • victor

    How do we know that it’s NOT a coffee ring and what we’re actually witnessing here is evidence of a very advanced dual-one-shot-espresso coffee cup?

  • https://twitter.com/#!/CMysliwiec Christian Mysliwiec

    Very cool! Reminds me of Brother William of Baskerville from The Name of the Rose.

  • Ron19

    On the other hand, it could indicate that somebody else actually tried to read the book hundreds of years later, and forgot where he left his glasses.


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