Reading the Glasses

Eyeglass Case and Glasses Eyeglass Case and Glasses

Detail on the bridge of the glasses.

Dr. Alfred Fremont Barfoot’s eyeglasses are classified as a Pince-Nez model. This “pinch nosed” style was developed in France in 1850 and imported to America within the next several decades (“Museum of Vision”). In the late 19th century, glasses were seen as unfashionable and evidence of old age (Øydegaard). Pince-Nez eyeglasses were popular, inexpensive, and worn by two-thirds of the eyeglasses wearing population in the United States. Theodore Roosevelt was notorious for sporting these glasses during his presidency. The spectacles lacked temples but enabled the owner to set the glasses upon his or her nose rather than use the old-fashioned Lorgnette that required holding the eyeglasses to one’s face (“Museum of Vision”). A law was passed in 1905 that required all jewelers to stamp their gold and silver, and the lack of any stamping on the nosepiece of Dr. Barfoot’s glasses is particularly puzzling. It is likely that these glasses were purchased before 1905. The other alternative is that it was created with high-carat gold and the stamping has worn off or was lost over the course of several adjustments or repairs. The lack of stamping could also indicate that the nosepiece is a different metal, but considering the common use of gold in glasses, this is unlikely (Jewelers Vigilance Committee). The Pince-Nez takes the shape of a “Crank design.” This upside down U shape spreads half an inch in diameter before two straight pieces of metal connect it to the lenses (Øydegaard).

The two oval lenses of Barfoot’s glasses are connected through the nosepiece. Together, they span four inches—the same length as a size three child’s shoe—and fit easily in the palm of one’s hand. The right lens has a small hole drilled along the upper outside edge to accommodate a langelier, which is a chain that attaches the glasses to the wearer’s shirt or jacket. Since the Pince-Nez design of the nosepiece and the lack of earpieces provide little stabilization for the eyeglasses, many owners used a chain so the glasses would not fall and break. As a doctor, Barfoot would additionally find himself removing his glasses often in order to interact with his patients. The eyeglasses have a high magnification, and whether the doctor adopted his spectacles when he was a young man with hyperopia (farsighted vision) or to help alleviate the strain on his eyes in his later years is difficult to say.

The black leather case is embossed with gold foil. The foil reads, “Dr. A. F. Barfoot” in a smooth script, and below “Decorah, Iowa” in Helvetica typeface. The dual font leaves nothing to be desired; it identifies the case owner as a person of class since they could afford such an intricate case, but remains compact and comfortable for the doctor to carry on his way to visit his patients. This  4.5 inch by 1.5 inch case carefully wraps the glasses in purple velvet to protect them as Barfoot carried out his busy schedule. The case is well worn in many places, and has no identification of the manufacturer of the glasses. The two major producers of the Pince-Nez eyeglasses were The American Optical Company and Bausch & Lomb (“History of Eyewear”). It is likely that Albert received his glasses from one of these companies.