Antique Specs: “… Spyhole fans had been made for some time, with peep holes of gauze or mica worked into the pattern on the leaf of the fan or spyholes drilled into the sticks and guardsticks. Mirrors had also been mounted on the guard sticks. The lady could thus preserve her modesty by covering her eyes with a fan whilst still being able to see anything that she wanted to. From this it was a short step to the optical fan and several types were developed.
Spyhole Fans: For short sight a single concave lens could be mounted in one of the spyholes, effectively forming a Quizzer or Quizzing Glass. This was then further developed into a Galilean telescope by mounting a convex lens in the outer guardstick and a concave lens in the inner guardstick. Lining up the holes in the intervening sticks, when the fan was closed and the blades rested upon one another, produced a simple tube with a lens at each end. The resulting spyglass could even be adjusted for focus by varying the separation of the closed sticks.
Remember that the most decorative face of the fan was always shown to other people and is the Obverse side. The Reverse side of the fan could often be quite plain as it didn’t matter being presented only to the user. Thus the guardstick nearest to the user’s face would be on the reverse and so, if only one lens was fitted, it would provide a better field of view placed on the reverse guardstick (a quizzer).
Spyglass Fans: The miniaturization of telescopes allowed a spyglass to be set in the central pivot holding the sticks, usually with a draw tube to allow focusing but sometimes with a single fixed tube. The 360 degree cockade fan usually had the spyglass in the central pivot, where it could be used discreetly from behind the open fan.”
“Miniature spyglass fans were for ladies to spy on their neighbours without it being thought they were looking at anything at all; in that sense they went a stage further than the mere diversionary tactics of the jealousy glass… (the first image) a cockade brisé fan which is of stained horn, clouté with steel, bearing gilded and silver ornamentation. You can see it glistening at the ends of its ‘sunbeam’ edges. It dates from circa 1810. Clouté is a difficult word to interpret, it refers to the small rounds dots of gold or silver leaf paper. which were like bits of confetti glued on and then rubbed into pre-made pits in the material of the sticks. In English the verb ‘to clout’ (amongst its other meanings such as ‘hit’) means to patch or stud, usually with metal, often in a heavy-handed or rough manner, but in French the verb ‘clouter’ means to ‘adorn’ with nails and it refers to the decorative use of metal. it has an altogether more delicate and refined meaning. “
Antique Specs veoyeurism of terms
Sticks: The skeleton of the fan which revolves around a Pivot at the base. The two outer Sticks (blades), upper and lower, are called Guardsticks or just guards and may be thicker and more profusely decorated. Sticks can be made of many materials, tortoiseshell, horn, ivory, bone, mother-of-pearl, wood and mica. Sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish between bone and ivory but, generally speaking, ivory will be slightly whiter and also have a very slight sheen. Tiny dark striations noted occasionally with bone might well be the channels left by tiny blood vessels since they fill up with dirt which darkens them. Differentiating between Horn & Tortoiseshell can also sometimes be quite difficult even when you are holding the item in your hands. Many Tortoiseshell items are obvious because of the characteristic striations of colour, the problems arise mainly with very dark and with blonde shell, both of which may have virtually no striations.
As far as spectacles frames are concerned, and especially with heavier “Library” frames, shell spectacles fronts are often made up of layers of thin shell spliced together under heat and pressure. With careful examination these layers may be visible - a positive identification of tortoiseshell. These layers may be present in some thicker shell guardsticks”.
Leaf: The Leaf is the portion of the fan placed on to and over the Sticks; it can be made of silk, paper, lace, gauze or chicken skin (very fine and resembling paper). Usually the Leaf is attached to the upper part of the Sticks called the Ribs and holds the Sticks together. It can be single or double (to cover the Sticks from the rear). Leaf fans usually open out to around 160 degrees.
Brisé: A fan consisting of Sticks only, which are held together usually by a ribbon fixed near the top. The sticks are usually wider and carved, pierced, or decorated.
Cockade: A fan, either Leaf or Brisé, which opens up to 360 degrees around a central pivot. The Guardsticks are usually extended to form a handle.
Clouté: Discs or sequins used as decoration, they can be of many materials (most commonly cut steel) and are either glued into small pre-made depressions (pits) made in the sticks or pinned with metallic thread or mother of pearl. Comparable to confetti, these can rarely be gold, silver, or even mica.
Gorge: The part of the fan, usually the exposed Sticks, between the bottom of the Leaf and the Pivot.
Arrow Shape: As fans were frequently given as a present to a lady, many brisé fans were carved so that when closed they resembled an arrow (Cupid’s).
This is one of my favourite things I have comes across while researching today: “Even the snuff were exploited in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to conceal small telescopes that were used to scrutinize passersby on theboulevards. They met with wonderful examples of snuff glasses in gold and precious stones. . . “
“Scented environments enameled brass-shaped building, complete with columns, guarding the main gate and the service. In the center of the side walls of the building is inserted a small telescope fixed focus.”
“Needle Holder ivory engraved with brass fixtures.On the bottom is inserted a telescope. It could also be used as a toothpick holder”
“Tobacco gilt brass oval, engraved motifs north-east. At the center of the telescope is fixed focus. It was used for snuff.”
“Tobacco and gold turtle. The body is completely turtle, while the interior and the moldings are gold.On the cover is inserted a portrait of Napoleon-sealed transparent semi-precious stones (carnelian). At the top there is a two-cannocchialino stretch.”
“Tobacco ivory and gold. On the cover is inserted in a composition of enamel, gold thread and dried flowers. At the top there is a two-cannocchialino stretch.”
Some of my posts today will have a bit of long text but it’s well worth the read and besides when have I ever lead you astray with long text?
Les Incroyables: Precious object with four small telescopes pendant, mounted on a brass chatelaine, of various shapes and an eyeglass case with mother of pearl shell.This type of pendant Lunettes Breloques was in vogue in the early nineteenth century and was brought to the vest with some fassamani: it was the prevailing fashion for Incroyables (fops and dandies) who wanted to get noticed on the streets of Paris.
“Set of 5 small telescopes mounted on a pendant brass chatelaine. The pendants are of different shape. This type of telescope pendant Lunettes Breloques was in vogue in the early nineteenth century, was brought to the vest along with a few pairs of glasses (fassamani). It was the prevailing fashion for les incroyables that roamed the streets of Paris with a single purpose: to get noticed.”
Early 18th century:Telescope spiral told skeleton, silver gilt, engraved on the eyepiece and the objective. The body is composed of ten rings hinged together, allowing the lengthening and shortening of the telescope and hence the focus.
One of my favorites: Telescope with tie belt with gold and pearl. The objective and eyepiece are made by a crown of pearls, but the rod is mother of pearl and gold flows into a body, pierced with carry-pearl.
So sneaky! The telescope is inserted into a rock crystal bottle shaped like a snail. The telescope has two stretch and is manufactured in brass. Although this pendant is part of the concealment of objects in the scopes of use that occurred at the beginning of the nineteenth century in France. This type of object encountered a lot of luck, as it was customary to bring the fragrance into the pockets that were used routinely. (Until the late nineteenth century were employees of ammonium salts to revive the unconscious and this kind of bottle, in some cases, was also used to contain these salts.) On the outer surface of the bottle, there are diamond-shaped three-dimensional work.)
“Imagine the scene…you are in the theatre attending the latest boring production by Mr So-and-So when Lady Talk-of-the-Town takes her seat further down your row. How can you appear to be watching the performance whilst really spying on what the scandalous lady is up to?
The answer was to use one of these - a ‘jealousy glass’ designed to look like a simple straight-barrelled spyglass but in fact containing an oblique lens and side aperture so you can look at what is happening to your left or right. The aperture was usually less conspicuous than this example, though maybe sometimes the user wanted to be caught!
The technical name for a side-looking opera or field glass with an oblique mirror is ‘polemoscope’. The German-Polish astronomer Johannes Hevelius (1611-1687) claimed to have invented it in 1637, describing it in his book about the moon, Selenographia(1647) and apparently he named it after the Greek word for war because he thought it could have military uses although Robert Hooke examined one and found the viewing angle too narrow for this. It was as a fun plaything that the invention really took off in the 18th century.
The jealousy glass at the top has a brass eyepiece and blue enamel casing featuring white decorative embellishments. A hinged ‘lens cover’ conceals a storage compartment (probably for snuff or a pomade). There is of course no lens there at all. Instead an oval mirror with a surrounding green cord opens to the side.
The second, much less blatant, jealousy glass contained all the accoutrements a gentleman might desire. It is incorporated within a gold-mounted etui with a brass body covered in green-stained fishskin. A magnetic compass has been set into the brass cap. The wooden core to the etui contains a gentleman’s manicure set including nail scissors, hinged ivory note-slide, pencil, folding knife, needle and tweezers with a file handle.
Ladies were thought to want other things, so the female equivalent, shown here in an example by Bointaburet from early 19th century Paris contained a pill receptacle in the end beneath a lid and a miniature scent bottle just 2cm wide that fitted within the barrel. Should your neighbour’s antics overwhelm your tender sensitivities the other contents would help revive you!”
Artifacts date to the 18th century
The second artifact is also french and dates to the late 19th century. “Binoculars Brass golden turtle neck pierced and engraved. The body of the binoculars decorated in gilt brass roses, there are twelve porcelain cameos. The focus wheel is mother of pearl”
The third design is French (notice a theme?) and is from the Charles X era. “Embossed brass binoculars. The handle is made of tortoise. The body of the binoculars is closed completely on itself and this type was called to Pomponne.”
The last pair of spy wear “Binoculars accordion, brass-covered front turtle.”
“An update to my original vintage subminiature spy watch-cameras post (link) the other week with this remarkable find (Thanks to Alex at QP). This 1886 Victorian Lancaster Pocket Watch Camera predates what I thought to be the first camera watch in 1907. It just sold at a Bonhams auction for £18,000
The Lancaster Ladies Watch Camera was brought into Bonhams by a gentleman whose grandfather had owned it originally. He was a cabinetmaker at the Birmingham-based firm J. Lancaster & Son, probably working on the many wooden cameras sold by the company. The vendor, consigning several watches to one of Bonhams’ sales, noticed that among his collection was what looked like an ordinary nickel-plated pocket watch case when closed – but when he opened it he discovered that it actually contained a tiny camera inside.
Lionel Hughes, Bonhams’ Camera Specialist, was delighted to come across the piece:“This is a truly exceptional piece, and the price achieved at Bonhams today reflects this,” he explained. “The Lancaster Watch Camera was patented in October 1886 and made until 1890. Such tiny cameras were the forerunners for the ‘spy’ camera – a mechanism disguised as a different object. However, it would have been very inconvenient to use as four very small catches had to be released in order to remove the glass screen and to fit a separate metal sensitised material holder for each exposure. As a result, the model sadly sold badly and is much rarer than the improved version which came on the market in 1890. The ladies’ pattern is therefore particularly special, and only four original models are known to exist.”“