Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Trial Fingerpiece Set

[click on photos for detail]

pince nez fingerpiece setIt's great to be back. Jon Dean and I had a wonderful time, as usual, in Solvang (Santa Barbara wine country). Wine tastings, big meals and beautiful scenery. Nonetheless, its great to return to my routine and daily life. Just before I left on vacation last Saturday, I received a trial fingerpiece set which I bought on eBay at a great price.

Pince-nez eyeglasses, unlike contemporary eyewear, is not a "one-size fits all" item as you know. The trial fingerpiece set was an optician's tool to fit his patient with an appropriate pince-nez. My set shown here was made by American Optical and it was their trademark, saddle bridge "Fits-U" line. The "Fits-U" trial fingerpiece sets were made from 1903 through about 1930. American Optical in Southbridge, Massachussetts was the largest optical company in the world at the time and they dominated the market, even though smaller makers such as Perfex and Shur-On were on the scene.

Below are close-ups of one of the fingerpieces from this trial set. Note that the nose guard is all metal. This is called a "sanitary guard" and this style is indicative of an older fingerpiece.

pince nez trial set

pince nez sanitary nose guard
The fingerpieces in this set consists of different shapes and sizes of mountings. The optician using this set would select the mounting best suited for his patient. As shown on the chart below, there are three different factors determining fit: 1) pupillary distance, 2) height of the bridge, and 3) inclination of the crest of the bridge. The chart is presented in two pictures for readability.

pince nez trial chart

pince nez trial chart
The fitting process was basically as follows. The optician would usually take two or three fingerpieces from the set and proceed to clip a sample pince-nez on the wearer's nose bridge to judge comfort and security of the fit. Afterwards, he would then take a new fingerpiece mounting of the same number or size and determine correct lens size and pupilary distance. The new lenses would then be installed. If a chain or earloop was desired, an extra hole would be drilled in the lens. When the client returned, the beautiful new rimless fingerpiece pince-nez would be clipped on his nose. It was then that small, often tiny final adjustments would be made to the nose guards so that the pince-nez would be an absolutely perfect fit.

Adjustments were generally not made on the sample sets as they were meant to merely be a guide in selecting the final choice.

Rimless pince-nez mountings took up very little storage space. In the 1890s to 1930s an optician would generally have the correct new mounting on hand. If not, one could quickly be ordered.

Sadly, pince-nez started to fall out of favor to a large degree in the 1920s. Younger people especially began to lose interest in this style. The fingerpiece trial set is a remarkable artifact from an era catering to the individual needs of the client. I am very pleased to own this set.

pince nez trial set fitting case

Friday, March 21, 2008


It has been a busy winter for me with work and writing two blogs. I'll be taking a short vacation from blogdom for a week.

My next post will be Saturday, March 29th. Many exciting things happening.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Pivot Fingerpiece

pivot fingerpiece pince nez
I recently bought a very nice fingerpiece on eBay last week. At a glance,it looks like a standard rimless fingerpiece with an ear loop. However, this pince-nez has an additional feature on the nose guard. It has a pivot movement on the guard itself.

Here are some close-up photos showing the pivot mechanism. It is a subtle feature and not always apparent from most photos.

pivot close up fingerpiece pince nez
Does it make a difference in fit? No. I've worn this model for a short time and it did not feel different from a fingerpiece with the standard stationary guard. I must say the rocking motion of the nose pad is a clever feature.

Below is a fingerpiece with a stationary nose guard. Click on it for detail. This particular mounting is the one which I have fitted with prescription lenses in less than a month. I can't wait!

stationary guard pince nez
If the noseguards of a fingerpiece do not look symmetrical, it may be due to a pivot nose guard. Investigate!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Little Pieces of Jewelry for the Nose, Part II

pince nez jewelry fingerpiece hoop spring mountingsA short time ago, I posted a photo of some pince-nez mountings which were absolutely stunning in appearance. A friend of the Renaissance was kind enough to send in that pic from his collection. As someone once said, it is literally a piece of jewelry for the nose. Pictured above are more examples of the varieties found within the fingerpiece and hoop spring pince-nez styles. Imagine one of these on your nose with a lens shape of your choosing.

Click on the photo above to see the detail of these mountings. They are fingerpieces except for the last five which are hoop springs. Short of a custom-made piece of jewelry, these mountings could not be manufactured today.

I uploaded some photos regarding pince-nez on Flickr, Yahoo's image program. A friend of mine put up many vintage pics of men and women wearing pince-nez also on Flickr. His photo collection is a neat journey in pince-nez style and history. Please feel free to leave comments on any photo.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Pince-Nez Sighting

mission impossible pince nezLast week I watched a dvd of the old tv series "Mission Impossible." For those of you not familiar with this series, it was made in the late 1960s - early 1970s and covered the missions of a fictional CIA-style government spy team. Despite sticking to a rigid formula, the show was very interesting and a pleasure to watch.

Last week I watched an episode entitled "The Play," dating back to an air time of December 8, 1968. In this episode, the team had to travel to an unnamed East European country and discredit a power hungry cabinet minister from attaining power at the expense of the current prime minister. Barry Atwater, who played the prime minister, wore a pince-nez fingerpiece! It looked great on someone playing a head of state. A distinguished style of eyewear.

What I found very interesting was the dramatic effect of taking the fingerpiece on and off. It is a wonderful way to add a visual exclamation point to a statement. You couldn't accomplish the same result with a hoop spring.

Unfortunately I couldn't find a picture of Barry Atwater from this particular show. It wasn't the best Mission Impossible episode, but I will remember the pince-nez from it.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Please Bid Responsibly

When bidding on eBay, please stay within reasonable boundaries. It's best to know the value of an item and what you are willing to spend. Yes, this is not brilliant advice and I'm sure you've heard it before. When I first started on eBay, I ended up bidding far too much on a ticket stub from the 1982 World Cup (Poland v. USSR). I got caught up in a bidding war with a Polish eBayer who had national pride on his side but not the money. Ever since that auction, I've learned to stay within reasonable limits. Sniping, the process of placing a bid in the closing seconds, is a great technique for staying out of a bidding war as you must bid your maximum amount at one time.

Oxford pince nez eBay overpriced
I've been following pince-nez auctions and saw the tragedy of a bidding war between two overzealous bidders. Well, it wasn't a tragedy for the seller! The Oxfords pictured above sold for $192.76! This is about $170 too much. Is there something special about this particular pince-nez? No, just a standard gold-filled frame. My friend confirmed that this was not a rare piece or special in any way. Just two bidders caught up in a costly conflict. The "winner" turned out to be the loser in this instance.

Another auction ending about the same time for a similar item ended with no bids. This was also a white, gold-filled Oxford in great condition with case and cleaning cloth. Interestingly, it had no bids and went unsold for $14.99. In my opinion, this frame was equal if not superior to the frame which sold for $192.76.

Oxford pince nez unsold
Buyer beware, as they say.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Send in your photo, get free nose pads

pince nez nose pad
I'm proud to announce the start of the Renaissance's Outreach Program. Outreach means reaching out to the community and that is exactly what we are doing. Thanks to a generous grant (of about $30), we are able to offer two free pairs of nose pads if you send in a photo of yourself wearing pince-nez. We'll publish the photo along with any information you want to share. If you haven't tried nose pads on your pince-nez, you'll find this inexpensive accessory makes a vast improvement in comfort and security. Please check out the Renaissance post on nose pads.

All joking aside, this nose pad offer in exchange for a photo is legitimate. Michael was our first recipient of our nose pad offer. Give it a try as you have nothing to lose. We will send you two pair of J.I. Morris silicone nose pads, one in size regular and the other in extra large. They do make a large size which is in between these two. Unfortunately our "grant" only covers a limited number of pairs.

Why is the Renaissance doing this promotion? I have wanted to wear pince-nez for over twenty years but couldn't find any information or advice. About four months ago I met someone online who has provided a wealth of support and information which has enabled me to fulfill this long-held goal. I'd like to pass along this information so others have this information available. Without nose pads, I doubt that I would wear pince-nez

Unfortunately we cannot offer free pince-nez mountings. That you'll have to buy on your own. Please send in your photo and other information (if any) you would like to appear on the Renaissance to LeDandy. If you live outside the U.S., we'll still send out the nose pads if possible. Our stock of nose pads is limited.

If you wish to buy more nose pads, ordering information is available on my previous nose pad post. A pair of pads should last at least a year with constant wear.

[Update 4/25/09: Nose pad offer no longer available. Please order directly from QTE.]

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

eBay Buying Tips Revisited

Lets be realistic. The best market for purchasing pince-nez is on eBay. I buy everything from vintage shoes to historical autographs on eBay and have been very pleased overall with my purchases

The other day I walked into an optical store on Union Square in San Francisco. I took a long lunch hour and decided to do some window shopping. I heard that this store carries a selection of vintage eyewear including pince-nez. Turns out that their selection was small and prices started at $300 for just the mountings! Absolutely ridiculous. The salesman had little knowledge and no interest in this style.

You are far better off buying several pair off of eBay and still wind up with a huge savings.

I've been cruising the eBay selection of pince-nez. Here's a tip: also use the search terms "antique eyeglasses" as well as "pince-nez." You'll find many pince-nez which aren't properly labeled as such. There are some interesting items but you do have to be careful. The nice part is that if you do have buyer's remorse, you're only out $20 or so. Not the $300+ at the Spectacle Shoppe!

If you haven't read the Renaissance's "eBay Buying Guide, Parts One and Two," I suggest you look it over. The tips are excellent. Unfortunately I can't take credit for most of the wisdom contained therein. My friend with years of eBay buying experience and more years of pince-nez expertise provided most of the tips.

A big lesson is to avoid a twisted or bent frame. Despite outward appearances, it's not easy or even possible, to correct damage which has been done to a mounting. Initially, I was very interested in this 10k hoop spring. If my friend didn't provide the tips mentioned earlier, I might have bought this pince-nez.

If you look closely, you can see that the left side of the photo shows an uneven nose guard and the hoop is not symmetrical. Unless you are a jeweler or an experienced optician, don't plan on making quick fixes. It's harder than it looks to make the right adjustments.

pince-nez hoop bent frame
The other bad deal is easier to spot: riveted lenses. This most often indicates a cheap, drugstore pair of sunglasses if it has colored lenses. Even if it is a quality mounting, riveted lenses are highly difficult or impossible to refit with lenses. Always look for the screw on the mounting strap.

pince nez hs rivetThe more you look, the better your eye. It's fun window shopping.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

The Oxford Style

Oxford pince nezFor being a simple nose piece mounting, pince-nez runs across a wide array of styles. In one of the first posts, I discussed the two major groupings of pince-nez: hoop spring and fingerpiece. Hoop spring fits the nose with tension provided by the bridge, whereas the fingerpiece's tension resides in the nose guards. The Oxford style can be seen as a subset of the hoop spring as the tension for fit comes from the bridge.

So what distinguishes an Oxford from a traditional hoopspring? The Oxford's nose guards are separate from the bridge. The nose guards on a hoop spring are part of the bridge itself. This is the key difference in terms of function and design.

Oxfords make a great collectible and are often quite ornate. However, they are usually among the least favorite designs to wear. I don't have first-hand experience with them but they look heavy and are far from the desirable, minimalist look of the fingerpiece and hoop spring. You will run across this style quite a bit when you browse for pince-nez, either on eBay or in antiuqe stores. You will find that rimless Oxfords are quite scarce.

For some reason I picture this style on an eccentric, older woman. In this context, I'd say the Oxford would look great.

So what are the styles of Oxfords? Three basic types: 1) non-folding, 2) folding and 3) z-fold.

1) Non-folding - Perhaps the most attractive of the Oxford style due its faithfulness to the minimalist look. A benefit to this design is that the lens shape can be changed.

Oxford pince-nez

2) Folding - A more expensive variety of the Oxford and popular from 1917 to the early 1940s, mostly with older people. These Oxfords open via a button on the handle. The photo at the top of this post is of the folding variety Oxford. The photo below shows how this style appears when closed.

The folding Oxford is most often found with a chain or cord since these eyeglasses were mainly used for reading. Some women wore a brooch that had a retractable chain for their Oxfords.

3) Z-fold - This variety of Oxford is less expensive than the regular fold and it is quite common. A benefit of this style is that you can place nose pads on the nose guards which you cannot do with the regular fold. The reason is quite obvious.

Add an Oxford pince-nez to your collection. It is an interesting item and, at the very least, a great decoration for the house. eBay prices for Oxfords are very reasonable in the $10 to $20 range.


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