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


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