Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Swap

This swap may not make the history books as did the exchange of Francis Gary Powers for Col. Rudolf Abel back in the early 60s.* However this swap is very important to me. Remember the fingerpiece I had fitted with prescription lenses? The opticians I used in SF (EyeGotcha) proved a huge disappointment as they did not work with me for a proper adjustment. My own efforts did not prove successful as I learned that adjusting a fingerpiece requires a skill which is beyond me at this time.

The good news is that lenses, for the most part, are interchangeable on pince-nez as the lens hole is usually a uniform distance for the strap. My friend sent me a great selection of fingerpieces and I chose one that has a pivot nose guard. Very comfortable and it should work out fine.

Why not do it myself? I tried. The lenses on my current fingerpiece are secured very tightly. I used my screwdriver in an attempt to remove them. A big mistake! The screwdriver slipped and made a tiny nick on the lens. Lesson learned. Also, you'll notice the lens guard is straight on my new mounting. It will take some expertise to bend them for my oval lenses.

I still haven't found a decent optician here in the Bay Area. Yes, one of the great metropolitan areas in the U.S. and it is very difficult to find someone good. I found an optician online and sent off my fingerpiece and new mounting earlier in the week. I'll wait for the results before posting their name.

As the English soccer song goes, "this time we'll get it right!"
*Powers was the pilot shot down in the U-2 incident.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Pince-Nez on a Wedding Cake?

pince nez cake topper wedding
Yes, LeDandy and Jon Dean received their custom-made wedding cake toppers this week. They are made of clay and each one is about three inches tall. Jon Dean ordered them and explicitly requested that my topper wear a pince-nez. Narri, the artist on Etsy who created these gems, assumed that I will be wearing a hoop spring at my wedding. She may be right, as I'm looking forward to prescription lenses for the mounting shown on my last post. For the small price of $20, these sure beat the generic bride and groom figurines.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Hoop Dreams

pince nez hoop spring hoopspring

I remember some movie about Indiana basketball with Gene Hackman a long time ago. Well, the title also applies to my recent fascination and love with hoop springs. Most of the pince-nez you see on eBay and other sites are the fingerpiece variety (springs in the nose guards). Hoop springs predate the fingerpiece and they have a noble history. Woodrow Wilson and FDR wore hoop springs as did many members of their administrations.

The hoop spring has many amazing properties. First and foremost is the simplicity of the design. Unlike a fingerpiece, there are very few parts and someone with limited skill (such as LeDandy) can completely disassemble and put back together a hoop sping in a few minutes. The hoop spring featured below shows the parts. Starting at 12 o'clock and going counterclockwise, you have the bridge, screw, strap and nose guard.

parts hoop spring pince nez hoopspring
Second, another interesting property is that many hoop springs have interchangeable parts. It is easy to swap out parts as the dimensions seem to be quite uniform. Are the nose guards uncomfortable? It is easy to swap out this part while still keeping the rest of the hoop spring.

Finally, the design itself is flattering to the appearance for most people. The high hoop on this hoop spring elongate the nose in an appealing way.

One useful tip if you do acquire an antique hoop spring. If the screws are not movable, soak the mounting in WD-40 overnight. You should have no problem the following day removing the screws. Enjoy.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Where Can One Buy Wearable Pince-Nez?

I wish I knew. Please help out the Renaissance if you can by adding your comments if you have a good lead on a source of wearable pince-nez available for purchase. I use the term wearable since collectible pince-nez are easier to find and fit is not a consideration. I do emphasize the need of a good, liberal return policy when purchasing a wearable pince-nez over the internet due to fitting concerns.

In past columns I mentioned several options for purchasing pince-nez. eBay, vintage eyewear dealers (online and brick & mortar stores), and flea markets. I've contacted many sellers and as of this time I have not yet found a dealer or source that I can recommend.

eBay. I haven't had much success on eBay in finding a wearable pince-nez. One seller, Treasures in Time99, has the most visible presence as a seller on eBay. However, their return policy is restricted to "gross misrepresentation" and not fit. They usually list a size in millimeters but this can be misleading as these measurements are unreliable (see last post). There is no definitive way to gauge the fit of a fingerpiece or hoop spring from one size measurement. I would never buy from them.

Also, a fingerpiece is a complicated mechanism. I purchased one beautiful fingerpiece on eBay that looked very promising. Unfortunately the spring on one nose guard was significantly weaker than the right side. This made the pince-nez unwearable.

All my other pince-nez purchases on eBay resulted in an unsatisfying fit. The cost of shipping back to the seller in each case would have been roughly the purchase price so I kept them. Nonetheless, eBay is still probably the best avenue to find pince-nez. Please see the Renaissance posts with eBay buying tips, Part I and Part II.

Online Vintage Eyewear Dealers. A huge disappointment. I'm sure you've run across Eyeglasses Wearhouse if you have done even a basic Google search. They are highly ranked on Google and they have a very nice website. Unfortunately their prices are expensive and you have to email them for prices on a specific item. Even if you do find an item, their return policy is restricted to three days. This is inadequate for a pince-nez purchase. A week would be necessary to gauge fit.

I contacted two other vintage online eyewear dealers: Fabulous Fanny's in New York and Allyn Scura in Northern California. Both websites have only a few pince-nez listed but say they have a much more extensive stock of eyewear. A month ago I spoke twice with the owner of Fanny's and he said that he would send me a listing of hoop springs for sale. No response from Fanny's. Allyn Scura did send me scans of their pince-nez for sale. A poor selection and not even worth considering.

Brick & Mortar Vintage Eyewear. I've only been to one store in San Francisco that has pince-nez. The Spectacle Shoppe in Union Square. I had a very rude salesperson who turned away from me to stock a cabinet while I was still asking questions! Furthermore, their pince-nez mountings started at $300. This is an outrageous starting price.

Flea Markets. Personally I haven't had any luck at flea markets here in Northern California. The ones near me have expensive and low quality merchandise. Not a desirable combination. However, I've heard that flea markets in other areas are good. A reader from New York mentioned considerable success finding pince-nez. If you are in London, a reader informed me that the antique market day on Portobello Road is very good.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

How Does One Measure a Pince-Nez?

hoop spring hoopspring pince nez
If you've been looking at pince-nez for some time, you've run across the Eyeglasses Wearhouse website. They are highly ranked on Google and they have a sizable collection of pince-nez for sale. Prices are not listed so you have to email them. I found their prices to be on the high side but not outrageous.

One thing of notable interest is that they have sizes listed for their pince-nez in terms of millimeters. Then I started to feel like an idiot. I don't understand how one can measure the size of a hoop spring.

I wrote to Eyeglasses Wearhouse on how they measure a hoop spring. I received the following response. "Spread the spring by placing it over one of your fingers. When the lenses are parrell [sic], measure the nose pad width. This width can be decreased or increased slightly by adjusting the shape of the spring."

This is nonsense. How can one reliably measure the distance between nose pads as these are three dimensional objects covering a very small space? Furthermore, each pince-nez will sit differently on a wearer's nose. I discussed this subject with my friend who has many years experience with pince-nez and he agrees with me. There is no consistent and reliable method of measuring pince-nez for fit.

The same principle holds true for fingerpieces as well. The only part that can honestly be measured is the bridge itself. But since the fit is in the nose guards, the bridge measurement alone cannot assure a good fit.

When you see a dealer list a size for a pince-nez, be skeptical. Regardless of the purported size, the mounting may not fit you. This is the reason I insist on a return policy when buying pince-nez.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Cleaning Your Pince-Nez Mounting

A week ago I received a hoop spring which I purchased on eBay. Despite its first impression, this mounting is actually in good shape. However, it is in need of a thorough cleaning as a lot of grime has accumulated on it over the years. I've never cleaned a mounting so I asked my knowledgeable friend for info. The mounting in question is gold-filled like most from the pince-nez heyday period.

My friend recommends an all-purpose, liquid jewelry cleaner.* This is the type that comes in a small plastic jar of about four ounces or so. If you have only the mounting, you can put it in the jar for about ten minutes or according to the instructions for the cleaner. You may find a tiny brush in the jar which comes with the cleaner. You will be better off using a medium hard toothbrush.

A pince-nez with lenses requires a little more effort but it is still quite easy. Dip a toothbrush in the cleaning fluid and then scrub the mounting. Re-wet the toothbrush often. Don't be afraid of scrubbing the mounting since it is quite sturdy. Do be careful with the lenses as it is possible to scratch plastic lenses with the toothbrush. The nose guards typically require the most attention in terms of cleaning.

For stubborn stains or oxidation you can dip a small piece of # 0000 steel wool pad in the cleaning liquid and then use the pad.

After you have cleaned your pince-nez, give it a brief polishing with a soft cloth. You can then rinse it with liquid dish soap and warm, running water. Dry it off and replace the nose pads. Congratulations!
*Some mountings are made of brass. Use a brass cleaner for this metal if standard jewelry cleaner is not effective.


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