Making a spectacle…

Making a spectacle…

It all began with a Geneva Bible at St Ives last year. The 1560 edition, to be precise. That’s the first one with the numbered verses and the Roman typeface and wonderfully seditious marginal notes. You may know of it as the “Breeches Bible”. I was holding out for a “Wicked Bible”, but the price was too good to turn this one down.

It was a heavily overcast, windy day. I was under the canopy, the appointed reading was Ephesians 6:10-18… and I couldn’t read a bloody thing. My arms had somehow grown too short for me to hold the book at a comfortable reading distance in the low light. I improvised a book cushion and stood and managed to do the reading. Just.

Those short arms won’t get me this year.

The short arms thing was affecting me in real life too, so when I got a pair of reading/sewing/woodcarving glasses, I decided to make a 17th C pair as well. I’ve made leather frames before so thought I’d try wooden ones for a change. Then while researching, I found a pair of repro early 17th C German frames (originals from Bergen) in walnut that would fit. I checked the cheap reading specs at the local Pharmacy and found the lenses from the larger pairs in my script would fit the wooden frames with a little work.

When the frames turned up, it was a fairly trivial matter to pop the lenses out of the plastic frames, wrap them in masking tape, then reshape with a linisher and files and pop them in the wooden frames. Remember to mark the pupil centres, left and right, and which way is up on each one. I’ve closed the gaps in the frames with enamelled copper wire, I know some people use linen or cotton thread but I don’t think it’s what was originally used.

Advertencia a España de Quevedo - Las posiciones de poder son siempre peligrosas y las influencias aun peores
Oh noes! Some wicked person has drawn glasses, a mustache and beard on Señor Francisco de Quevedo!

A good German pair of glasses needs a good German glasses case. Fortunately, the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg holds a range of the masterworks of the Spectacle Makers’ Guild of Nuremberg, including cases from 1608 to 1704. I’ve chosen a case made by Lienhardt Fraischlich in 1613 (accession no. Z45 for those playing at home, I’m not permitted to insert a picture, you’ll have to look at the linked page).

The wood started out as a large field maple in the backyard that had started to drop enormous branches on the neighbours and in the interest of not knocking over next door’s house, had to go. The process was simple enough, grab a suitable length section off the wood pile, split a plank for the base, another slimmer one for the lid, and then just keep going for stock. Dress with an axe and then a plane. Break the axe handle and drop the head on the concrete floor in the process. Swear. (You may choose to skip those last two steps).

Field Maple
Remove everything that doesn’t look like a plank.

Make a pattern from your glasses,  transfer to the larger block and then excavate to the desired depth. I used my largest forstner bit to clear the majority of the waste, and then finished with gouges.


The lid is simpler, just thin and flat. I found clamping the lid to the base and cutting the corners off with a back saw worked best, then finish with a low angle plane.

The hinges and latches are all brass wire, with the terminating ends laid in rebates and properly clenched. The lining paper was marbled with oil paints.

Yeah, it isn’t going to work. Buggered if I know why the paint just kept dispersing down one end.

Marbling is diabolical, particularly if you are using paint. There are so many variables that it take a lot of practice to master. I can manage passable results some of the time. It turned out to be sufficient for the job at hand, but there’s no shame in buying it rather than making.

So now I’ll be ready. This year the reading is from 1 Samuel, chapter 8. The way Geneva spins it, kings are tyrants put up by man, no divine right in sight. No wonder King Jim had his own version written.



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