Opera glass

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made in London

Postcard of Opera glass.
© National Museums Scotland

Opera glass

This monocular opera glass or spy-glass (pictured here with its fitted case) was made in the late 18th century by Jesse Ramsden (1735-1800), a scientific instrument maker based in London. It was used by gentlemen of fashion or ladies at the opera and was more a scientific toy than a scientific instrument.

The opera glass has an oxidised outer brass tube painted in red and yellow enamel stripes. The inner single silver draw tube is engraved 'RAMSDEN / LONDON'. The fitted case is covered in red morocco leather and red plush within.

Opera glasses are mentioned as early as the 1730s in advertisements of London optical instrument makers. These were small telescopes, often decorated extravagantly, befitting their intended use as luxury items, and their magnifying power was slight.

Record details

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Online ID: 000-190-004-731-C
Image Rights Holder: National Museums Scotland
Project: 0098: National Museums Scotland
Project description | View all records in project
Ref: National Museums Scotland  T.1927.20
Date: Late 18th century
Material: Oxidised brass tube, red and yellow enamel / red leather case
Dimensions: 3.44" L closed; 1.75" D (object glass)
What: Opera glass, monocular / case
Subject: 22. PHYSICS, Light (Departmental Classification)
Who: Ramsden, London (Opera glass maker)
Where: England, London
Description: Monocular opera glass with oxidised brass tube enamelled in red and yellow stripes, in a red leather case, made by Ramsden of London, late 18th century
  • For Ramsden, see Gloria Clifton, Directory of British Scientific Instrument Makers 1550-1851. London, 1995, p 227-8 
  • Fred Watson, Binoculars, Opera Glasses and Field Glasses. Shire Album No 317, Princes Risborough, 1995, p 7 
  • J. William Rosenthal, Spectacles and other Vision Aids: a History and Guide to Collecting. San Francisco, 1996, esp. ch. 15 'Monoculars (Spy-glasses) (1603-1830), pp 138-48 
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