HISTORY OF BINOCULARS
The first pair of binoculars was not produced until the early 19th century; subsequent technological breakthroughs enabled manufacturers to make smaller instruments.
A Viennese optician called Johann Friedrich Voigtlander is credited with producing the first low magnification opera glasses in 1823. Two years later, J P
Lemiere patented field glasses made from a pair of GaliIean telescopes that could he focussed together.
A mid 19th-century innovation was the achromatic lens which cut out colour distortions.
However, the real breakthrough came when Carl Zeiss marketed prism binoculars in the 1890s.
The famous Zeiss scientist and manager, Ernst Abbe created the first commercially successful prism binocular in 1894. The design was soon copied or near copied by almost every optical company across the world. This is a sample of an improvement of that design in binocular form. It is known as the rotating Marineglas with 5x and 10x eyepieces. These were an 1896 design and are exceeding rare today in both binocular and monocular form
Invented by an Italian scientist, Ignazio Porro, in
1851, but neglected due to lack of suitable glass, the 'Porro' prism system meant that binoculars could he more powerful as well as more
compact than ever before.
A triangular prism in each barrel reflected the light
beam twice and turned the image the right way up without the aid of a negative, concave lens. Much more complex than the traditional low-magnification field glasses, they often had four lenses in the eyepieces alone.
The use of prisms also increased the overall
stereoscopic effect and had the advantage of widening the field of view.
Another new design, using a 'roof' prism, was developed by a German optician, Carl Hensoldt, in
1897. It featured in the popular 'Dialyt' field glasses marketed from 1905, and allowed field glasses to
be made with even slimmer barrels.
Miniature and compact binoculars, in which the barrels folded inwards for easy storage, became very
popular from that time onwards.
Fashions in binoculars did not change very much between the 1860s and 1910. The barrels were usually of plain brass or black
japanned brass, or they were partly covered in leather. Binoculars came with hard leather sling cases, often lined with a softer leather.
BINOCULARS COLLECTOR'S NOTES
At the turn of the century, the main binocular manufacturers in Britain were James Aitchison (now Dollond and Aitchison), Ross Ltd, J H Steward, Negretti and Zambra, and Carl Zeiss, who were based at Jena in Saxe-Weimar (which later became part of the German Democratic Republic).
In fact, a large number of binoculars stamped with English dealers' names were in fact made abroad, particularly in
Germany where the techniques for grinding lenses were much more advanced.
LADIES' LOOKING GLASSES
Field glasses for women were sometimes quite ornate, with gilt decorations embossed into their leather barrels. Usually lighter in weight than those made for men, they were often
intended for use at the theatre and opera as well as at sporting events.
Opera glasses themselves might even be jewelled or have exquisite mother-of-pearl barrels.
Pay careful attention to the condition of
binoculars. Old pairs may be badly dented and may even have chipped or cracked lenses. The barrels should be free of too many
scratches and bad dents, and the focussing mechanism should work.
Binoculars should also be in good optical condition. The most reliable source, though not the cheapest, is a dealer who specializes in optical or scientific instruments. He will also carry a wide
range of different examples from the Victorian era up to World War 2.