Do You See What I See?
By Jessica Kosinski
Anyone who enjoys collecting antiques or collectibles knows that inspecting objects carefully to determine their age and condition is essential. Loupes are often used to accomplish those tasks. Loupes are personal devices used for magnification. Although many experts place magnifying glasses with handles in a separate category from handle-free loupes, the two are often grouped together in collectible circles. According to documented history, loupes have existed in various forms since the 11th century. Instead of being used to assess collectibles, many of those antique loupes are now collectibles themselves. Also, they make excellent gifts for anyone involved with antiques – whether buying, selling, collecting – for checking objects requiring close inspection. Let’s take a peek at the history behind these unique magnification instruments.
The Earliest Documented Version of Loupes
Monks were among the first types of people to use magnification tools according to historical records. As far back as the 11th century they used clear, flat stones typically made out of glass or beryl. The stones, which were eventually dubbed “reading stones,” were laid on top of text or anything else needing magnification. The shapes of the stones caused the magnification to occur. That same principle is uses for certain types of magnification devices today as well, such as bar magnifiers.
Over a period of several centuries after reading stones were first used glass blowing techniques were refined in Europe. Venetian glass blowers in particular became known for the creating of glass pieces which were clear enough to be used for magnification purposes. That is when loupes as we now know them first appeared. Soon after such glass was produced in Venice the glass makers began tweaking the process and adding frames to their pieces of glass. Eyeglasses, telescopes, microscopes, and many other magnification tools eventually evolved from those processes. Handled magnifying glasses and folding loupes in cases were also popularized eventually.
Loupes as Parts of Combination Sets
In the early 1900s many people carried personal loupes as parts of small tool sets, much like some people carry Swiss army knives today. Such sets often included pencils, map measures, or other vital items. In fact, in the early 1900s it was quite common for men to carry kits called pocket necessaries. Most kits included folding loupes, as well as door keys, pencils, and in some cases calendars or watches. Some pocket necessaire kits were quite intricate, often including enamel or gold accents. Many of the more intricate pocket necessaire kits are highly collectible today, especially if they are still complete or in relatively good condition.
How Loupe Materials Have Changed Over the Years
With the development of various types of loupes and handled magnifying glasses came changes in the materials used to create each one. In fact, if you are interested in purchasing an antique loupe you may be able to use its materials to help you date it. For example, horn magnifying glass frames were popularized in the 1700s, while materials like sterling silver and ivory were not used in magnifier frames until the 1880s. In the early 1900s tortoise shell became popular as a material for such frames as well. Other commonly used materials at different historical points included gold, jade, and enamel.
Loupes as Vital Tools
In addition to their roles as collectibles, loupes have been used for centuries as vital tools. While jeweler’s loupes are most commonly thought of by the majority of people who hear the word “loupe,” other professions use loupe-like tools as well. Examples of professionals who rely on magnification devices include dentists, archaeologists, geologists, and surgeons. Loupes are also vital tools for collectors with specific fields of interest. For example, stamp and coin collectors rely on loupes to help them inspect their treasures for damage, and authenticate them. Without loupes people collecting such items would be entirely at the mercy of sales personnel because many imperfections and tell-tale signs of fraud on such small objects cannot be seen with the naked eye.
Many of the oldest eyewear companies in the world have either been producing loupes or vital tools which evolved from loupes for years. For example, in 1877 Josef Rodenstock founded the Rodenstock Eyewear Company in Germany. Rodenstock eventually developed a reputation for being one of the foremost producers of camera lenses, binoculars, eyeglasses, and other similarly used devices with ground concave or convex glass, including microscopes and various types of loupes. The company is still in business today.
As you can see, if you are looking for perfect gifts for friends or family members, you can’t go wrong with loupes. Almost anyone will appreciate a loupe, whether for its functionality, its history, its style, or some combination of the three. Loupes are thoughtful, useful gifts which can provide unlimited enjoyment for the recipients.
When buying a loupe as a gift for someone you know you will find that the prices range from a few dollars to nearly $1,000, and in some cases, more. The value of a loupe or related magnifying device depends on the age, style, condition, materials it is made out of, and often where it is purchased. For instance, you may find excellent deals on loupes in small local shops or at flea markets. Online you may have access to a wider range of items, which can be useful if you intend to purchase several antique loupes as gifts vs. common modern loupes.
Keep your eyes open as you travel to do your holiday antiquing!
Wishing all our readers a wonderful holiday season and a Happy New Year.
Antiques Peek: December 2017