What can a pair of eighteenth-century spectacles, or eyeglasses, tell us about evolving attitudes to disability?

These spectacles, now in the collection of the Whipple Museum of the History of Science, were handmade. They were designed to sit on the wearer's nose, and then fold away neatly into their case. 

Would you think of them as a disability aid? How have attitudes to disability changed over time?

Meg Roberts, doctoral researcher at the Faculty of History at the University of Cambridge and volunteer tour guide for the Bridging Binaries LGBTQ+ tour project at the Whipple Museum, tells us more.

More information

Image of the spectacles and their case

spectacles with round lenses next to their case


From the Whipple Museum's Collections Database

Accession No: 0020

Name: Spectacles, case

Brief description: Folding nose spectacles in banjo style case, 1750-1800

Earliest date: 1750

Latest date: 1800

Origin: Almost certainly English

Material: Organic (horn), metal (steel), fishskin (shagreen); glass; wood; cloth (velvet)

Purchased by Robert Stewart Whipple in Folkestone in 03/1922.