Studying history is a lot more than looking at books and watching documentaries and reading about stuff online written by something else – it’s about getting in contact with the everyday relics and remnants of the past which have survived from bygone eras, and seeing with our own eyes what the past was like. Personal possessions tell us so much about how life has changed, how style and design and fashion and personal tastes have all morphed and moved over time, and with the times.
A few days ago I stumbled across this curious item at the local weekend flea market. It was so whimsical and cute, I just had to make it the focus of my 6th anniversary post!
Yep, six years ago, at the end of October, 2009, I started this blog. And in honour of that momentous occasion, of which nobody reading this is likely to be aware…I present this!
And ain’t they just the cutest things ever!? Huh? Huh?? HUH!!??
So easily overlooked, I found these in a display-case of bits and pieces at the flea-market last weekend. They are possibly the world’s tiniest pair of antique opera glasses!! And they are just adorable!
What we have here is a pair of early 20th century (Ca. 1910) miniature opera glasses!
Made by Colmont of Paris, they’re marked with “Parisette” and “-x-” on the bridge, and a tiny letter ‘C’ inside a six-point Jewish star (presumably the company logo).
Are these opera glasses rare? Perhaps a bit, but not excessively so. I know that other companies in France made tiny compact opera glasses, but from what I’ve seen, very few as small as these. They measure just 3.25in across, and 1.5in high, when fully extended! The eyepieces are the size of pennies! If that doesn’t make them the world’s smallest, I dunno what does!
Here they are, compared with my other opera-glasses. Up the back is a pair of Jockey Club de Paris racing binoculars, from about 1910. Next along is a pair of nondescript brass opera glasses, probably from the turn of the century. The next pair with the blue guilloche enameled sides was made in Paris around 1880. Same with the next pair.
The middle Mother-of-Pearl set were made by Le Maire, and date to 1885 (the date is engraved on the bridge). The lorgnette opera glasses (with the folding telescope handle) are from around the same date, and were made by Iris, another famous French optician. The final and smallest pair, the Colmont set are next to them. As you can see – the size of these, even next to the next largest, is just minuscule!
Opera glasses of this style date from the turn of the century, from what my research tells me, from about 1900-1920. My research hasn’t brought up any dates more specific than that. I have read some speculation that they’re this small because they’re children’s binoculars, but I haven’t seen this claim made anywhere but on one website, so their true age and reason for their size remains a mystery. I suspect that it’s nothing more fantastic than being miniature opera glasses designed to be ultra-compact and easily stored/concealed in a lady’s clutch-purse or something, when she went out for a night’s jollification at the local theater, but they are wonderfully cute.
The glasses are made of gilt brass (brass with gold fused onto it using a healthy and safe process involving the vapourising of mercury…yum!!) and leather, which has been wrapped around the barrels. They’re certainly the smallest, and possibly the most interesting piece in my modest collection! I just had to have them, and I had to share them!