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Buying Vintage Eyeglass Frames

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 0

A few years ago, I became interested in vintage eyeglass frames. I was tired of my normal everyday eyeglasses. They were so boring and uninspired. I had always just let the optometrist pick out my frames in the past and I decided it was high time that I took charge of that decision. Most current eyeglasses frames at that time were very understated. It was like they were designed to help people pretend that they weren't actually wearing glasses. I felt that this was ridiculous.

I thought, “If I wanted to look like I wasn't wearing glasses at all, then I would get contact lenses.”

I felt and still feel that eyeglasses are something that show make a statement about the wearer. I don't think that they should fade into the background or meld with the fame in such a way as to imply that a person is embarrassed to be wearing their glasses. There are far to many alternatives to wearing glasses these days for people to be ashamed of them should they choose to don a pair. There are many different styles, shapes and sizes of vintage frames to choose from. It shouldn't be difficult to find a pair that compliments your own sense of style.

The idea of retro frames first occurred to me while I was watching the NBC television series “Heroes”. In that series a character by the name of Noah Bennet wears a pair of tortoise and gold ArtCraft Clubman combination frames. I wasn't sure what they were at first, but I knew that I wanted a pair. I did some research online and finally identified the frames. Eventually I discovered to my utter disappointment that these particular frames had been discontinued a few years back. I contacted the company by email asking if they had any in back stock. They informed me that they did, but could only sell to an optometrist since they sold them in bulk quantities.

After further research I discovered that a company called Shuron still made them. They were called Shuron Ronsir Zyls. I was able to order a pair through a local optical shop. I loved these frames but they were no ArtCraft. After almost a year with the Shuron Ronsir frames, I found a pair of Tortoise ArtCraft Clubman frames on eBay for $20. They were in perfect condition. I was very pleased with them.

That was my experience just a few years ago, but that was before retro frames became popular again.     Recently it seems that almost anyone who wears glasses is sporting a pair that look like they either are vintage or replicas. Even newer styles of eyeglasses seem to have a hint of retro in their angles and contours. The contemporary take on the retro look seems to be streamlined and curved a bit more than the original looks of the 50's and 60's. This can sometimes be taken to far toward the “I am afraid someone might actually realize I'm wearing glasses” end of the spectrum. The best retro style frames still have at least a bit of that chunky horn-rimmed 1950's motif. 

The majority of vintage eyeglass frame were hand crafted in the United States. Whereas almost all of the popular designer frames on the market today are mass produced in China. This is the main reason for the steep difference in overall quality and craftsmanship when comparing contemporary frames with actual vintage eyeglass frames.

The older frames are made way better than the newer ones too. They are much sturdier and many are designed to have a more accurate fit. One reason for this is that the older eyeglasses frames were available in a much wider variety of sizes than what is generally available today. Some older frames are made from a plastic derived from wood pulp. This material is called Zyl which is also known as zylonite or cellulose acetate. This material is still used to make newer eyeglass frames as well. It is popular because of its durability, versatility, and the fact that it can be manufactured in a wide array of colors and patterns. 

Another material used to make vintage frames that is still in use today is nylon. This is a lightweight plastic that is very durable and versatile. It is a popular material that is used to make sports frames. Military glasses are also made of a very sturdy and lightweight nylon plastic. Cris is an American company that has manufactured eyeglasses frames for the US armed forces over the years. While many of the more modern Cris military frames are nowhere near stylish, there are older frames that have that 1950's geek chic scientist look.

Now there are many different companies that are manufacturing vintage style eyeglass frames. A lot of these are sold as “designer” frames and can cost a few hundred dollars a pair. The amazing thing is that you can still purchase actual vintage frames that are new-old-stock for a fraction of what these new knockoffs sell for. If you are looking to pay for a name I suppose that this is fine. However, if you are looking for something authentic that will last a few years, then I highly recommend that you seek out the real thing.

You can find many different sources for cheap vintage eye-wear both online and off. Flea markets, estate auctions, and specialty optical shops are all good places to find retro eyeglasses. Online you can find them on auction websites like eBay. Etsy is also a good website to search for inexpensive vintage frames. There are also entire web stores that are dedicated to selling vintage eyeglasses from the '50s and 60's.  You are likely to find the best quality frames and pricing on these specialized websites. Many are run by optometrists that have a passion for collecting older eyeglass frames. Because of this, you are likely to find better quality products at lower prices on these sites. The customer service is almost always superior to a larger company as well.


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