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  • Writer's pictureMichael Jardine

The Vintage Collector

Whether you are buying or just browsing, we hope you are enjoying the collection and perhaps it sparks some interest in things you didn't know about the history of eyewear until now.

Several people have recently encouraged us to create new books - either yet another photo book on vintage eyewear or, more recently, there have been requests for a book on Philippe Chevallier. After some years and a great deal of expense in creating the 456 page book called Udotopia, about the creative genius and crazy life of Udo Proksch, we know that even if they are critical successes they are most likely losing propositions. The vanity presses will have to satisfy the vanity of others. However, while we are going through this process of breaking up this very large collection, I will take time to tell as much of the story as I can.

- Michael Jardine.

VINTAGE - According to the Cambridge Dictionary, Vintage is "something of high quality and lasting value, or showing the best and most typical characteristics of a particular type of thing, especially from the past..."

Who buys vintage eyewear and why?

1. Enthusiasts buy vintage glasses to wear, just as many like to shop for previously owned clothes and other accessories. These range from bargain hunters to discerning persons who want something from the past of high quality that they are unlikely to find in the shops selling today's products. For many it is recycling or upcycling.

An example of a vintage seller, that adresses the recycling and up cycling angle, is Retro Specced, an UK based online company that sells both vintage frames as well as recent deadstock from designer brands.

Their marketproposition is one of up cycling and CSR, promoting both the recycled element and the trigger donations to Vision Aid Overseas.

2. Vintage traders - an industry has grown up of vintage sellers, ranging from flea market shoppers; who amass sufficient stocks to open their own shop or website; to eyewear wholesalers who have sat on dead stock long enough that it is relaunched with the vintage image and cache.

The past 3 decades has opened up the world for vintage traders. We have seen a development from the early ebay, facebook, instagram and etsy sellers, moving to some traders setting up personalised appointments with homevisits, styling clients from the samlebags and some traders having market stalls at high profiled vintage and antiques markets. And another shift the past few years, an abundance of traders are opening up online vintage shop-sites and some are also running pop up stores in well established art and craft gallaries. The most exciting current trend is that some of the most established vintage traders are now moving into bricks and mortar, and offering glazing as well. A few stores even offer restoration. The most progressive are now launching their own house lines with redesigns of the most Iconic vintage trends and even particular vintage pieces. Below a few of the vintage retailers that stands out:

1) Ed and Sarna, with their online shop including virtual try ons and 1-1 online consultations.

2) WerkBerlin, who has been a solid precense on Etsy for years, have now also moved into bricks and mortar.

3) Fabulous Fanny, a longstanding vintage shop in NY also offers redesigns and reproductions.

4 & 5) And not to pass by the unforgettable Corey Shapiro and his VintageFramesCompany, online and offline. Just like Fabulous Fanny, VFC redesigns and reproduces the classic vintage icons. As well as offering style consulting. VFC also holds a place for supplying historical pieces for the movie industry.

3. Designers and product developers for eyewear companies - when you hear there is nothing new under the sun that might well be almost true for eyewear.

Of course there will always be those who innovate and take us to new directions but most design and product developers must and do buy from the past for inspiration and instruction.

Recently a friend from the industry wrote and commented that "I believe that today the future is going towards history". I believe that this is inevitably the case.

There are limits to the variations of options when the product must sit on the nose, be secured behind the ears and hold a pair of lenses. What began as a medical device has become increasingly a fashion accessory and trends are cyclical. I have lived and worked through at least two major revolutions of material - acetate to metal to acetate to metal - and plenty of minor ones relating to eye shapes and colours and techniques.

Below an example of designers using vintage frames as the inspiration for a contemporary design. The photo on the left is a Vintage french sunglass with pearl brow, and the photo to the right is a contemporary slight cat eye Chanel style, with pearl brow.

4. Archivists - those with a genuine interest in the history of eyewear design and manufacture. Fortunately, there are some bodies who have great interest in the very early history of eyeglasses and the eras from 1000 through the 1800's is very well covered.

Sadly, there are scant resources and information available about the last half of the 1900's and this is where the real interest of vintage eyewear fans and collectors really exists - to that wonderful marriage of craftsmanship and design and fashion.

There are a few associations of antique or vintage eyewear collectors, one is the OAICC club, Ophthalmic Antiques International Collectors Club, where the Archivists share their knowledge.

A few of the must-sees would be the Mark Jensens collection "The Forgotten Eyewear Museum" and the Claude Samuel Historical Eyewear Collection, for their diversity and their ability to curate pieces that represents the depth of a stile, material, brand or period in history . Both collections have curated shows, Mark Jensen´s has been found at eyewear trade shows, and Claude Samuel´s has been shown at high profiled design museums.

Below photos form one of Mark jensens curated shows:

5. Collectors - the world is filled with collectors of things - whether that be coins and stamps, old maps, toys, antique cars or even things that most of us don't want to know about.

Fortunately we do have some real eyewear collectors and they will help preserve much of what can be preserved and I keep hoping that we may yet learn that there are collectors who do have the archival history to accompany some of what they have collected. 

There are a number of types of collectors of eyewear and accompanying products. In addition to collecting eyewear, Lawrence Jenkin in London has one of the world's largest collections of antique and vintage opticians signs and display items.

Other people will collect an era and geography, like 50's France or 60's USA, or particular designers or companies.

Some specialize in particular vintage brands, like Anglo-American, Oliver Goldsmith, Pierre Marly, Serge Kirchhofer or Philippe Chevallier for example.

In more modern eras we see collectors of Cazal, Jean Paul Gaultier, Persol, Cartier, Alain Mikli, Casanova and many more.

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