What could be found on a Georgian Gentleman’s Desk?

WP163 catalogueWhen you think of what a man would have on his desk today, there are very few items which would have been similar to those found on a Georgian gent’s desk. For a start there would be no computer, printer, calculator, mobile phone, photos of the family, biro, can of coke or chocolate bar. The modern man sits in a centrally heated room with overhead lighting. Our Georgian gent would have worked by candlelight and probably had his desk not too far from an open fire to keep warm. I have found it very interesting to see the candle lighting used in the filming of Wolf Hall. Apparently £20,000 was spent on candles. It must have been very difficult for the film crew but a special camera was developed for filming in low light. It makes you think how difficult it would be to read when wholly depending on candlelight. My great grandfather used to love carpentry and my grandmother, when a little girl, used to hold a candle for him to see while he worked.

However I do think there would have been at least one similar item on the desk of both the Georgian gent and the modern man. There might quite likely have been a pair of glasses or spectacles.

A Georgian gent would have had a pair of magnifying spectacles. They might have had a rim of silver, gold, steel,brass, horn, bone or tortoiseshell. The lens would be made from thin glass or crystal and they would often fold into a silver or leather case.

glasses red

This pair of silver rimmed glasses in a red Morroccan leather case were made in 1770. Another interesting pair are below. They are also made in the 18th century and have polished steel frames and a case which is engraved ‘Francis Gibson 1760’.


The earliest glasses are recorded as having been made in Italy circa 1268-1286. They were not just made for the wealthy. A pair of 15th century rivet glasses were discovered during renovations under the floorboards of the nun’s choir stalls at Kloster Wienhausen in Northern Germany in 1953.

Examples of glasses made before 1700 are very rare. In 1629 King Charles I granted a charter incorporating ‘The Worshipful Company of Spectaclemakers.’ During the 17th century tinted glasses became popular. Bifocals or split lenses were introduced in the 1760s.

Perhaps a visit to the Museum of Spectacles in Amsterdam would be enlightening. I would love to go.


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