By reading previous posts you know that I started by restoring old safety glasses from the early part of the last century. The were so well built, something that I try to continually emulate. Here is a compilation of some of my completed restores. How can you not love them?
Greetings. My name is Gentleman Jeb, and I’m a freelance writer, gadget maker, and avid Steampunk. As a result of my eclectic interests, I’m always in search of cool, retro-futuristic items to wear both in everyday life and as accents to my Steampunk outfits. One of the most common things that we Steampunks look for are retro glasses that have round lenses and some sort of ornamentation that sets them apart from the hideous modern plastic sunglasses that currently dominate the market.
I stumbled upon the O’Riginals Trading Co. crowd-funding page mere days after it began, and I was immediately impressed with the old-school look that includes bendable wire arms and metal side-shields. Side-shields have been around for decades, and they elevate sunglasses to a new level. Not only do they look splendiferous, but they’re actually functional as well. Side-shields block out sunlight, dust, and anything else that might hinder eyesight, and one of the side-effects is that they look damn cool!
I knew that I would eventually acquire a pair of O’Riginals, and fortuitously, the Sterling Sport 23s with amber lenses arrived just in time for the Gaslight Gathering Steampunk Convention in San Diego. They look great right out of the box, and one day during the convention I strutted around both outside and inside with them on (yes, I’m one of “those guys, but at my age, I don’t give a crap what people think”). The amber lenses were perfect for blocking out the sun outside and also for not inhibiting my vision while inside. In addition, the wire arms wrap around my ears, so I don’t have to worry about them falling off of my head, even when I’m active!
Not surprisingly, I received compliments all day long. People wanted to know where they came from, if they were vintage, and how to acquire a pair. One of my friends even came up to me and asked “are these the super-cool sunglasses I heard about?” I knew they were stylish, but I didn’t expect them to create a buzz during the convention. One of the vendors had some cheaply-made sunglasses with side-shields, but they pale in comparison to O’Riginals. I tried them on, and they were both uncomfortable and they also felt fragile, as if they could easily be broken.
I know that members of my big-wheel biking group, SoCal Penny Farthings, will want to know how to get a pair of O’Riginals the first time they see me wearing them while riding my 48-inch hi-wheel. The cool thing is, these glasses appeal to a wide group of people, from Steampunks to bikers to anyone looking for something to set them apart. Hell, I’ll probably get a second pair with dark grey lenses just to have a backup.
Congratulations go out to Sean O’Riordan for having the vision and motivation to start O’Riginals Trading Co., and also to everyone who backed his crowd-funding campaign.
My Path of Restoring Vintage Steampunk Glasses with Side-Shields
If you have read my previous post “When I fell in Love with Side-Shields on Sunglasses” then you know my love affair with side shields started many years ago and was rekindled by a character wearing a pair of D-lens glasses on a recent television series. The first glasses I found were on Ebay from a seller in Ukraine. The were called WWII Russian Motorcycle glasses and I got them for about $135 plus $50 shipping to the United States. They are awesome, but so very heavy that after a short time you must take them off. The mark they leave on your nose is amazing. While I loved them they weren’t what I was looking for so I started hunting.
When I wore WWII glasses everyone commented on how ‘Steampunk’ they looked, so that is where I started. I searched ebay for ‘Steampunk Glasses’ it was too broad a term as it showed me modern glasses that were being built with extra lenses and leather and such. It was not what I was looking for; I adjusted my search to ‘Vintage Steampunk Glasses’ and got a much better return and then I added ‘Side-Shields’ and the whole door opened. ‘Vintage Steampunk Glasses with Side-Shields’
I was made aware of a beautiful class of glasses from early in the last century. These were the safety glasses of their day with names like Saniglass, Willson, CESCO, Welsh and of course American Optical. I learned everything I could about them and thought I would like to restore a pair and make them sunglasses….
How the Hell was I Going to Restore Vintage Glasses?
First things first I had to bid on Ebay…. I would bid but lost every auction, this was going to be more expensive than I thought. After several auctions I came across a pair of American Opticals with side shields that I had to have I just kept bidding and won them for $80. I received the glasses they were metal with mesh side-shields and clear glass. The next thing I had to do was figure out how to get lenses into them. I first went to my local opticians to see if they would place lenses in them….’Why would you want that?” was what the lady asked and then said no. I was going to have to do this myself. I new what I had to do.
Get some Oakley lenses on Ebay
Use a Dremmel
Yeah, it didn’t work out too well for me. First the lenses I got were too small and I couldn’t send them back. The next lenses worked for sizing, but let me tell you that a Dremmel is not great for grinding lenses when you need a steady hand.
I had to do some research to figure out how was I going to craft lenses to these glasses. I found that I was going to need a lens grinder, but where do you find one? Well the largest E-commerce website on the planet of course. Amazon? Nope. Alibaba. It is a site that puts manufacturers in touch with sellers for the most part. Since I was just some guy that wanted one item I didn’t think anyone would sell to me, I was wrong. I found the HLE-730 lens grinder and I was off to the races.
There was a learning curve, but after destroying several pair of frames I finally ended up with a set of American Optical’s with Oakley Lenses. Starting off I was buying expensive lenses on Ebay that were replacements for Oakley, Vuarnet and RayBan.
People Wanted Them
I got the hang of restoring the frames and grinding the lenses and I ended up with fantastic glasses. I was stopped on the street several times a day and asked where I got the shades. It dawned on me that others might like to purchase the glasses that I restored, O’Riginals Trading Co. was born. I knew to scale up I needed lenses so I hit Alibaba again and ordered 100 pair of green glass and 100 pair of amber glass. I sold the glasses from $180-$230. And that was the beginning.
Steampunk wasn’t even Steampunk back when I first fell in love with glasses with side-shields.
The glasses themselves weren’t really steampunk either — they were glacier glasses for climbing Everest.
I spotted the style in 1982 watching Kurt Russell as R.J. MacCready in John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’. He sported Vuarnet 027s with leather side-shields. Climbers and mountaineers used the 027 to keep the bright glare of the snow out of their eyes.
I searched the ‘cool’ shops in Phoenix, few and far between in 1983. I got lucky at a local sporting goods store. One pair of Vuarnet 028s were tucked in a bin. The next model after the 027s seen in The Thing. I was smitten. The design, the hinges, the leather side-shields. None of my friends had them. The only problem, they were $120 or $290 in today’s dollars. . I have seen them on Ebay and Vintage Sunglasses.com in the $350-$400 range.
Fortunately, I was a teenager living at home with a job as a sandwich maker. All my income was discretionary. Those were the days. I made up my mind, I had to have them. Ittook two paychecks and four weeks, but those Vuarnets were mine.
Sting sported something similar in a photoshoot for The Police’s Synchronicity album and the Wrapped Around Your Finger music video.
While these glasses were awesome they couldn’t be considered steampunk, these were a perfect product of the 80’s but are stylistically relegated to that decade. It wouldn’t be until the 90’s that a great pair of glasses enter the scene.
I aspire to be as good as Matsuda, it is a goal that I may never reach, but it is good to aspire to something.
Do You Remember When You First Saw Them?
I saw the Matsuda’s for the first time on July 3, 1991. Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2: Judgement Day. To this day, the Matsuda 2089 are still the coolest shades ever made. They transcend eyewear and are true works of art. I attempted to find a pair right after seeing them in the movie, but as it was the pre-internet age, researching a source was a little more difficult. As was the price when I finally found them.
Matsuda recently released a commemorative limited edition 2089H they made 150 of them and sold for over $1,000 US. At the time of writing this there was a pair available here on Amazon.com
And That Was it for a while….. a very long while
April 12, 2013 I was watching a new show on Starz called Da Vinci’s Demons. During an episode one of the main characters ‘Riario’ was sporting a pair of glasses that I had never seen before.
They were amazing! I had to have them! As a side note, these are not historically accurate, sunglasses were not available in the time of Leonardo.
These are actually four lens or D lens glasses , also called “railway spectacles”. In 1797 John Richardson patented four-lens glasses which rotated in from the sides. They became popular in the 19th Century when train travelers sought to protect their eyes from wind, smoke and sparks from the track.
As anyone today would, I jumped on the internet to see if I could find them. I couldn’t. Because they aren’t made, and the ones I had seen on television were probably from the 1860s.
This was the beginning of a quest that I didn’t know I was on…
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