When I first started collecting vintage frames, I knew the basics that every optician knows about old glasses: they’re old, they’re most likely gold and they’re super cool. But then I really dove into researching the details and discovered what I thought I knew about these vintage treasures was slightly lost in translation. So if you’re into vintage glasses, this is where you’ll find answers to all the questions you never knew you had. Enjoy!
What exactly are “Vintage Frames”?
A real vintage frame is eyewear that was manufactured over 20 years ago. People have been using glasses for hundreds of years all over the world, so this could be a historic frame from the Zhou Dynasty in China or your grandpa’s cool wayfarers. There are some manufacturers today who make frames in a similar style to that of the real vintage frames of yesteryear, but these frames are only replicas.
What are real vintage frames made of?
Vintage frames have been made in a variety of materials throughout history. Depending on the century and geographic locations that the glasses were manufactured, vintage glasses can be made from real tortoise shell, leather, brass, gold, stainless steel, horn, wood, mother of pearl and plastic.
How much gold is in a vintage frame?
Okay you little leprechauns, a vintage frame will usually have engraved markings on the bridge or the temple indicating what kind of gold the frame is made of.
This is what is marked on a lot of vintage frames and here are what the abbreviations stand for:
1/10 – 10% of the total weight of the article is alloy
12k- 12 parts out of the 24 parts of the covering alloy by weight are gold
GF- the article is classified as gold filled
Many times the bridge and nose pads will be solid gold.
What is the difference between Gold Filled, Solid Gold, and gold plated?
Here is where the Gold Classification terminology gets tricky.
Gold Filled: Made of a metal other than gold and then covered with a gold alloy. The glasses are not “filled” with gold…it’s the opposite. The gold outside is filled with a different metal. To be classified as “gold filled” one twentieth of the glasses’ total weight needs to be gold.
Solid Gold: Gold alloy and another metal are mixed together. It is made entirely of this alloy.
Gold Plated: Made from a metal, the surface is then plated with gold. There is no minimum requirement to be classified as gold plated. Retains its luster only until the thin plating is worn through and the metal underneath is exposed.
Why do vintage plastic frames feel different than plastic frames made today? Isn’t it still just plastic?
There are many different plastics used to make frames these days. One of the first plastics widely used in the manufacturing of frames was cellulose nitrate (zylonite). This material was flammable at high temperatures, and was eventually banned by the FDA. Zylonite was the norm for so long, that the nickname for it, Zyl, stuck and all plastic frames produced after zyl was banned were still referred to as zyl.
Cellulose acetate is the plastic material that is widely used now in the production of plastic frames. Cellulose acetate is a product of cottonseed or wood pulp processed with plasticizers. Cellulose acetate is the most similar to Zyl, but there are still numerous other plastics used today for all the different types of frame manufacturing processes for injection molded and sports glasses, like Optyl, Nylon, rubber, and carbon fiber/nylon mixes. The differences in each plastic are more in depth, and we’ll go over that in more detail in another blog post.
Collecting vintage frames and sharing our collection really is a labor of love for us. It’s not easy to find frames in good condition, photograph and post descriptions of them… but it’s our passion and it’s our goal to share our knowledge with anyone who is as interested and passionate as we are about these treasures.
Everyone has a story, from the guy or gal you pass on the street on your way to work, to your next door neighbors who you casually say hello to.
How different people’s lives were back then, these people who wore these vintage frames. But at the same time, how very similar their lives are to ours now.
Vintage frames have a rich history and a story to tell. Every time we wear one, they impart a little piece of their wisdom onto us, and also help us to write our own story of what is to come.
I hope you enjoyed our philosophical intro to vintage frames. If you love vintage frames as much as we do, follow us on Instagram to see our favorites!