I had no idea of the age of these antique sunglasses until I sat down to write this post. Since from vintage photos I knew that plastic frames were already commonplace by the 50s and 60s, I figured maybe early 1900s was a good bet. But five minutes into my googling, I realized that they were possibly much older. Most Etsy listings of similar styles placed these as Chinese and from the 18th/19th century. So, these antique Chinese sunglasses could be in fact over 200 years old! Pretty amazing.
200RMB for the “useless” antique Chinese Sunglasses
As with all things vintage and antique, these sunglasses come with a little story. And the story starts with my weekend trip with my mum two years ago to Tianjin – another old colonial city in China.
Near the historical Astor that we were staying at, we stumbled upon a Sunday curio market. Endearingly, it was full of teapots, feather dusters, local snacks, and fake antiques. We were just soaking up the atmosphere when I spotted these sunglasses on the floor mat of a small stall, manned by a young local man, one of the few authentic looking pieces around. I can’t remember how much he originally wanted for them, but I do remember my mother exclaiming very loudly: “Why would you pay that for something so useless?!” (And this wasn’t at all for the bargaining effect, she really believed it.)
In typical Chinese fashion, as my mum began to usher me to walk on, the young guy called out: “Fine, you make an offer.” “200, no more”, replied my mum matter-of-factly. I guess it must have been quite a reduction from the original price because I remember him being rather disgruntled when he finally agreed to it. To my mum, well, she still could not fathom why I would pay a whole 200RMB (around US$30) for something with such limited utility.
Double bend legs and smoky quartz lenses
The deal was done and the antique Chinese sunglasses were mine. Part of the reason that I love these is that they are still very wearable today. The hardware is exaggerated and unrefined, but that’s what makes them so unique. I especially like the little dragons carved on both sides of the high nose. And the double bend legs makes them fold up and store really well.
I wore the sunglasses around for the day in Tianjin. The downside is that the lenses are extremely heavy, and it wasn’t until I found similar Etsy listings that I realized why. They are made from smoky quartz! Another great detail.
Well, below here are some photos of the glasses. Looking at these, I’m thinking I will have to try them out with a qipao soon, even though the two did not exist in the same era. In fact, these glasses would have been in used in the Qing dynasty, and maybe worn by palace or aristocratic women who were still in large floral headpieces and high flower-vase shoes… hmmm, what food for thought.
Do you have interesting vintage glasses or sunglasses? If you do, share them in the comments!
This is a series where I share an interesting vintage piece from my home every week, check out last week’s vintage Shanghainese watches here.