Buying glasses in C.17th York

Evidence for spectacle manufacture on the European mainland goes back to the island of Murano in the Republic of Venice – at least as far back as 1284. The term ‘roidi da ogli’ (standard Italian: ‘vetri da occhi’) is found for the first time in 1300. A person wearing spectacles seems to have been depicted for the first time in 1352 by Tomasso da Modena (1325 – 1379) in which Cardinal Hugh of Provence was depicted reading in the Chapter House (traditionally, the place of reading – hence the name) of the Monastery attached to Treviso’s Basilica of San Niccolo. We know that in fifteenth century Florence spectacles were easy to come by and that greater quantities of manufacture in the city were making them relatively cheap.

In York, there was one place all the ministry seemed to go to buy glasses…

Foster’s was actually a highly successful stationer and bookseller outlet between at least the spring of 1572/73 and 1616, situated in a street called ‘Bookbinder’s Alley’ or ‘Bookland Road’ over various different points of time (now ‘Minster Yard’).  In 1572/73 it was described as a ‘new builded shoppe’ run by the ‘Stacioner’, Anthony Foster.

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4 thoughts on “Buying glasses in C.17th York

  1. I glanced over to him – once and then again. My mind gave me no choice about the second occasion. He appeared as he had never done before. There was something badly wrong with his face. I stopped completely motionless. It did not perturb him though; it was a long while until his gaze (such as it was) came to settle upon me. It seemed wholly incapable of being able to fix upon me anyway. I stared at him – not too hard because I did not know whether he could still see me or not. Even that much was not obvious to me.

    —What is that you have in front of your eyes?

    Well, I was not blind. Quite evidently, they were pieces of green glass, almost like glass from the panes of a chapel window – not our chapel window, I should add ! – set in some kind of metal frame. They made Brierley appear as some mythical beast. He took whatever the implement was away from his eyes and, readjusting his gaze a little – something which actually required a matter of a second or two, stared at it closely himself at close quarters, fingering the sides of the frames slightly critically, even rather contemptuously.

    —They are not for me, Matthew! I purchased them on behalf of someone else – another cleric friend – at a shop, primarily a stationer’s within the ecclesiastic complex at York. [He shifted his gaze back to me, moving his head slightly backwards at the same time as though he was genuinely having some difficulty seeing me without the instrument suddenly.] No, I was simply testing them out for him in such conditions. It is very hard for me to assess whether they are any good or not but they should be, given the sum with which I parted for them…

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  2. “In York, there was one place all the ministry seemed to go to buy glasses…” This was really nice and interesting. York is famous with many things but glasses… And also I am glad you added something from our times… In York still glasses are being made I think… Beautiful search. Thank you dear Simon, Love, nia


  3. Dear Simon, This Matthew is the narrator of your book, Matthew Brearley? Isn’t it? My mind confused a little bit… Could it be possible to talk about a little bit for me 🙂 Thank you, Love, nia


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