Tom Valenza models his
historically accurate spectacles
Reenactor Spectacle Frames
Tom Valenza has merged his interest in American history and antique eyewear to form
the Historic EyeWear Company, offering a line of reproduction antique spectacles
for smart, independent, adventurous men and women who have a strong connection to
our American heritage.
He and several members of his optical family came to Massachusetts in April for
the 2011 Ocular Heritage Society meeting, which included several wonderful tours
in the state hosted by Dr. David Fleishman.
Tom's parents started out as opticians in New Jersey in the 1960's, where the state requires
a technician's licensing exam after 2 years of practice and the ophthalmic dispenser
licensing exam after 4 years of practice. Tom first learned glass lens edging in
the 3rd floor hallway lab of his parents’ apartment in Newark while helping them
do lab work for their first optical shop on Bloomfield Avenue in North Newark. Eventually,
additional stores were opened in Caldwell and Nutley, New Jersey where Tom's sister
Susan has recently celebrated her 30th year of practice. Susan's daughter Maria
received her ophthalmic dispenser license last year marking the third generation
of Valenza family opticians. Their mother Joan still comes in to help out when Susan
Tom received his ophthalmic dispenser license back in 1972, and after twenty years
of watching the optical industry change with more chain stores entering the market,
ophthalmologists and optometrists dispensing eyeglasses and county colleges churning out hundreds
of dispenser licenses every year, Tom decided to move on, accepting a position with
a local water commission, attaining the position of Licensed Water System Operator/Superintendent
where he has worked for the last eighteen years. He has recently retired from the
commission to pursue his Historic EyeWear Company venture.
Tom started collecting spectacles in the sixties. He noticed, as have many of us,
that people portrayed in historical reenactments, whether live events, movies or
television often wore spectacles that were historically inaccurate for the time
period represented. Lack of information pertaining to eyewear coupled with small
size and difficulty locating original antique spectacles, contributed to this inaccuracy.
Unidentified Union soldier wearing oblong spectacles. Photo courtesy of Library of Congress
Eventually, Tom saw an optical niche for spectacles that were historically correct
but larger in size than original antique spectacles, to allow for a better fit for
today’s' actor/reenactor community as well as the general public. The size of an
average man during the Civil War era was approximately 5'6" tall, weighing 135 lbs.
After filing the trademark application for 'Historic EyeWear Company - Keeping History
in Sight' Tom started meeting with frame manufactures at Vision Expo in 2004, seeking
a manufacturer for the line he was creating as accurate reproductions of antique
spectacles from the period representing 1835 to 1880.