GI Glasses: Are Modern Reproductions Worth It?

PFC REID “SMILEY” PALMER | DECEMBER 2020

Looking for the Right WWII US GI Glasses. PC: Matt Milligan

When I first got into reenacting, I noticed that historically accurate glasses were often one of the biggest “make it or break it” parts of an impression. I hate contacts and, as I was a poor grad student at the time, I needed a pair that could double for daily use. After reading the 90th IDPG’s great article about glasses in the ETO, I bought a pair of “Shuron Ronstrong Ful-Vue P3 Frames” from The Optometrist Attic circa 2015.[1] Since then, I’ve bought two WWII-era frames, including what I believe is a pair of original US Army frames sold as surplus after the war. I wanted to share my experiences and thoughts here.


Ful-Vue P3 Reproduction
(From The Optometrist Attic)

Pros:

  • They’re the closest frames you can get to real GI frames without finding and buying original glasses. Given the variations seen throughout the war, they might even be accurate for a certain model/variation
  • You can order them to fit your face and your prescription (and with riding/cable temples)
  • They’ve held up relatively well through the years. I’ve used them as daily wear, at almost every public event and tactical I’ve attended (including a 10 day immersion in Europe)
  • If you need new prescriptions, pretty much any optometrist will be willing to order you new lenses for them

Cons:

  • The gold coating has chipped away with extended use
  • The frames need to be cleaned often to avoid a build up of rust
  • The quality of Shuron Ful-Vue frames has certainly gone down over the last 75 years. You can tell that the metal used in the new frames is weaker than the metal used in the original frames. At a winter tactical in 2017, I hit the dirt too fast and my helmet pushed the glasses against my face, breaking one of the pad arms. I was able to get it repaired at a local jewelry shop, but it can be expensive and take a bit to repair glasses. I think I was just unlucky that time, as I haven’t had any other issues with things breaking since (though I’m careful to not bend the pad arms)
  • There’s a few parts that are slightly different. In vintage frames, the nose bridge is a little more complex, the arms appear to be slightly smaller, and the pad arms are thicker and sturdier. Note that these differences would not be noticeable if standing 5-10 feet away

Original GI-style Frames

Pros:

  • You know they’re historically accurate
  • The frames can be significantly cheaper than reproductions if you’re patient
  • They typically come in original glasses cases (a great addition to your impression)

Cons:

  • Not all glasses frames are created equal and the vintage frames you get might not fit your face (especially if you’re buying them on eBay)
  • Many optometrists will be hesitant to insert modern lenses into vintage frames. Every time I’ve gotten lenses for vintage frames, I’ve had to sign a waiver stating that if the optometrist breaks the frames while putting new lenses in, they’re not liable (i.e. I’d be out of luck if they break)
  • Spare parts for many (if not most) vintage glasses aren’t being made anymore, meaning that if a nose pad breaks, you’d potentially have to replace the whole frame or do serious work to restore them
  • Vintage glasses can be fragile/damaged after 75+ years. At some point, my frames must have broken and someone repaired my original GI-style glasses with a piece of bent metal to hold one of the arms on. If the glasses are in good condition, you risk destroying a piece of history by using them at tacticals/immersions.
  • I had to look for original GI frames for years before I found a pair that was within my price range and in decent condition. If someone knows what they have, these can get pricey.

Comparison

Here are my GI issued frames, my reproduction frames, and a private purchase frame that was issued to a sailor during the war.[2]

You can see the ersatz repair done on the right arm of the GI glasses (top) The rust and wear on the modern glasses is also clear in this picture. The private purchase frame (bottom) is by far the most ornate of the three.
Note that the nose pads are slightly different between the originals and the reproduction glasses. This makes original nose pads more difficult to replace.
The original cases of the GI glasses (top) and the private purchase frames.


Final thoughts:

Going forward, I’m planning on mostly using my original GI frames and brining my reproduction frames to events as a backup in case something happens to the original frames in the field. I do appreciate that the reproduction frames fit into the original case to keep them safe and make sure my impression remains accurate. I’d say for new or causal reenactors, getting a pair of reproduction frames from The Opometrist Attic is a great way to ensure a solid impression with a pair of glasses you can wear for both reenacting and non-reenacting purposes. If you take care of them, they should survive long enough for you to do some research and find a reasonably priced original pair of glasses and track down an optometrist that can add your prescription lenses.


[1] 90th IDPG’s excellent article: http://www.90thidpg.us/Research/Original/FourEyes/90thIDPG-FourEyes-23Mar.pdf

The reproduction frames I bought in 2015: http://optometristattic.com/7205_Optometrist_Attic.htm

[2] It was really neat to find these frames and research the original optometrist who prescribed them and the sailor who wore them during the war. From my research into the calling card and address labels I found in the case, Dr. Togikawa was a Optometrist in Hawaii and prescribed these glasses to US Navy storekeeper Russell Edwards, from Boston, MA. Edwards served aboard the USS Pyro (AE-1) from at least 1940-late 1941 (possibly until August 1943–the record trail is a little unclear). Given that he in the USS Pyro muster as late as November 1941, he would have been at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Based on an obituary I believe to be his, saw action in the Philippines later in the war. That being said, while I love finding and researching these stories, many people will add a “story surcharge” meaning that you might overpay for a story that may or may not be true, another risk you run).

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Pyro_(AE-1)

https://www.legacy.com/us/obituaries/nwitimes/name/russell-edwards-obituary?pid=1832600

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