Pictured is some of the best made mass produced eyewear ever. A lovely art deco pattern zigs and zags over every surface of the beveled eyewires and temples. The cast skull temples gleam.
The process of gold filling a frame like this was complicated. The highest concentrations of gold were placed at points of wear, where frame met skin. In addition note the solid 14 karat nose pads, which were seldom seen after the early 1930s. They were impervious to skin oils.
Almost immediately upon taking office in 1933, Franklin Roosevelt issued an executive order confiscating all Americans’ gold. Although eyewear manufacturers continued to make gold filled frames until Richard Nixon ended the gold standard for foreign exchange in 1971, nose pads henceforth would be celluloid.
They were a weak link in terms of durability.
From a quality perspective the interwar period was probably the pinnacle for mass produced worn objects. Prior to that mass production methods needed further refinement. After that a race to the bottom ensued in which cutting costs took precedence over everything else.
All in all, between frames like these, 20 ounce denim work clothes and more ubiquitous tailors and seamstresses, the average American dressed like a king. Even today’s luxury goods seldom measure up to yesterday’s standard bourgeois accoutrements.
For all the expansion of capital that’s occurred in the past 90 years, it’s hard to look at such things and not conclude prosperity has diminished.