Antiques column: Stanhope, a little novelty souvenir


I find it a lot of fun, especially when you’re at it. A recently screened program (perhaps not too recently recorded though) featured one of the hunters with a Stanhope. A great novelty.

Stanhopes are small novelty keepsakes that contain a miniature peephole revealing a mysterious photograph.

The Stanhope is a lens a few millimeters wide with attached one or more tiny photographs, which look like black pinheads.

When held up to the light, the lens magnifies the micro-photograph as if it were being projected onto a screen.

The name Stanhope comes from Charles Stanhope, the third Earl Stanhope, who invented a particularly powerful magnifying glass.

However, it wasn’t until long after Stanhope’s death that his invention was adapted for these memories.

It was a Frenchman, René Dragon, who combined the Stanhope lens with the micro-photography of Englishman John Benjamin Dancer in 1860 to produce a tiny viewer with an image attached to a lens.

He quickly realized the potential and began to integrate these viewers into everyday objects.

The Victorians bought the Stanhope with incalculable ferocity and their popularity continued until the beginning of the 20th century.

By the middle of the 20th century, they had almost died out, except on special occasions such as the coronation of Elizabeth II.

Stanhopes are a great theme for the novice collector as they are relatively inexpensive and yet extremely interesting.


About Timothy Cheatham

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