The television programme that all antiques enthusiasts love to watch, The Great Antiques Hunt, occasionally finds its way onto the 14” screen in the Dowse House sitting room and occasionally we watch it. I find it very entertaining, especially when we are on it. One programme recently screened (possibly not too recently recorded though) featured one of the hunter’s with a Stanhope. A lovely novelty.

Stanhopes are small, novelty mementos that contain a miniature peephole revealing a mystery photograph. The Stanhope is a lens just millimetres wide to which one or more minute photographs, which look like black pinheads, are attached. When held up to the light the lens magnifies the micro-photograph as if it was projected onto a screen.

The name Stanhope came from Charles Stanhope, the third Earl Stanhope, who invented a uniquely powerful magnifying lens. However, it wasn’t until well after Stanhope’s death that his invention was adapted for these souvenirs.

It was a Frenchman, Rene Dragon, who combined Stanhope’s lens with Englishman John Benjamin Dancer’s micro-photography in 1860 to produce a tiny viewer with an image attached to a lens. He quickly realised the potential and began fitting these viewers into everyday objects.

Victorians bought into the Stanhope with untold ferocity and their popularity continued until the early twentieth century. By the mid twentieth century they had almost died out except for 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.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

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