At first glance, Stanhopes are simply small objects, often with a practical purpose. But hold them up to the light, peer closely into the tiny lens, and suddenly, you are transported into another world, another time. A microphotograph, as minute as a full stop, unfolds its tale magnified through the lens. We take a look at the history and creation of Stanhopes, their ingenuity and variations, and some examples with a price guide.
The inception of Stanhopes was a synergy of innovation from three pioneers. The brainchild of J.B. Dancer, the inventor of microphotography, Lord Stanhope, the mastermind behind the lens, and René Dagron, a Frenchman who ingeniously married the two technologies. Dagron popularized this technique by embedding these microphotographs into a variety of novelty items, thereby creating a sensation.
The production of these unique objects surged from the early 1860s, and they became sought-after souvenirs and commemorative pieces associated with places, events, and exhibitions. The mid-1860s marked a significant milestone when Dagron began to export thousands of lenses from his production facility. Offering a personalized service, Dagron would take customers’ photographs, shrink them to microscopic size, and mount them on a lens ready for installation into any object. These exported lenses bore the mark ‘Made in France’ or Dagron’s company name as a stamp of authenticity.
Stanhopes were most commonly set into objects crafted from economical materials such as bone, vegetable ivory, bog oak, or base metals, while plastic started being used post the 1920s. Sewing items, charms, monoculars, binoculars, rosaries, and penholders were among the most popular choices for housing these miniature marvels. As mentioned sewing items are a popular Stanhope item including pin cushions, tape measures, crochet hooks, metal point stilettos, button hooks and needle cases.
Microphotographs in stanhopes primarily featured scenic views, although those depicting historical personalities, events, or risqué subjects tended to command higher prices due to their rarity. Despite the declining creativity and reduced demand by the 20th century, Stanhope novelties remained in production to commemorate key events, such as the accession of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, and for various advertising purposes. However, the production of Stanhopes came to a standstill in 1972.
When it comes to collecting Stanhopes, condition is of utmost importance. Primarily, the lens should be intact and the item should not bear any damage. The quality of the image is crucial – it should be clear and sharp. Issues like crazing, gum bubbling, or scratches can significantly devalue the piece. To maintain their condition, Stanhopes should never be immersed in water as it can dissolve the adhesive holding the image to the lens. Similarly, care should be taken to avoid any jarring impact which could dislodge the image from the lens.
The world of Stanhopes offers a unique perspective on history, captured in the smallest of frames and viewed through a magnifying lens. They are a testament to human ingenuity and a captivating blend of art, technology, and nostalgia. A collection of Stanhopes isn’t merely an array of objects, it’s a window to a bygone era, a microcosm of the past tucked away in the palm of your hand. They have decreased in price