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"STANHOPES: The World in Miniature"

STANHOPES: The World in Miniature©
by Nick Berman
November 1990


Talk about the 23rd Psalm on the head of a pin; well, how about the Lord’s Prayer on a piece of glass of similar size? Stanhopes, peep-holes or peep-eye viewers, are just such items. They contain all sorts of pictures, places and things and truly provide a view of the world in miniature. Of note, it was the “world of knives” that served as my introduction to the “peep-holes.” Though our discussion will include knives, it will not be limited to them. As it turns out, knives are but only one variety of a very diverse group of collectible items.
These items (e.g. knives, charms, letter openers, etc.) are all related in that they each contain a Stanhope lens. The lens itself is a polished glass rod approximately 7 mm in length and 3 mm in diameter. One end is convex, outwardly curved, to allow high magnifications for a short focal length. Fixed to the flat end is a small disc of glass (same diameter and less than 2 mm wide) with its picture (See Picture #1). By holding the lens with the convex side towards you very close to the eye, one can see the image contained in the lens. This is all quite amazing since the picture covers only about one-third of the cross-sectional area. In addition to single images of famous people or places, some show multiple views on a particular subject such as scenes of St. Louis or views of Niagara Falls.
The name Stanhope comes from the lens’ inventor, Lord Charles Stanhope, third Earl Stanhope of England (1753-1816). He was both inventor and politician. Not until 1860, however, with the invention of the miniature camera did the Stanhope lens enter the public eye.
Rene Dagron, a French chemist, was the father of microphotography on collodion film (See Picture #2). This involved the use of iodides and nitrates to produce light-sensitive glass and hence, the transparent black and white image seen in the Stanhope. Techniques such as these gave rise to modern microfilm know to us all.
As an interesting aside, discounting the obvious commercial application of Stanhopes in souvenir items, microphotography was put to practical use in 1870. Paris was under siege during the France-Prussian War. Dagron set up the “Pigeon Post.” Having smuggled his equipment out of Paris, he photographed important dispatches as well as private mail on his tiny film. Peeling the collodion off the glass, it was rolled up, placed in a quill, fixed to a pigeon’s leg and, thusly, “delivered” into Paris. Once recovered, the film was unrolled, placed between glass slides and projected to allow recipients to read their messages (See Picture #3).
Some sources have suggested these tiny images were produced directly on the end of the magnifying rod; however, there are several “arguments” against this being the case. Firstly, many implements are found with the glass rod in place but no picture. Secondly, when viewing some pictures one sees many irregularities in the glass, particularly bubbles. This has the appearance of some type of glue used to fix the photo containing disc to the flat end of the glass rod. Mr. Phil Condax of Eastman House, Rochester, NY, informs me this “glue” was Canada Balsam, a non-streaking, clear drying adhesive of the day. Apparently many images were produced on a 1” x 3” glass slide, cut up and then applied to the individual lenses. Lastly, having recently removed a lens from a glass barrel, the separation into two pieces was evident.
Having access to a pathologist’s microscope (i.e. one with a camera attached) has allowed for actual photos of these miniature wonders.
One must focus from the flat side since no image is seen when viewed through the microscope with the convex side up. A backwards negative is obtained and then printed “emulsion side up” to right it again. Film used is professional black and white ASA 100.
Objects about ½” thick will fit under the microscope lens and allow focusing. Knives are particularly well suited for this treatment. Some other objects are simply too thick to be photographed in this manner. In fact, the motivation to obtain a picture of the lens in the barrel – “views of Niagara
Falls” – is what led to the confirmation that Stanhopes are in two pieces. While gently pushing the lens out the top of the barrel, the discovery was made.


Stanhopes celebrated, commemorated or advertised a wide variety of events (World Fairs, Expositions) and individuals. They showed pictures of famous people, dead and alive. Examples are Kings and Queens of England, various poets, politicians, actresses and bathing beauties and, of course, Adolphus Busch of Anheuser-Busch fame.
It was an Anheuser-Busch knife that first began my fascination with Stanhopes (See Picture #5). The knives are among the most exquisite examples of both Stanhope lens and advertising knives. Many are either pearl or colored enamel with views of Mr. Busch, his factory (See Picture #6), or the St. Louis Fair. Most of the knives are Champagne pattern with the wire-cutting blade replaced by cap lifters in later years. Six different pictures of Mr. Busch are known. Dee Muehlberger, a collector and quite the authority on Busch knives, gives a total of ten different pictures in all. In addition to those already mentioned, there are rumors of a lady’s picture presumed to be Mrs. Adolphus Busch. The Anheuser-Busch knives apparently existed in 78 varieties (See Pictures #8, 9) and were advertising “give-aways” – handed out by Mr. Busch (c1838-1913) and company executives on their travels. In later years a few were given to high-ranking employees as production or sales awards. They were produced from 1876 to approximately 1967 by several cutleries. Notable firms were Kastor Brothers, Wester and Schrade-Walden. Many of these examples are shown in Bernie Levine’s Guide or articles (See NKM 5/89 and Knife World 7/89). Some are simply marked Anheuser-Busch, Germany or Wiebusch and Hilger, NY, who were importers.
Stanhopes can be found in pocket knives, canes, sewing needle cases (See Picture #10), pipes, tools, pens, pencils, cigarette holders, crucifixes (See Picture #13), miniature binoculars, rings, tape measures (See Picture #14) and letter openers (See Picture #15). Rumor has it that after the Civil War (1861-65) a gentleman from Pennsylvania would sell hand-carved canes to veterans. Included was one’s choice of Stanhope with various scenes from Gettysburg Battle Field.
A spent Civil War bullet with a view of the monument at Gettysburg Cemetery is shown in Picture #17. Unfortunately, the piece is too thick to fit under the microscope for a picture of the lens itself.
Pictures or scenes include famous buildings (insurance companies), landmarks, bridges, churches, and tourist attractions, the latter showing Niagara Falls, the Eiffel Tower, Crystal Palace, and US and European cities.
Knives mainly consisted of Busch Champagne pattern advertisers, though many other types had risqué pictures of men and women in various stages of undress. One fine example has multiple Stanhopes (five) and a rotating cover which allows serial viewing of the lenses (See Pictures #19-21). The celluloid handle is marked Art Gallery and tang stamped Korns Patent Art Cutlery. Known stamps, in addition to Cutlery Company, Palmax, B.J. Proctor, No. 6 Norfolk Street, Sheffield (Joseph Rodgers & Sons), Keystone Cutlery, World Snake/Solingen, Henry Thompson/Nassau St. /Dublin. This last one has a portrait “In Memory of Robert Burns”, with extra scenes from his lifetime (See Pictures #22, 23). It is a bone handle, two-blade sleeveboard pattern. All known examples of Palmax/Solingen/Germany were pencil knives with or without Stanhopes. Those with the lenses had pictures lf Latin-appearing “bathing beauties”. The celluloid handles were marked “Souvenirs of Habana” (See Picture #24). Though the knives are from England, Germany and the States, the lenses themselves were all apparently produced in French labs.
Though my introduction to Stanhopes was via the Anheuser-Busch knives, a little natural curiosity has opened an entire new world. Not only are there many varieties of peep-hole knives, but obviously an immense number of items containing Stanhopes. Each piece is a bit of history. Dating may even be facilitated by virtue of the event or person to which they are dedicated.
Becoming less plentiful, like the knives which spawned my interest, these objects are still “out there” to be found. Armed with the knowledge of the types of implements in which lenses are found enhances your ability to spot the 1/8” hole in a particular object that houses it (See Picture #25). Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to find the picture or the entire lens missing. An intact piece is thusly a more rewarding find. History is more tangible when you can both hold it in your hands and see a picture of it as well. Aside from being terrifically fascinating, Stanhopes are like little pieces of magic to collect.
Acknowledgements: I must thank Jim Hughes, Dr. Ken Zinsser and Chuck Hively for their photographic assistance. Obtaining photo documentation of reasonable quality was obtained only with your help. Also, thanks to Dee Muehlberger for the valuable Busch information and Mr. Phillip Condax for the Stanhope information.