STANHOPES: The World in Miniature©
by Nick Berman
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
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
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
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
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.