Stanhopeless No More by Howard Melnick
First published by Knife World Magazine© December 2001
It all began for me in July 1984, with the purchase of an Anheuser Busch knife with a “peephole” for $45.00. It turned out to be one of the lesser common examples of the perhaps sixty-plus varieties known today; a nickel silver champagne pattern with two Stanhopes. The first was a portrait of Adolphus Busch, the second a factory picture. At the time, I didn’t know that microphotos were called Stanhopes and only thought they came in knives. Shortly after the realization that these things come in many forms, the search for information about them began. Needless to say, there was little available. A few pages in a needlepoint book, an occasional article in an antique journal, calls to the Smithsonian and a referral to Eastman House started to bring it all into sharper focus.
The story actually began in 1839 when an already well-known scientist, John Benjamin Dancer, made the first microphotograph at a 160X reduction. By 1852, he used collodion for the microfilms which allowed for much clearer resolution. Shortly thereafter, there were heated debates from others claiming to be the first microphotographer, but Dancer defends his position adequately. His microfilms are placed on glass slides to be viewed via a microscope. Dancer was an optical craftsman, built fine microscopes and invented the stereoscopic camera. He presented several examples of his slides to Sir David Brewster in 1856. Sir David, a Scottish physicist, was well known as the inventor of the kaleidoscope. He was quite taken with Dancer’s microphotos and often displayed them in his travels to the continent. He used a Coddington or “Brewster” lens to show them off. This was a Plano-convex handheld lens whose focal length was the length of the overall lens, thereby greatly magnifying anything applied to its flat end. The microphotos, essentially invisible to the naked eye, were clearly seen this way. Presumably, it was cumbersome to carry a standard microscope around to view the slides. Sometime in 1856 or 1857, Brewster showed Dancer’s microfilms in Italy and France while suggesting their use in jewelry, trinkets and for espionage purposes. There had already been consideration for microfilming of archives on a commercial basis. Rene Dagron, a portrait photographer in Paris, upon seeing Dancer’s microfilms, was apparently greatly impressed. He is credited with receiving the world’s first microfilm patent in 1858. He is likely the first photographer to actually market the microphotos in objects other than slides. Using a tiny Coddington magnifier, he put them into rings, brooches, charms, dip pens, etc. He calls the lens in photo a Stanhope, though this is a misnomer.
A true Stanhope lens is a biconvex lens used as a field microscope for naturalists and designed by the third Earl of Stanhope in the 1700's. He too, evidently was a prolific inventor of a wide variety of objects including Stanhope carriages. These obviously have nothing to do with photography. In fact, photography did not exist in the Earl’s lifetime. Though certainly not the only microphotographer in Paris, Dagron was seemingly the most active. He filed for several patents after his first and went to court to defend them. He held them in France, Britain and the U.S. By 1864 he had published several treatises on “photographie microscopique.” Interestingly, a German publication at the time complained of obscene microfilms flooding the market. This is not to imply Dagron was necessarily responsible but mentioned as an observation on human behavior. One suspects the first nude photo was probably taken rather shortly after the advent of photography itself. Of the known surviving signed Dagron Stanhopes, perhaps less than half would be considered erotic, none obscene. Generally, the pictures are extremely detailed, well contrasted, and highly collectible. Dagron’s notoriety is likely how and why he ended up contracting with the exiled French government during the Franco-Prussian war in 1870 to 1871. July 19,1870, Napoleon III declared war on Prussia, was ill-prepared for the conflict and surrendered 100,000 men at Sedan by September 1. Paris didn’t capitulate and closed its gates to the outside world September 18, only to finally yield January 28, 1871 after five months of siege. Being little better off than the rest of France, the populace experienced rampant inflation, horrible privations, and was starved for both food and news of the outside world. For food, the wealthy consumed the zoo animals, the less well off made due with dogs and rats. To solve the latter problem, almost daily hot air balloons left Paris and risked small arms and rocket fire to escape. They brought out microphotographic equipment and chemicals along with carrier pigeons to fly the messages back into the city. Evidently, Parisians were good about not eating the homing pigeons. Highly organized and reasonably successful, Dagron and his “Pigeon Post” delivered 115,000 messages to news-starved Paris by the time the war ended.
Paris was to remain the Stanhope capital of the world for quite some time. Dagron continued his output, would make custom microphotos on request and sold all the equipment and supplies to allow anyone to be a producer. This of course has contributed to a virtually endless list of items holding the Stanhopes and of subject matter as well. Objects vary from countless charms, pens, pencils, smoking items, sewing tools, jewelry, letter openers, canes and pocketknives. Subjects range from religious, worlds’ fairs and expos, vacation spots, monuments, advertising, erotica and rarely pornography. Stanhope rings with risque photos are documented to have been carried by soldiers in the American Civil War. The earliest documented knife with a Stanhope was 1865. It was discovered by Mark Zalesky at the Bertrand Museum in Missouri in the mid 1990's. The Bertrand was a paddle-wheeler sunk in 1865 and salvaged in 1969. Not until Mark’s visit were the caretakers aware that their knives with “glass rivets” were actually Stanhopes. The careful observer who catalogued them noted that one side of the glass was rounded, the other flat. Never holding it up to his eye and looking to the light, the pictures were never discovered until Mark showed them. Unfortunately, some of the pictures were lost either from being buried in mud for over 100 years or from the muriatic acid used to clean them. Believe it or not, the surviving microfilms were two to a knife and all of couples engaged in sexual activities. Joseph Rodgers is on the tang stamps of these four-bladed knives handled in pearl, ivory or tortoise. Though most Stanhopes seemed to have been produced in France and later Czechoslovakia until the late 1970's, most knives appear to be of German manufacture. Those listed as U.S. seem likely to be contract knives. A. Kastor and later Camillus made many of the American ones, however, they may have been produced in Germany. These include several of the Busch knives, Robert, Johnson & Rand Shoe Company, Blanke’s Tea & Coffee Company, and Banner Buggy knives. They are all of St. Louis firms in business around the turn of the past century.
There are a multitude of pen knives and whittlers with tang stamps like Weibusch, Hilger, Boker, Eagle, Brown, Black, Adolphus Cutlery, A. Kastor, N. Kastor, Clarks, Irving Cutlery and Palmax. Many of the Palmax are marked Souvenir of Habana (Spanish for Havana). They were all celluloid pencil knives with nudes in their Stanhopes. The photos are numbered into the 300's, several sequentially with the same three models in various poses. There are also non-stanhope Palmax pencil knives. They never had Stanhopes and are less common and frequently advertise Canada. There is one of the Niagara Falls with a Stanhope and one of Bermuda, also with a Stanhope. The vast majority of the Stanhope pencil knives come from Cuba. It must have been a wild place to visit. Another group of knives generally with women, this time figural legs, usually have actress-type of photos. They are fairly common, most with the Stanhope in the blade pivot; a few at the other end in the metal boot. Other figurals include a rifle pencil knife, a sleeping hog and a fish of English, French and German manufacture respectively. Several of the knives were advertising pieces, have three blades including a file, stamped either A. Fiest/LUNA/or Small Brothers. They are both of German manufacture and in sterling. One is Art-Deco with elongated diamond designs, the other has a more floral pattern with “New York Life Insurance Company” stamped into the handle. The Stanhope shows a skyscraper and asks, "Do you own part of this building...if not why not?” Most common, most collected and most expensive are the Anheuser Busch knives. They are most common only in the huge numbers given out; first by Adolphus as a calling card, and later from the company as promotional or advertising incentives.
There are several different knife patterns, some with files, buttonhooks, or spatulas, but the majority are champagne knives. Of the latter, most of these are red, black and gold enamel, but some have blue, green or even yellow for the hops and barley on the backside of the knife. Others have pearl or ivory, brass or nickel scales. One of the nickel knives with the factory on the reverse side and one of the pearl champagnes knives each have two Stanhopes. The pictures are generally photos or portraits of Adolphus; some young, some old, some sitting, others standing. Additionally, there is the factory picture indicating “Anheuser Busch Brewing Association Highest Scored Award World’s Fair 1893.” There may be a variation with a woman’s photo referred to in a letter to Kastor felt perhaps to be Mrs. Busch. Fortunately, Anheuser Busch Brewing Association has kept and shared records regarding the knives. Letters discuss the pictures, handles, quantity and quality. Not surprisingly, Adolphus wanted to inspect several of each type before multiple dozens were put into production. Apparently, in the knife with “the woman’s picture,” the back-springs were too tight. Adolphus and Mr. Kastor were friends and not all the letters were all business. After covering the mundane stuff, Adolphus reminds Mr. Kastor about a bet over the arrival time of a ship. Evidently, Adolphus won the bet and suggests that Adolph Kastor let his son know he was wrong so that he doesn’t “think his father is infallible.” The Busch’s spent significant time at least on a monthly basis in Germany. In 1904, ocean travel was the only transportation to and from Europe. Perhaps the bet had to do with when the Busch’s arrived in New York Harbor from a trip abroad. 1904 also provided opportunity for additional Stanhope knives. It was the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, better known as the St. Louis World’s Fair. J. Dixon produced both a three blade with corkscrew and four blade equal end aluminum knife with Stanhopes. Aluminum was still an expensive metal at the time. The Stanhopes were scenes from the fair. Earlier, the Paris 1889 Expo, which introduced the Eiffel Tower to the world, had pressed horn figural knives of the tower with Stanhopes of Paris or Mr. Eiffel and his tower. The latter Stanhope compares the 300 meter height of the tower with other world landmarks.
Evidently, there exists four variations of the knives themselves. Again in Paris, this time the 1900 Expo, yielded another figural knife in the shape of a nail. It is made of aluminum and stamped “Le Clou de Exposition.” This was felt to be a play on words as clou can mean nail or souvenir. The last expo knife is also one of the most interesting. It is a two blade celluloid equal end tang stamped Syracuse Knife Company with the 1939 New York World’s Fair Trylon and Perisphere on the handle. Under the Stanhope, which is a scene of the New York Skyline and Harbor embossed and inked in the celluloid, it reads “Air View New York Skyline” with an arrow pointing to the Stanhope. It is the only item in the entire collection that is an obvious Stanhope or peephole. As the lens only measures about 2 to 3 millimeters in diameter and 6 to 8 millimeters in length, they are easy to miss. In fact, much of their allure is their subtle nature. In that little piece of glass, there is a secret surprise waiting to be seen! What’s it going to be - multi-views of the U.K., Niagara Falls, the Lord’s Prayer or some famous person? All too commonly, unfortunately, the item is Stanhopeless e.g. the picture or the entire lens is gone. The microphotos started as multiple microdots on an oversized glass slide. They were produced via a reducing camera using several microscope objectives as its lens. The photos were then cut into tiny squares using a diamond stylus and glued to the flat end of the magnifying lens with Canada Balsam. They were then ground round and glued into place in their carrier; dip pen, pocketknife, jewelry, etc. Considering the whole deal is made of glass, some well over 100 years old, it is not too surprising that some are lost. The knives meant to be used are often found empty or picture-less. If present, often pictures are hard to see due to bubbling of the balsam. For years, Stanhopeless items were destined to remain vacant. At best, one might transfer a Stanhope from one item to another. This was at the risk of the picture falling off the magnifier and limited by the picture itself. Obviously, an Anheuser Busch knife should have a picture of Adolphus for a proper restoration, thereby, multi-views of Niagara Falls won’t do. Stanhopes were produced at least as late as 1976 for the Bicentennial. It was a Liberty Bell charm with a microphoto of the bell itself dated 1776 to 1976. Why these collectibles disappeared thereafter is an enigma.
Review of sample pages from the last producing Czechoslovakian factory revealed the pictures to be of poor quality and not uncommonly of a primarily religious nature. Perhaps in the radical 70's, their allure faded. Stanhope production ceased in the late 70's, and the Czech. factories shifted to making glass chandeliers. Czechoslovakia has been well known for its glass and crystal manufacture. Political prisoners provided cheap labor. With communism unraveling itself, lack of this workforce may also have contributed to the Stanhope’s demise. Obviously, the Iron Curtain didn’t fall until 1990, so it is difficult to determine if these factors were involved or not. Regardless, whatever the reason or reasons, Stanhopes were gone. The story doesn’t end there however. In 1993, a violin maker in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, had an introduction to Stanhopes. It turned out to be an epiphany. Pamela Frank, a world renowned violinist, was in Harrisburg playing with the symphony. While consulting with Mike Sheibley for a violin repair, she showed him a “picture bow.” Mike was absolutely, as he puts it, “blown away.” After some research into bows, it turns out that occasionally famous French and German bow makers embellished their final product with a Stanhope picture of themselves or the great composers. The very evening of seeing his first “picture bow” as musicians refer to them, Mike decided he needed to reproduce them. After years of planning and two years of development, Mike has managed to do what he decided that fateful night - makes Stanhopes! Though actually of three components, the magnifier, film and window covering the back end, once installed, they are virtually identical to the old two piece ones. Modern photographic techniques and glues have contributed to Stanhopes of sharper detail and clearer resolution than many of the originals. The inability of one to discern a new from an old Stanhope of course creates understandable consternation among collectors. Mike thereby marks his creations SMW for Stanhope MicroWorks. We as collectors, especially the purists among us, prefer our items to be all original. However, when that option no longer exists, a quality appropriate replacement is a good alternative. Debate reigns whether this is truly a restoration or a repair. So long as it contains appropriate markings and hence no chance to defraud, personally I would rather have the empty hole filled than it be Stanhopeless.
The new lens seems to hold the same fascination, the same expectation of surprise. There exists other modern optical novelties such as the Franklin Mint Playboy knives. Though not true Stanhopes, these single blade lock back knives show a color miniature photo of Playboy centerfolds, the lens a separate acrylic disc with air between it and the picture. Sometime in the 1980's and 90's, a British company, Woodsetton, produced “peeps.” In the antique trade, peeps, peepers or peepholes are used interchangeably in referring to Stanhopes. These peeps were found in thimbles, wax seals and other small items. The magnifiers were plastic or acrylic and flat on both ends. They enlarge the tiny photo via concentric circular ridges in the top surface of the cylinder. This is called a fresnel lens and is a miniature version of a giant lighthouse lens used for the same purpose e.g. magnification. Regardless, though Woodsetton had its followers, it is now out of business. Stanhope collectors generally didn’t pursue them other than perhaps to have a single representative example. Somehow these peeps just don’t have the same “neat factor” that true Stanhopes offer. The new SMW ones have it! . Actually, other than for repairs of Stanhopeless items, Stanhope Microworks is targeting new collectors, not old ones. The plan is to develop new markets in knives and other collectibles. The ability to customize is a very exciting prospect. Just as Dagron offered over a 100 years ago, one can now have his family’s picture put in the object of his or her choice. In today’s marketing, brand recognition plays an all important role to the consumer. Adolphus Busch seemed to think so. His Budweiser was not only the king of beers, but his company was the king of advertising memorabilia.
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