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Stan-who? A Short History of Stanhopes

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A very small pair of binoculars recently came to the barn, and despite its diminutive size - only about 2cm by 2cm - it contained a whole world within…

To be specific, it contains scenes from Toulon, a port town about an hours’ drive from Marseilles, captured in this tiny speck of a lens. Encased in two bone eyepieces with a brass fitting between them allowing for the rotation of the image, these tiny items are delightful little souvenirs popular in the 1860s onwards until the end of the 19th century. 

To Right: Our Bone Binoculars - measuring roughly two centimetres by two centimetres, this tiny item is deceptively simple and very charming!

Stanhopes or ‘stanho-scopes’, named after the 3rd Earl Stanhope, are a small type of glass lens that magnifies using convex glass. In the hands of Rene Dagron (b.1817 - d.1900), a French inventor and photographer, he refined the shape to a cylindrical form, and applied small images to the ends of a lense so that the viewer, upon looking, could see a small magnified projection of whatever image was desired. Sometimes these were bible verses or religious icons buried within carved rosaries, scenic views of various towns or cities in binoculars or pens, and the occasional racy scene of a lady in a state of undress. Stanhopes are not just in binocular form either, but often practical items, such as pens, pencils, or needle cases, typically cased in carved bone, but on occasion in ivory or set in jewelery.

Stanhopes are still produced, with many modern stanhopes in the form of religious and dedicationary jewelry, containing bible verses and scenes of Saints or Mary. And of course, many of us have childhood memories of other optical entertainers - the kaleidoscope, stereoscope, and magic lantern - just three of the most popular examples.


To Left: A Detail shot of the very tiny images printed on the glass within, which are just legible to the naked eye when held up to the light. 


Bid on Lot 70, ‘A Tiny Pair of Antique 'Stanhope' Miniature Bone Binoculars, with tiny souvenir scenes of Toulon, France, to each lens in our weekly Antiques & Collectables Auction, Section 8, ending this Sunday, the 12th of December, 2021 - or check out some of our other blogs for further readings on antique and vintage oddities.

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