Several months ago, I lucked out and found a large stash of Stanhope novelty pieces at a garage sale. The collection I had to choose from was mostly religious icons, like tiny paintings of saints, the Lord’s Prayer, and other iconography hidden in keychains and cross pendants. The naughty Stanhopes, however are highly collectible — Victorian cheesecake nudes — so I snatched them all up.
A Stanhope is a tiny peep hole with a lens containing a micro-photograph inserted into a novelty souvenir. The photo inside is the size of a pinhead and has to be held up to a light and very close to ones eye to view the image.
In the Victorian era especially, these novelties were extremely popular and cheap to make, and because they were so proliferous, people didn’t take great care of them which accounts for their rarity today.
Although the pieces I have are merely cheeky today — microphotographs of Victorian ladies in various states of undress — these would have been quite scandalous way back when.
You can identify Stanhope jewelry primarily by the small lens located somewhere on the piece, usually on a pendant, fob, keychain, or ring. Oftentimes Stanhopes will look like little lenses, like a telescope, a pair of binoculars, or another eye piece. If this is a religious piece, the lens will typically be in the center of the cross. The lens is usually about 3mm in diameter and will go all the way through the piece, and is curved like a dome on one side. You must hold it right up to your eye and look through the dome in the direction of light to discern the image inside.
VALUE: It depends. These were widely manufactured but many of them were ruined or not treated very nicely. The “adult” versions have a value as a novelty item, but these were rarely made with precious metals or stones. I’d compare with recent sales on eBay to price your item.
NOTE: If you have and love a piece of Stanhope, you must be very careful not to expose the piece to moisture in any form. Water, lotion, steam, or any other moisture will dissolve the tiny picture on the lens, negating the value of the piece. I learned this lesson the hard way.