Stanhope jewelry, also known as peephole jewelry, is jewelry with a tiny piece of artwork or a written passage embedded in it. The picture usually is the size of the head of a pin and so small no one will know it is there. It is positioned under a small magnifying lens. The owner can look through the lens for a crystal-clear view. A Stanhope piece is recognizable by a glass bubble on the surface.

The artwork and lens can be mounted in a metal setting or put in a piece of precious or semi-precious stone like amber. Upscale pieces of Stanhope jewelry were crafted of fine silver and gold with precious stones used as magnifying lenses.

The jewelry was named in honor of Charles, the third Earl of Stanhope. He was the 18th century inventor of the Stanhope lens, a simple, single-piece microscope. In 1851 lens maker and photographer Benjamin Dancer created the first tiny microphotographs. They could only be viewed between glass slides under a microscope. In 1857, he worked with French photographer Rene Dagron to make pinhead-sized photos that could be attached to the flat side of a cylindrical magnifying glass with a Stanhope lens at one end. The art then was mounted on pieces of small jewelry and other gifts.

These tiny tokens quickly caught on in France and spread to Europe and America. People could buy ready-made themed charms or make special ones with personal portraits. Larger Stanhope pieces had multiple views or photos.

A look at antique Stanhope jewelry reveals a variety of images from the inspirational to the risqué. Inexpensive Stanhope pendants, charms and rings were popular souvenirs and gifts from the mid 19th century well into the 20th century. They were tokens of where people had been and were particularly beloved in the age before portable cameras.

Binocular necklaces had photos of foreign landscapes, and tourist spots like Niagara Falls sold Stanhope charms with photos of the site or historical figures. Pendants with photos of famous actors and royalty were popular. Some Bakelite crosses used 7 different lenses, one for each of the seven sorrows or deadly sins. Later pieces celebrated film and television stars.

Recently, crosses with prayers and other pieces of Scripture renewed the popularity of Stanhope jewelry. Today, it is possible to order a custom-made piece that contains a personal photo.

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