The Beyond the Binary exhibition brings together the diverse perspectives of LGBTQ+ researchers, artists and community activists to create space for self-representation in the museum. On this QR page, community curator Gemma Cantlow explores the history of Stanhope Peeps and their relationship to gender.
Amulet with a Stanhope Peep lens (France, Europe)
Popular in the 1800 – 1900s, Stanhope Peeps were small novelty charms (in forms such as pens, knives, rings) containing a microphotograph which could be seen when held up to the light. Often featuring images of tourist or religious destinations, the pipe in the Beyond the Binary exhibition contains a picture of a church at Longpont-sur-Orge, France. This miniature smoking pipe from France was a novelty item popular with travellers.
Stanhopes (likely owned by wealthy men) also contained erotic imagery featuring female nudes. The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction holds hundreds of Stanhope Peeps in its collection. These arrived in a small cardboard box in 1959, having been held by the Post Office for decades. The box was confiscated by the US Postal Service in 1924 for containing pornographic materials.
Stanhope Peeps raise questions about the gendered relationship between object and photograph. For example, it has been noted that the type of object containing erotic images were objects associated with men, for example larger rings or cigar holders. Objects associated with women’s activities in the mid 1800s (for example thimbles) usually contained less risqué images such as tourist attractions.
Gemma Cantlow (Beyond the Binary community curator)