Now here’s an interesting optical novelty ….. the peep egg. It consists of a body made of alabaster, a translucent natural mineral, three tiny pictures on a spindle and a lens to view them. The idea is that you look through the lens to see a ‘secret’ view of whatever the subject matter is, a bit like a Stanhope photo but bigger. They were made in various sizes (this one is just four inches high) and typically show a representation of the location where they were sold, perhaps a seaside resort in the UK or, in America, Niagara Falls. Often, one of the three images is a rock garden made of small, multi-coloured crystal or glass. This one is a souvenir of Weston-super-Mare near Bristol, with two pictures of the sea-front and one of Steep Holm, an island just off the coast.
Alabaster was used because light passes through it to illuminate the drawings inside and it was readily available as a by-product of making gypsum, which is quarried in just a few locations in the UK and widely used in fertiliser and building products.
Little was known about peep eggs until a few years ago and research suggests that the British ones may date from the mid Victorian period and were probably made in north west Leicestershire, perhaps by home workers as a cottage industry or maybe by quarry workers, in their spare time, to supplement their income.
Peep eggs are really quite rare now and most of those that do surface from time to time are chipped or have lost their external decoration. This one is in lovely condition with just a little wear ….. a simple but delightful Victorian optical toy.
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