Antique and Vintage Stereoview Photographs
The idea for stereoview photographs (also known as stereoscopic photographs, stereographs, or, simply, views) was hatched long before their invention, and even well prior to the first photographs. In the early 17th century, three separate men, Giovanni Battista della Porta, Jacopo Chimenti da Empoli, and Francois d’Aguillion, made drawings, or allusions to, what would eventually become the stereoscope or stereo viewer.
What these men envisioned essentially became a reality when the stereoscope was finally introduced in the early 19th century. Stereoscopes use two nearly-identical images, each taken a few inches to the side of the other. When viewed through two lenses set 2.5 inches apart, approximately the space between the eyes, the result is the illusion of a three-dimensional picture. In fact, stereoscopes are seen as the precursors to 3D entertainment. Much of the three-dimensional technology of today is based on the simple principles that allow the stereoscope to function.
Sir David Brewster often gets the credit for inventing stereoscopes, but he first designed the box-shaped viewer. The first stereoscope was actually introduced in 1833 by Sir Charles Wheatstone in Great Britain. At that time, photographs did not exist, so drawings were used instead. By the 1850s, photography was possible so stereoscopes began featuring this new technology.
Because the stereoscope preceded the publication of photographs in newspapers and magazines, stereo viewers were seen as forms of entertainment. People would pass around the stereoscope and see all sorts of beautiful scenes that they otherwise might never have been introduced to.
In 1859 Oliver Wendell Holmes (yes, that Oliver Wendell Holmes) invented a handheld stereograph viewer which was later manufactured by Joseph L. Bates in Massachusetts. These antique stereographs are highly sought-after today.
Before stereoviews caught on in the United States, however, they were popular in the United Kingdom and other parts of Europe. Roger Fenton was an early stereoview photographer, as was Jules Duboscq, who made daguerreotype stereographs popular. At the same time tintype and albumen photographs were being used in stereoscopes.
In fact, the vintage photographs that were placed inside stereoscopes are even more collectible than the devices themselves. The list of themes for these pictures is limitless, a...
One of the most popular genres was railroad photos. Rail transportation was developing alongside photographic innovation, so many people that never rode the rails could at least see them through a stereoscope. One of the leading railroad and Western stereoview photographers was Carleton Watkins. Other views included mines, landscapes, automobiles, and, of course, nudes. In the United States, stereoviews allowed people living on the East Coast to see the West Coast, and vice versa.
By the latter half of the 19th century, many towns had their own resident stereoview photographer, which means there were plenty of local subjects available for people with stereoscopes to go with the images of far-off lands. Several companies emerged as publishers and distributors of stereoviews on every imaginable subject, the biggest and most successful in the United States being the Keystone View Company of Meadville, Pennsylvania.
The most prolific maker of views, however, was probably the London Stereoscope Company, founded in the early 1850s. It produced hundreds of thousands of views, as well as some portraits. Its peak was the 1850s, which was the height of the stereoscope craze in the United Kingdom. The company remained strong through the next few decades before fizzling in the 1920s. It has since reopened, with its new owners making an attempt to reintroduce the popularity of stereoscopes into today’s digital world.
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Recent News: Stereoview Photographs
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Terry GilliamUnder the Radar Mag, September 19th
It reminded me of old Victorian stereoview cards. It's essentially that. They showed you the entire image that the camera saw. It's just funny, because the camera gate is so small and it was always very hard for people to get a very precise corner...Read more
New York City's Rare Venetian Gothic StyleNew York Times, September 18th
My eye has brushed over an 1880s stereoview of a hotel at Broadway and Fifth Avenue many times. But I was paying closer attention last spring, and something behind the hotel caught my notice only then: a fuzzy, half-obscured fragment of architecture...Read more
Inside the Plankinton House Hotel, 1908urbanmilwaukee, September 17th
The Plankinton House reigned as Milwaukee's premier hotel for quite a few years. Competitors, like the Pfister, would not arrive until the early 1890s. In the mid-1880s, the west side of the river would thrive, providing a home for department stores...Read more
Plankinton House Hotel, 1889urbanmilwaukee, September 9th
This is a view of the hotel from a photogravure produced by S.L. Stein circa 1889. Some views of the opulent interior will be published in this feature next week. Jeff Beutner is a collector of photographs, postcards and stereoviews of old Milwaukee...Read more
Speaker to talk about 'Early Hagerstown Photographers' at libraryHerald-Mail Media, September 8th
In his talk, Recker will share scarce views of Washington County from Hagerstown, east along the Western Maryland Railway tracks up and over South Mountain with a stop at Pen Mar, as well as extremely rare stereo views of south county along the ...Read more
Plankinton House Hotel, 1886urbanmilwaukee, September 3rd
Quite a different fate from that of Espenheim's, which went out of business that same decade. Jeff Beutner is a collector of photographs, postcards and stereoviews of old Milwaukee. This column features these images, with historical commentary by Beutner...Read more
Lynnfield history up for auctionDaily Item, August 30th
child chairs and toys, Wedgewood, Jasperware, Belleek, prints, stereo views, postcards, ephemera, mission furniture, canes and walking sticks. There is also a wonderful selection of hundreds of pieces of estate jewelry removed from the safe deposit...Read more
Community news Aug. 23, 2014The Keene Sentinel, August 23rd
Based on Boas' collection of postcards and stereoviews begun more than a decade ago, the book was completed for publication in conjunction with Walpole's 2014 Old Home Days celebration. The postcards and stereoviews, with historical captions, are ...Read more