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.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

London Stereoscopic Company

London Stereoscopic Company

Remember the days before television, video, and the Internet? London Stereo sure does. This handsome site, a labor … [read review or visit site]



Most watched eBay auctions    

Rare, Incredible Lynn Skeels C1904 Horse Trotters Harness Racing Stereoview SetAntique 1860 Stereoview Billiard Pool Champions Michael Phelan + Claudius BergerCivil War Stereoview-slave Pen, Alexandria, Va.Utah Stereoview Early Construction Of The Salt Lake Mormon Tabernacle C1865Vintage Underwood & Underwood "sun Sculpture" Stereo Viewer StereoscopeCivil War Stereoview-interior Of Fort SumterCivil War Stereoview-yorktown Landing Opposite Gloucester, Va.Rare Stereoscopic Gems Card Utah C.w. Carter Mormon Tabernacle In ConstructionCivil War Stereoview-great Siege Train At Yorktown, Va.Civil War Stereoview-300 Pound Parrot Gun, Fort Chatfield, Morris Island ScVery Old Stereoview Photo Group Of Aboriginal Girls Gippsland AustraliaCivil War Stereoview-castle Thunder, Richmond, Va.Civil War Stereoview-lieut. Gen. Grant's Three Horses Taken At Cold Harbor, Va.Civil War Stereoview-after Deck And Turret Of Monitor KaatskillStereoview Card Dr Paul Morphy Chess Player Edward J Muybridge Flying Studio Helios Stereoview San Francisco Rincon HillStereoview Card A Rare Old Third-dimension Portrait Of Abraham Keystone Civil War Stereoview-libby Prison, Selden & Co.Civil War Stereoview-general Hospital Wharf, City Point, Va.Antique Tabletop Stereoscope" Wood Stereoscopic ViewerCivil War Stereoview-arsenal, WashingtonCivil War Stereoview-a Rebel Soldier Killed In The Trenches, PetersburgCivil War Stereoview-lieut. Gen. Grant And Gen. Rawlins, Cold Harbor, Va.Rare Coney Island Elephant Hotel Stereoview 1880sCivil War Stereoview-arrival Of General Anderson, Fort Sumter, April 14th, 1865Civil War Stereoview-block House, Knoxville & Atlanta Rr, Near ChattanoogaAntique Jas M Davis "saturn Scope" Wood Stereoscopic Viewer Ca 1890'sLot Of 4 Albumen Photographs Of Switzerland Stereoview Camera In Glacier Foto2 Savage Utah Views Stereoviews Fort Douglas & The Old Shingle Mill A.l.hudson Stereoscope Stereopticon Stereo Viewer Mahogany Wood Vtg Old AntiqueCivil War Stereoview-sherman's Men Destroying The Railroad, Atlanta, Ga.Civil War Stereoview-ruins Of A Locomotive In Petersburg Railroad DepotCivil War Stereoview-a Dead Rebel, Petersburg, Va.Abraham Lincoln President's "white" House Rare Civil War Era Photograph Civil War Stereoview-interior Of The Union Fort SedgwickCivil War Stereoview-jeff Davis House, Selden & Co.Antique Graphoscope Stereoscope Cabinet Card Viewer Large Table Top Lot Of 11 H.h. Bennett Stereoview A Summer In Japan ECivil War Stereoview-review Of Grand Armies, President And CabinetAntique Stereoview Card Minnesota Native American Indians Lot Of 10 E & H.t. Anthony Stereoview Cards California ViewsStereoview Lot Of 5 Hayden Surveyjackson Rocky Mountains Hand Titled J Lot Of 3 Stereoview Card's Wilson Havens Black Americana Civil War Stereoview-confederate Soldier Killed In The TrenchesCivil War Stereoview-dutch Gap Canal, Selden & Co. LabelCivil War Stereoview-fort Johnson BatteryVintage Wooden Stereoscope 3d Picture Viewer Victorian With 49 Viewer CardsRare View Of Georgetown Colorado Silver Mining Camp By Charles Weitfle C1880Civil War Stereoview-libby Prison, Richmond, Va.Chinese Stereoview Li Hung Chang Tientsin C1905 Photo China Hongzhang BoxerCivil War Stereoview-grand Review, Sherman's Army, 20th Army Corps PassingCivil War Stereoview-ruins Of The Burnt District, Richmond. Va.Civil War Stereoview-the Rebel Trenches, Storming Of PetersburgStereoview Gurney David Ross Locke Aka Petroleum V. Nasby Z Barnum Museum Fire Nyc Stereoveiw 1868Arkansas Stereoview Hot Springs 38 Rector Bath House Arsenic SpringAntique Keystone School Stereoscope Viewer Wood & Metal Stereoview Photograph W. H. Tipton Gettysburg Battlefield Views #2 Dead Devil DCivil War Stereoview-view From The Point Of Rocks, Appomattox River, Va.Stereoview Card Gurney Edwin Booth As Hamlet