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, Sr. (his son was the Supreme Court judge) 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    

C1900 Keystone View Birds-eye Maple Boxed Salesmans Sample StereoviewerMattey Tri-fold Stereographoscope Footed Stereoscope W/hand Painted Flower MotifRare Lot Of Three (3) Cased Stereographic Tour Of The World Stereo Card Sets!Very Rare 1850s Stereoview Photo Isambard Kingdom Brunel Ss Great Eastern VisitAntique 1900 White Stereo Viewer And Over 100 Stereo View Cards No~reserveAntique Sun Sculpture Stereoscope Stereoscopic 3d Stereo Card Viewer Antique 1900s Imperial Tin Litho Folding Stereoscope Photography RotographCivil War 1865 Pickets In Front Of Petersburg From Soldier's Album 1840s Henry Fox Talbot Talbotype - Calotype Sun Pictures Stereoview Paris FranceAntique Stereoscope Stereo Viewer W Parts Repair Lot 3 Antique Stereoscope Viewers H.c. White The Perfecscope +1902 Yosemite Valley Stereoview Box Set Complete 24 Cards Map Booklet UnderwoodWatkins' Pacific Railroad 1870s Stereoview/rare/construction Train PalisadesCivil War 1865 Albumen Soldiers And Artillery Fort Sumner From Soldier's Album Stereoview-genre, Evenings At Home - Scene With Chess Game By J. ElliottScarce 1860s Stereoview Photo Melbourne Animated Scene Swanston Street AustraliaEarly Glass Stereoview 1860s/70s View Of Boat River Seine Paris FranceStereoview-genre, "your Likeness, Sir? No White Eyes." Outside Photograph StudioScarce 1860s Stereoview Photo Melbourne Animated Scene Collins Street AustraliaScarce 1860s Stereoview Photo Studley Park Near Melbourne AustraliaStereoview-italy, Torino And An Early View Of A Boat On The River Po, TurinStereoview-wales, At Conway Falls Inn, A Local And His Son By William GrundyStereoview-derbyshire, Artists' Corner In Matlock BathStereoview-hampshire, Southampton And The Historic Cross House Ferry ShelterStereoview-derbyshire, Wirksworth Tap Dressing Festival 1861Instant Library: 500 Stereopticon Card Collection Priced Right!1870s Mechanical Gate Intrance To Wc Ralston Home Belmont California C E WatkinsAntique Stereoview With 137 Stereo Cards - Mostly Usa !!!Sj Morrow Cowboy Seated Bear Gulch Black Hills Dakota Territory StereovikwRaumbild 3d Stereoviews With Stereoviewer, 160+ Photographic Images GermayDer Kampf Im Westen, Wwii German Stereo View Book With Viewer & 100 PhotosWeitfle's Stereoscopic Views/buggy Riding #73/clear Creek Canon/orig StereoviewStereoview-u.s.a., High Bridge, Haarlem, Near N.y. By William England1880’s Real Photo Stereoview - Santa Cruz, California Street Scene(4) Erie Canal, Lockport Ny Stereoviews, 1913 Prof. Wise And His Balloon, Ganymede, Vermont, E. Anthony & Co. Rare Stereoview1909 Yellowstone Stereoview Set Book Only With MapUnion Pacific R.r. West From Omaha - Mountain Meadows Utah StereoviewAntique 1904 Keystone Monarch Stereoscope Stereo Viewer Civil War 1865 Albumen Photo Dead Rebel Very Close From Soldier's Album D.c. Dinsmore Dover Maine Stereoview Boarding House Dover Foxcroft Sebec Lake ?Noblespirit No Reserve {3970} Fantastic Vintage Photograph CollectionNative American Indians First Nation Horses & Shadows & Wigwam StereoviewOregon Stereoview Interesting Group With Skulls & Bones Watkins' Pacific Railroad/stereoview 1870s/steam Locomotive On Mountain TracksYowiye Or Nevada Falls And Pool Yosemite Valley C E Watkins 1870sAntique Pewter StereoscopeAntique Stereoview Card - Gardel Memorial Mt Vernon Cemetery Philadelphia PaUnderwood & Underwood Stereo Card Viewer Circa1904Lot Of 21 Stereoviews World War 1 ImagesEarly Stereo View Of Village Of Long Lake-adirondacksWatkins Stereoview Of San Francisco- View From Rincon Hill4-stereo Views - Civil War And Others Lot2Antique Underwood & Underwood Stereoviewer W/ 20 Cards, Perfeoscope 4-stereo Views - Civil War And OthersStereoview 1870s By Thomas Houseworth Central Pacific Railroad Teaming CiscoStereoview 1870s By Thomas Houseworth Yo-semite Valley Mirror Lake1900s Stereoview Photo King's Own Royal Lancaster Rgt (2) Lucknow India GirdwoodVintage Antique Underwood Sun Sculpture Stereoscope Viewer Patent 1901Vintage Keystone Eye Comfort Wood Stereoscope Viewer Parts Or Repair