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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Queen's Brian May is a member of NASA's New Horizon teamPatheos (blog), July 30th
“But I was able to assemble the two images to make the most satisfying stereo view I can ever remember making.” While at first this just seems like a story of someone having it all, no level of rock-star fame by itself qualifies someone to be an...Read more
Art exhibits for the Fremont areaFremont Tribune, July 30th
Alongside works by Native American artists, stereoviews and photographs from the 19th century portray the indigenous people of the Great Plains as captured through a non-native lens. Admission: Free. Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; ...Read more
Current & ComingCourier-Gazette & Camden Herald, July 29th
Photo by: Dagney C. Ernest The annual juried art show of the Maine Lobster Festival is up in Camden Nation Bank's and other downtown Rockland merchants' windows through the five-day fest. Festival art director Su Johnson, right, with her aunt Janet ...Read more
John McInnis Auctioneers, Amesbury, MassachusettsMaine Antique Digest, July 29th
Some 70 stereoviews of California and other Western locations, Vermont, and New Hampshire fetched $3000, and an 1880 album of “Photographs of Yosemite Valley and Big Trees of Mariposa County, Cali.” by George Fisk sold for $2280. Fisk, who was ...Read more
Queen Guitarist Brian May is Now a New Horizons Science CollaboratorSmithsonian, July 29th
Astrophysicist Dr. Brian May is recognized during a July 17, 2015 New Horizons science briefing at NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C. May spent a long birthday weekend with the science team, attending two morning science plenaries, a meeting with the ...Read more
City Hall, 1880urbanmilwaukee, July 28th
When Henry H. Bennett photographed his stereoviews of Milwaukee from 1879 and for another decade this was a most interesting time to record the city. In the port-Civil War period the population boomed and in the downtown area many of the older...Read more
STEREO-A Peeks Out From Behind the SunSlate Magazine (blog), July 26th
Studying the Sun from Earth can be frustrating. From 150 million kilometers away, we can only see one side at a time. Sure, the Sun rotates, so we see the whole thing over the course of about a month, but sometimes you want to see it from different...Read more
Escapes: Oakland's got art and soulSacramento Bee, July 24th
Vintage paper products include postcards, trade cards, stereoviews, photographs, labels, brochures and sports memorabilia. When: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Aug. 1, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Aug. 2. Where: Golden Gate Park Hall of Flowers, Ninth Avenue and Lincoln Way, San ...Read more