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    

Antique Victorian Stereoscope Graphoscope Photographic Viewer Stereoview EbonyGrand Review Of Sherman's Army Washington D.c. 1865 Civil War Stereoview PhotoAntique Victorian Stereoviewer & 28 Stereoview Cards Lot Underwood & UnderwoodAntique Anthony Civil War Stereoview Marshall House Alexandria Virginia VaC1880 Stereoview-lincoln Nebraska-clements-#8of18-old Capitol-photo/photographStereoview Card Set France Underwood & Underwood U&u Stereoviewer 1-100C1880s New Orleans Louisiana *large View On Canal Street & Signs* Photo GalleryThomas Houseworth Stereoview Placer Mining Columbia, Tuolumne County, CaliforniaAntique Stereoview Wwi World War I Card Vol. I-iv Keystone Library Set 200 Qty. Huge Lot 200+ Antique Stereoview Stereoscope Photo Cards - Comical Biblical War1901 Peking China Stereoview Prince Ching Commander Of City Guard * UnderwoodCivil War Stereoview-the Sunken Road At AntietamStereoview - Watervliet New York, Shaker Church Family Farm Small Barn - 1870sLot Of 25 San Francisco Fire & Earthquake Series Stereoview CardsStereo Nude With High Wheel Bicycle By L.m. Davison Studios, Leicester1883 Stereoview-lincoln Nebraska-clements-#18of18-fire-street-photo/photographRare! Stereoview Card Set India Sikh Islam Persian Underwood & Underwood U&u Antique N.a. Forsyth Stereoview Miners Drilling Contest, Butte Montana MtCivil War Stereoview-general Grant's Horse CincinnatiCivil War Stereoview-army Blacksmith And Forge, AntietamC1880 Stereoview-lincoln Nebraska-clements-#14-city/street/fire-photo/photograph1884 Stereoview-lincoln Nebraska-clements-#13of18-city Street-photo/photograph1880s Stereoview City Photograph/photo/stereograph Lincoln Nebraska-clements-#21880s Stereoview Photograph/photo/stereograph Lincoln Nebraska-clements-#1of181880s Stereoview City Photograph/photo/stereograph Lincoln Nebraska-clements-#3San Antonio Texas,p Wagner Dept Store, F Hardesty Stereoview, C1880Civil War-era Maine Military Camp Scene Stereoview - Dress Uniforms Tents RiflesAntique Stereoview By Chamberlain, Birds Eye View Of Kokomo Colorado Ghost Town100 Vintage Holy Land Stereoscope Stereoviews, Cards, No. 501 To No. 600C1880 Stereoview-lincoln Nebraska-clements-#7of18-city Street-photo/photographC1880 Stereoview-lincoln Nebraska-clements-#15of18-city Street-photo/photograph1880s Stereoview-lincoln Nebraska-clements-#4of18-state Penitentiary/jail/prisonC1880 Stereoview-lincoln Nebraska-clements-#6of18-b&m Railroad-photo/photograph1873 Stereoview-lincoln Nebraska-clements-#16of18-city Street-photo/photographCivil War Stereoview-confederate Dead On The BattlefieldDiablerie, Devil Tissue Stereoview-22 Les Caves De Satan 1873Diablerie, Devil Tissue Stereoview-33 Une Descente Aux Enfers. 1874Antique 1870s Jones & Elliott's Stereoview Ox Wagon Davenport Iowa IaCivil War Stereoview-english Armstrong Gun In Fort Fisher NcSan Francisco Ca Lick House Montgomery St Muybridge Stereoview SvAntique Ornate 1901 Stereoscope Underwood Photo Stereoview ViewerMountainside Tent Camp, Colorado, By William H. Jackson, 1878-1898, StereoviewC1880 Stereoview-lincoln Nebraska-clements-#9of18-county Jail-photo/photographC1880 Stereoview-lincoln Nebraska-clements-#12of18-post Office-photo/photographC1880 Stereoview-lincoln Nebraska-clements-#10of18-university-photo/photographC1880 Stereoview-lincoln Nebraska-clements-#11of18-city Street-photo/photographStereoview : The Grand Central Hotel In Omaha, Nebraska, 1873Antique H.h. Bennett Stereoview Winnebago Indians, Big Bear In Wisconsin DellsBathing In The Surf Santa Monica California Watkins Stereoview Photo CaChildren Of The Christians Hated & Prosecuted Canton China Stereoview 19001901 Pat. Antique Stereoscopic Viewer Underwood Ny Sun Sculpture Metal & WoodCivil War Stereoview-a Battery Of Quaker GunsVintage Keystone Stereoview Open Pit Copper Mine In Bisbee Arizona Az 1880s Stereoview-lincoln Nebraska-clements-#5of18-insane Asylum-photo/photograph1872 Stereoview-lincoln Nebraska-clements-#17of18-city Street-photo/photographUnderwood & Underwood Stereoview Wwi World War I European War Card Set U&uStereoview Wwi World War I Keystone Card Vol. V-vi Broken Set 87 TotalW H Jackson Stereoview, Mexico City? From Cathedral, C1870-80,Civil War Stereoview-general Wright, Commander Of The Bloody Sixth CorpsCivil War Stereoview-"when Will The Army Move?"