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    

Rare Ca1870's Coin Operated Becker Type Tabletop Stereoscope / Stereo ViewerRare 1867 Joseph Bates Walnut Convertible Tabletop Stereoscope / Stereo ViewerRare 1860's Alexander Becker Patent Type Tabletop Stereoscope / Stereo ViewerRare Stereoscope Jules Richard - 4,5 X 10,7 - French Jules Richard Stereoviewer1869 Central Pacific Railroad Golden Spike Stereoview Photo By Alfred A. HartRare Lynn Skeels Globe Co "rockmarge Estate" William Henry Moore 150 StereoviewsVintage Stereoscope Viewer And 73 Cards L.a. Huffman Stereoview Of Glendive, Montana Territory M.t. Western Street SceneCa1880 Native American Paiute Indian Braves Stereoview Photo By Charles CarterAbenaki Indian - New Hampshire Native American - Stereoview - Nice!Elevated Railway New York City Stereoview By Kilburn Of Littleton N.h. Watkin's Pacific Coast Stereoview California Mining View New Almaden CaliforniaF Jay Haynes Stereoview Of Observation Car & Photo Studio Rail Road Car"navajo" Indian Weaving Blanket Views Of The Great Southwest Hiester Stereoview13 Union Pacific Railroad Stereoview Photographs Utah Salt Lake Savage & OttingrPhotographers Darkroom Tent On Boat - Stereoview - Powell / Thomas Survey B.k. Paris Adlophe Block Diableries Skeleton Tissue Stereoview Court Of JusticeBlack Family Plantation Ex Slave Cabin Aiken South Carolina Stereoview By PalmerHuge Lot 500+ Stereograph Cards & Stereoscope-keystoneAntique Tin Toy Stereo Viewer C.1909 - "metropolitan Press Chicago"Photographic History- War For The Union-slave Market-atlanta-anthony-stereoviewTimothy O'sullivan & Darkroom Tent - Wheeler Expedition 1873 Geological SurveyB.k. Paris Adlophe Block Diableries Skeleton Tissue Stereoview Harvest In HellWatkin's Pacific Coast Stereoview - Bed Of Old Furnace In New Almaden CaliforniaWilliam Henry Jackson 1871stereoview Yellowstone With Thomas Moran In PhotographLot 300 Antique Stereoview Photo Photograph Cards Orange Green Yellow Flat MountThe Great Eastern Steamship / Leviathan - Rare - Stereoview - Nice! No Reserve1800's Trempealeau Wisconsin Chicago Burlington Northern Railroad Stereoview 5Watkin's Pacific Coast Stereoview Of Soda Spring House In New Almaden CaliforniaLot Of Vintage Lighters Jewelry Dog Tags Stereo-view Cards Junk Drawer LotEarly Stereoview 1850s The Ghost In The Stereoscope (sir David Brewster)Early Stereoview 1850s/60s Johnston St Bridge Yarra River Melbourne AustraliaGettysburg By Tipton - 19th Mass. Infy. Mon Near Copse & Cordori House VisiblePiute Indian Squaw Stereoview By Thomas Houseworth & Co. Native AmericanPhotographic History-the War For The Union-anthony & Brady-richmond- Stereoview 1870's Georgetown Colorado Stereoview Photograph Silver / Gold Mining BoomtownStereoview : Thomas Houseworth & Co. Photography Studio In San Fancisco C.1865Mumper Gettysburg - Gen. Vincent's Monument On Granite Spur - Little Round Top1870s Idaho Springs Colorado Stereoview Photograph Silver / Gold Mining Boomtown2 Diamond Stack Steam Engine Railroad Stereoviews...possible W H Jackson????Gettysburg By Tipton - 13th Massachusetts Infantry Monument At Base Of Oak RidgeEarly Stereoview 1850s Victorians Viewing Photos With Stereoscopic ViewersU.s. Grant's Party On Martha's Vineyard Stereoview By C. H. Shute & Sons 1874Stereo Graflex Photographer On High Beam Over 5th Ave In Nyc Stereoview1890's Mattey Tri-fold Stereographoscope Parlor Stereoscope W/hand Painted Motif1901 Stereopticon Stereo Viewer W 34 Stereoviews Cards Underwood AntiqueStereoview Firstpresidency Joseph F Smith John Winder Anthon Lund Mormon History1860's Western Americana Cprr Stereoview Photo Of Donner Pass By Alfred A. HartPhotograhic History-the War For The Union-anthony&brady-charleston Sc-stereoview10 Antique Stereoview Photo Cards 1883 Toledo Ohio Flood Train Bridge Ice People1904 Northhern Pacific Railroad Logging Train Washington Stereoview KilburnGettysburg By Tipton - 1st Co. A. Andrews Mass. Sharpshooters Monument Cem RidgeNude And High Wheel Bicycle-davison StudiosU.s. Grant's Party On Martha's Vineyard? Stereoview Joseph W. Warren, Fall RiverKeystone View Co. Stereoscope Viewer With 24 View Cards Of 1905 RussiaEarly Stereoview 1850s Bathing Baby "views Of Brighton"Rangeley, Maine Area Steamer Oquossoc On Mooselucmaguntic Lake Stereoview - DillBroadway Theatre, Julia Dean, Woman In White By Joseph Hall, Brooklyn NyAmritsar Punjab India Sikh Fakirs At Golden Temple 1900s Stereoview PhotoMarblehead Mass St Michaels Church By M H Graves C 1870s? Stereoview