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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Mitchell Building, Around 1880urbanmilwaukee, October 29th
be demolished in the 1960s, a great loss for Milwaukee's 19th century architectural heritage. Jeff Beutner is a collector of photographs, postcards and stereoviews of old Milwaukee. This column features these images, with historical commentary by...Read more
Books Received, November 2014Maine Antique Digest, October 29th
But the primary purpose of the book is to document the stereoviews themselves and to let them tell the story of Arizona. Of the more than 250 views reprinted here, more than 100 are in a portfolio that simply reproduces the images and briefly...Read more
Lost Chattanooga: Collecting ChattanoogaNooga.com, October 29th
Stereoviews or stereographs (to be used in a stereo viewer) can range from $15 and up, and usually are scenic-, Civil War- or street view-themed. One warning while shopping online: Sometimes, sellers will describe their listing as a "real photo" when...Read more
The Seasoned Collector: November shows for collectors of all stripesSan Jose Mercury News, October 28th
Since November is chock-full of activities, it might be a good idea to jot down as many of these events on your calendar before you get caught up in all the hustle and bustle of the season. A good cause. The industrious volunteers at Sunnyvale's Nearly...Read more
At Bard Graduate Center Gallery, Two Shows Examine Artists Who Broke ...Hyperallergic, October 27th
Using the latest technology available, men such as Mathew Brady (daguerreotypes), Edward and Henry T. Anthony (stereoviews), Currier & Ives (lithographs), and Harper & Brothers (woodcuts in popular magazines and books) created a vast commercial ...Read more
The Lush Landscaping of Alexander Mitchell's Conservatory, 1880surbanmilwaukee, October 22nd
Beginning around 1880 and over a period of several years, the noted photographer H. H. Bennett, of Kilbourn City (now Wisconsin Dells), would create over 200 stereoviews of Milwaukee. A good number were of the newer fine homes in the city. Three of the ...Read more
Fredericksburg area Civil War scenes viewed in 3-DWashington Times, October 18th
Wartime photographers recorded most of their images in stereo, hence the visitors' 3-D spectacles. Printed on mass-produced cards and seen through a handheld viewer, the stereoviews are sharp and vivid - and were a wildly popular 19th-century medium...Read more
Alexander Mitchell's Conservatory, Mid-1870surbanmilwaukee, October 15th
But perhaps the most interesting part of the home was the two-story conservatory. This W.H. Sherman stereo view photo from the mid-1870s shows the interior of the conservatory, a lush jungle of tropical palms. Note the lovely arced windows and the use...Read more