Seeing in Stereo

A Stereographoscope Worth $350

Thank you for sending an image of your stereographoscope (try to say that 10 times fast!). It is a nice example of its type and represents "movie-like" entertainment before motion pictures and television were invented. Stereographoscopes (also known as stereoscopes and stereoviewers) were made to view stereo cards (also called stereographs), a pair of photographs mounted on a single card. When viewed, these stereo cards became a three-dimensional "stereo" view by having each eye see the photograph separately and simultaneously. Our family has been collecting 19th-century stereo cards for 20 years and we have examples depicting local townships, the White Mountains, the Civil War and most recently acrobats going over Niagara Falls!

In 1838 Sir Charles Wheatstone of England patented the first stereoscope using mirrors set on an angle to reflect a pair of images. Soon after, David Brewster developed the concept of using lenses and prisms to make the viewing more effective. Brewster is also known for inventing one of my favorite creations, the kaleidoscope.

In the 1860s Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., in addition to his literary and medical accomplishments, created a simpler hand-held stereoscope, which he purposely did not patent so that it could be widely copied for mainstream use. With the further development of photography, and with stereoviewers now being widely available and less expensive, stereography became a very popular pastime.

By 1900 most households had a stereoscope or stereoviewer and a collection of cards. These views depicted everything from historical views, landmarks, souvenir views, art history, comedy and images from around the world. Today the modern View-Master is based on the stereographoscopes from the 19th century.

Your stereoscope is a French table-top model and dates to the late 19th century. In addition to viewing stereocards, the magnifying lens was also used to view postcards and other photography.

Stereoscopes and stereoviewers can vary in price from $10 to more than $5,000. Stereoscopes and stereocards are wonderful to collect and share. We typically have a nice selection of them available here at New Hampshire Antique Co-op. Nineteenth-century stereo cards from the White Mountains are always popular and prices can begin at only $5 a card.

I would value your stereoscope at $350.

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