Friday, September 20, 2019

Seeing Double, On Purpose

Did you grow up with one of these? I did. The ViewMaster came with little round cardboard frames holding celluloid squares of far-away places and famous people. You slipped the cardboard into the back of the viewer and held it to the light, and you saw a three-dimensional picture that transported you to another time and place.

But the ViewMaster was only one of a long line of devices. In the nineteenth century, such devices were called stereoscopes, and the pictures that you viewed were stereographs. Instead of being mounted on a circle, these cards came with a single image side by side. And they were hugely popular. At the peak of the craze, a sought-after stereograph card might be printed and sold more than 100,000 times!

Naturally, photographers were keen to have one of their images used. But a stereograph required careful composition. In the early years, a photographer would shoot two pictures, one slightly offset from the other. When viewed together, the pictures took on a three-dimensional aspect. By the middle of the 19th century, camera makers had devised a stereographic camera—one exposure, two offset pictures.

Some of the stereographs were of famous places like Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon. Others showed architectural or engineering wonders like the Washington Monument or a famous courthouse. Local manufacturers might issue stereographs of nearby attractions. Other cards told a story through a series of photographs, like a courtship or a trip on a sailing ship.

Here are a few for your viewing pleasure. First, Westminster Abbey

 Then one called "The Penn."

Perhaps a cowboy?

Or a child?

And of course, there's always the self-promoting card. ;-)

What place or person would you want on a card for your collection?


QNPoohBear said...

My American Girl doll, Samantha (1904) has a collection of cards for her stereoscope. She collects travel scenes from around the world and around the corner. She picked up some at the St. Louis World's Fair and a Coney Island. She also has one of the first family, I think and one of Teddy and his daughter Alice at her wedding. They're packed away so the stereoscope doesn't get broken. This reminds me that my bff found a broken stereoscope from the 20th century along with tons of cards that were premiums from I think Quaker Oats or some company. I have to ask her what she did with them and if she'd let me scan the cards.

Regina Scott said...

That's so cool, QNPoohBear! I didn't know American Girl had done something like that for one of the dolls. Definitely see what your bff has. These are becoming treasures!