Le Nain is a curious stereo viewer manufactured by A. Mattey from Paris. It is a cross between a handheld and multiview stereoscope and supports 45x107mm glass stereoviews.
“Le Nain” means “Dwarf” and emphasizes the compact design of the stereoscope. To understand the idea behind the design, a translated quote from the 1922 Mattey catalog:
The current multiview stereoscopes are robust devices consisting of a multiview mechanism and a storage cabinet for 200 to 300 views. These stereoscopes, which are good to be placed on a table, are very practical for viewing large numbers of stereoviews, but cannot be easily moved because of their weight.
It’s therefore interesting to have a small multiview stereoscope, but of much less volume and weight. “Le Nain” was built to fill this gap as it’s a small handheld viewer receiving 25 glass slides stored in a tray which is almost similar to that of the “Stéréothèque”.
The wooden box of Le Nain for 45x107mm glass slides has the dimensions 24x18x8cm. The viewer is therefore quite large for a device intended as a handheld stereoscope. The 1922 catalog only shows a model for the small format slides, but the 1936 catalog shows a model for 6x13cm slides which makes the device even larger.
The bakelite slide tray is labeled “Le Nain” and shows the Pennard & Fouquet logo, one of Mattey’s brands. Below the logo is the text visible: “Stéréoscope Classeur à Main” which emphasizes that this was marketed as a handheld stereoscope.
The viewer has two lenses that can be focused. The distance between the two lenses is not adjustable. Two wooden knobs on both sides are used for holding the device. The lid on top can be opened to place the tray with 25 glass slides.
A small lever on the right side is placed between two metal strips with teeth. By pushing the lever up and pushing it forward, the tray moves forward over a rail and a glass slide is brought into position. The whole device must be turned counterclockwise so that the slide falls out of the tray and is placed in front of the lenses for viewing. By turning the device clockwise, the slide falls back into the tray. The next image can now be selected with the lever. So the device uses gravity to place the images and it avoids the need for an advanced mechanism and keeps the design compact. In practice it works quite well, tough a bit cumbersome.
A strip of white paper is mounted inside the lid. It looks like a remnant of a manual, but it’s an extension intended to reflect more light in the viewing area. Another viewer on the web has a similar strip.
What to think about this remarkable design? To quote Paul Wing in his book: It is a fine example of a viewer that probably never should have been made! He has a point here because the device is not really compact and impractical to use. Still it works fine and perhaps it did fill a gap. The fact that the model is still offered in the 1936 catalog means that it must have had some success.
- Mattey catalogs 1922 and 1936
- Wing, Paul. Stereoscopes: the first one hundred years, 1996