The Perfecscope is a Holmes-Bates type stereoscope. This type was invented around 1860 by the American poet Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. He did not patent his invention and everyone was free to develop stereoscopes based on the design. The design was further improved by Joseph L. Bates and became known as the Holmes-Bates stereoscope or American stereoscope.

Perfecscope, Holmes-Bates type stereoscope

The Holmes-Bates stereoscope is a simple and inexpensive stereo viewer for paper card stereoviews. It made stereoscopy accessible to many Americans and contributed to the craze of stereocards in the late 1800s and early 1900s in the United States. The later cards were slightly curved. This reduced reflections and blur caused by spherical aberrations while viewing stereocards with a Holmes-Bates stereoscope.

This Perfecscope was manufactuered by Underwood & Underwood. The company was founded in 1881 in Ottawa by the brothers Elmer and Bert Elias Underwood. They moved to New York in 1891 and became the largest publisher of stereoviews in the world, producing 10 million views a year. The brothers developed a selling system by using college students als salesmen. The company had a number of freelance photographers and they published 25.000 stereocards a day by 1901. They introduced boxed sets with specific themes such as education and travel.

Boy with Holmes-Bates stereoscope by Norman Rockwell
Boy with Holmes-Bates stereoscope by Norman Rockwell
Cover of The Saturday Evening Post of January 14, 1922

Underwood & Underwood entered the field of news photography in 1910. Due to this expansion, paper card stereoview production was reduced. In 1920 the production was discontinued and the company sold its negatives to the Keystone View Company. Underwood & Underwood ceased business in the 1940s. They had produced between 30.000 and 40.000 stereoview titles.

Producing and selling stereoviews was core business, but the company also produced stereoscopes. This Perfecscope is made of wood. At the bottom of the frame is The Perfecscope and Underwood & Underwood New York U.S.A. engraved. The metal of the grip contains the date July 24 1883, which refers to its patent.

Cabinet Card of a boy with a Holmes-Bates stereoscope
Cabinet Card of a boy with a Holmes-Bates stereoscope


  1. Wing, Paul. Stereoscopes: the first one hundred years, 1996
  2. Darrah, William C. The World of Stereographs, 1977
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