Invention and “stereo craze”

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The stereoscope was invented by the Englishman Charles Wheatstone in 1832 and was presented for the first time in 1838. He invented a large reflecting stereoscope and a compact refracting stereoscope[1-p.21]. The stereoscopes could be used for viewing stereoscopic drawings because photography would be invented a year later with the introduction of the daguerreotype process.

The first stereoscopic photos were made at the request of Wheatstone by William Henry Fox Talbot in 1840. They were made by using Talbot’s Calotype process. The first results were disappointing because of the large angle used between both shots[1-p.35]. However, the combination of photography and the stereoscope would be decisive for the success of stereoscopy.

In 1849 the Scotsman David Brewster introduced an improved refracting stereoscope. His design was met with little enthusiasm in Great Britain and he found no manufacturer willing to produce his stereoscope. In 1850 he took his prototype to Paris and demonstrated it to the optician Jules Duboscq. He immediately saw the potential of the device and started producing and selling stereoscopes based on Brewster’s design. He also produced daguerreotype stereoviews that could be sold with the device.

A Brewster-style stereoscope made by Duboscq-Soleil from c.1855
A Brewster-style stereoscope made by Duboscq-Soleil from c.1855
The viewer is suitable for stereoviews with a size of 8,5x17cm. The stereoview is placed in a pull-out tray

In 1851, the Great Exhibition was held at the Crystal Palace in London. During the exhibition, Brewster presented a Duboscq stereoscope to the British Queen Victoria and she was impressed by the three-dimensional images and her enthusiasm was a great promotion for stereoscopy. Interestingly, the only source describing this event is Brewster himself and the story may therefore not be true[1-p.59]. However, in 1851 the rise of stereoscopy started and this would lead to the “stereo craze” in 1856 in Great Britain and France.

“No home without a stereoscope”

The first stereoviews were based on the daguerreotype process. With the invention of the wet collodion process in 1851 and refinements of the process in the next years, it became possible to make unlimited prints on paper from a collodion glass negative. It replaced the daguerreotypes.

Publishers started mass producing and selling stereoviews and stereoscopes. The London Stereoscopic Company used the slogan “no home without a stereoscope” and in 1862 the company sold a million stereoviews[2]. Photographers traveled the world to take stereo photos. The English photographer Francis Frith left for Egypt in 1856 and photographed the ancient monuments with a stereo camera. The public could enjoy exotic places that they could never visit themselves. The stereoviews were a real sensation in a time when movies did not exist. The mass produced stereoviews on paper are referred to as paper card stereoviews or stereo cards.

A revolving stereoscope, decorated with mother of pearl decorations
A revolving stereoscope, decorated with mother of pearl decorations, from an unknown manufacturer. It supports 8,5x17cm paper card stereoviews.

French glass stereoviews

At the 1851 Great Exhibition, Jules Duboscq was introduced to the magic lantern glass slides of Frederick and William Langenheim from the United States. It inspired him to create glass stereoviews and he had his photographer Claude-Marie Ferrier come over from Paris to study the images of Langenheim. Jules Dubosq extended the Brewster-style stereoscope by attaching a frosted glass plate to the back to illuminate the glass stereoviews.

Stereo images on glass became a French specialty. On this website they are referred to as glass stereoviews or simply slides. During the early stereo craze, the French photographers and publishers Ferrier & Soulier were renowned for producing exclusive and high-quality glass slides with images of European countries.

8,5x17cm glass stereoview by Ferrier & Soulier
8,5x17cm glass stereoview by Ferrier & Soulier

In the mid-1860s, the craze started to fade and stereo photography would slowly die out in Britain. A revival emerged in the United States and France around 1890.

References

  1. Pellerin, Denis. Stereoscopy – The Dawn of 3-D, 2021
  2. Hannavy, John (editor). Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, 2008. p.870
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