Invention and stereo craze

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The first stereoscope was presented by the Englishman Charles Wheatstone in 1838. It was a large device based on mirrors. It could be used for viewing stereoscopic drawings because photography would be invented a year later with the introduction of the daguerreotype process.

In 1849 the Scotsman David Brewster introduced a more compact stereoscope based on lenses. 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 stereoviews that could be sold with the device and he improved Brewster’s design.

Hand-held stereoscope made by Jules Duboscq from ca. 1855
Hand-held stereoscope made by Jules Duboscq from ca. 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. She was impressed by the three-dimensional images and her enthusiasm contributed to the start of the stereo craze that spread from England to Europe and the United States.

Publishers started mass producing and selling stereoviews and stereoscopes. The London Stereoscopic Company used the slogan “no home is complete without a stereoscope” and in 1862 the company sold a million stereoviews [1]. 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. Most stereo photos were printed on paper and are referred to as paper card stereoviews.

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.

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. 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

By the 1870s, the craze started to fade and stereo photography would slowly die out in Britain. A second wave of stereo craze emerged in the United States and France around 1890.


  1. Encyclopedia of nineteenth-century photography, J. Hannavy, 2008