The war through the stereoscope

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Manufacturers refer to the war in their advertisements and catalogues. Stereoviews were already sold during the war, but the supply was limited and censorship allowed the population to see only what the French Ministry of War approved. Shortly after the war, tire manufacturer Michelin published the first illustrated guides with routes to the sights of the battlefield. It met a need of many French people curious about the battlefields.

Photo-Plait catalog from 1916
Photo-Plait catalog from 1916

After censorship ended, the range of photos was expanded with photos that the soldiers took from the front. The real horrors of the war now became visible and the depth effect of stereo photography enhanced the experience. The stereoviews were very popular. Sellers advertised with 30.000 stereoviews in the 1920s[1]. Because of its popularity, the war images were also more expensive than the stereoviews with other scenes.

Advertisement from 1918

The stereoviews were offered on paper and glass, but entirely in the French tradition, it were the glass slides in the formats 45x107mm and 6x13cm that were most popular. Éditions Artistiques Stéréoscopiques states on the cover of their catalog:

We do not accept orders for paper card stereoviews. Glass alone delivers the essential transparency to experience the illusion of reality

The slides were sold in series of 10 or 12 pieces and were packed in cardboard boxes. Each series had a theme related to a specific battle or campaign. It was also possible to buy them individually, based on titles in a catalog. There were catalogs with overviews of all battles and the related place names. In this way, the buyer could see where the photo was taken based on the description on the glass slide. Editions Stéréoscopiques – G. Ferret writes in his catalog:

As painful as the war period has been, you owe it to yourself and your descendants to keep the memory alive. These images, due to their impressive realism, will remain the only testimony of value for future generations.

The Photo-Plait catalog of 1918-1919 includes 14 series with 12 stereo glass slides. They can be bought per series or separately. The individual numbers and titles are listed and the images are published by publisher La Stéréoscopie Universelle. A 45x107mm glass slide costs 0,95 francs and a 6x13cm slide costs 1,20. The same catalog also offers slides with themes not related to the war. These are for sale for 0,85 and 1,00 respectively. The images from the war were popular and the sellers could ask a higher price.

In the Photo-Plait catalog of 1919, Prices have increased. A 45x107mm glass slide now costs 1,15 francs and a 6x13cm image costs 1,50 francs. The entire collection can be purchased for 1150 and 1450 francs respectively. The images with other themes have also become more expensive, but the price increase is less strong here.

Wooden case with hundred 45x107 glass stereoivews with images of the war
Wooden case with hundred 45×107 glass stereoivews with images of the war

In a short period of time, a number of publishers produce huge quantities of glass slides that are sold by many sellers. However, the craze is short-lived and from the early 1920s, interest gradually begins to wane.

The glass stereoviews are all made with the dry plate process. The quality is very variable, both technically and artistically. Most negatives come from amateur photographers who did not always have the skills to develop the photos properly.
Most glass slides are provided with a color tone during development, often a brown sepia tone, but also other tones. This was mainly intended to make the images more attractive because these tones were more appealing than black and white.

The glass slides often have a short description, a number and abbreviation of the publisher. The descriptions are usually brief and do not always correspond to the actual image. Publishers usually offered glass slides in both popular 45x107mm and 6x13cm formats. Photos taken on a 6x13cm negative were printed on a 6x13cm glass slide, but also on a 45x107mm glass slide. Because images could not be resized, part of the photo disappeared on the smaller size. It does not benefit the composition, but shows that the commercial motives to serve as many customers as possible were more important than quality.

6x13cm glass stereoview by La Stéréoscopie Universelle
45x107mm glass stereoview by La Stéréoscopie Universelle
Both images are printed form the same 6x13cm negative. The first image is printed on a 6x13cm glass plate, the second on a 45x107mm glass plate. The 45x107mm version is a cropped version and details are lost.


  1. Annuaire du commerce Didot-Bottin, 1928
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