The Stereoscope, Stereo-photography & 3D-Film

The illusion of depth is very old. Linear perspective was often used in paintings of the early Middle Ages to enhance the illusion of space.
Later, this artificial depth effect was improved thanks to optical perspective. Early perspective boxes however create the illusion of depth by combining central perspective and anamorphic distortion.

A good example is Samuel van Hoogstraten's
(1627-1678) perspective box (about 1655-1660) in the National Gallery, London.
The more recent peepshows from the 18th. and 19th. Century are much more simple but also able to create the depth illusion through viewing architectural engravings with linear perspective via a large bi-convex lens using our two eyes. The bi-convex increase the 3-D illusion of the often exaggerated perspective views,
(Vue d' Optique).  Since also colors have their own focusing point, these also helps in creating a surprising depth in details. Red for example is often seen "floating" above the lines of on engraving, an astonishing effect!

 Weathstone mirror stereoscope
 Brewster type stereoscope.

However, a much more realistic 3-D illusion appeared with the invention of the stereoscope, shortly before the dawn of photography, by Sir Charles Wheatstone. (1802-1875) This Wheatstone mirror stereoscope was a cumbersome apparatus when compared with the later improvements of Sir David Brewster (1781-1868).

The first popular publication of Wheatstone's invention appeared in "
The Illustrated London News" 1852 together with the Brewster stereoscope and improvements. The drawing of a stereoscopic scene was not obvious, although convincing examples do exist. Soon after the invention of photography (1839) the way thats lead to the succes of the stereoscope was open. Next to topographical scenes, interiors and special effect views (such as the stereo diableries) many scientific stereo's were produced. Relatively well known are Jules Duboscq's scientific stereo's.

However, the A. Neyt stereo's depicting
Joseph Plateau's experiments with the formation of laminar films on metal frames certainly deserve our attention, and more especially further research.
In the recent, and only thorough, study on Joseph Plateau's scientific work, professor Dorikens further explains that "
After such a frame has been immersed in 'liquide glycérique', spectacular thin films are formed between the edges" Due to these experiments, "Plateau discovers the laws of the laminar systems". "They apply everywhere where bubbles are formed." Even in the Champagne we drink to celebrate our grandfather of cinema.
Stereo photographs where made as soon the first popular commercial process, the Daguerreotype, was invented.
Below a wonderful hand colored stereo daguerreotype of a woman with jewelery and crinoline petticoat.

Move mouse over to see this daguerreotype digitally restored by Brian May

Seated woman - cleaned
A wonderful hand colored stereo daguerreotype of a woman with jewelery and crinoline petticoat
possibly by Alexis Gouin

- Visit also the peepshow: "Oh. You shall see vat you shall see" (1760) 3-D illusion before stereoscopy -

The first stereoscopic photographs were made with a single camera. Two separate exposures were made with a small horizontal relocation based on the distance of the eyes. Or simply using two identical camera's at the same time as seen in the image right. Soon after, stereo camera's
(and viewing apparatus) were designed.

The first commercial stereoscopes were produced by the French
Duboscq & Soleil.
These early stereoscopes and stereo photographs were exhibited at the first World exhibition in the
Crystal Palace, 1851, and left a deep impression on Queen Victoria. (according to the legend!)
The Queen saw several early binocular daguerreotypes in a Brewster type stereoscope. Partly due to the Royal interest the succes of the stereoscope was launched.
(all information to confirm this legend is very welcome)

Stereoscopy became extremely popular and a huge variety of camera's and viewers were designed. Most famous for their mechanical and optical quality are the Jules Richard stereo camera's, still in use today in the hands of many enthusiast collectors.
However, on this page, I will focus on earlier stereo viewers, both handheld and the more elaborate salon stereoscopes.
At the end of the 19th. Century, the stereoscope was the television of that era.
No home withouth a stereoscope" became a most popular slogan.



  Le Musée des Sciences 1860


 Early Duboscq - Soleil table viewer


The table stereoscope on the left is an early
Duboscq - Soleil viewer.
Two blindstamps are printed in the wood. Although simple, this viewer is interesting because a build in
septum inside avoid cross viewing of the eyes.

Due to the poor quality of the optics the septum is necessary but this makes this viewer cumbersome to use. For every change of image, the septum needs two manipulations.
Mouve mouse over to see septum inside.

Other than illustrated, this viewer was original designed for thick Glass stereo images
(framed albumin or glass transparency), perhaps also daguerreotypes? Strong and thick metal holders, found inside, proof this. A series of glass stereo slides was also found, together with this viewer.

Soon after, the quality of optics was improved and this type of large movable septums fortunately disappeared. (in this type of viewers)
Perhaps the best known, standard, table viewer for glass plates is the Jules Richard

However, the
Stereodrome by Gaumont is superior, both in optics, mechanical construction and therefore easier to operate. See image below.

 Framed albumin stereo found with the above Duboscq - Soleil table viewer
 Framed transparent stereo found with the above Duboscq - Soleil table viewer

On the left, two stereoviews found with the above Duboscq stereoscope. First a framed albumin, second  a sandwiched glass transparency (on mouse over)

More stereoviews can be found on:
- Favorites
- Nudes
- Autochromes
- Ghost's
- Five Stereo Diablerie pages, starting here
- Five Physical Culture pages, starting here
- Scientific stereo's
- Stereoviews from Gent - Belgium

Or go to Photography Index page


Stereodrome Gaumont is unmistakable the most reliable salon viewer for glassplates due to it's simple cast iron mecanism inside. The mecanism is designed to operate indepentent with or withouth the wooden construction.
Similar to the
Jules Richard Taxiphote, there are three standard sizes, corresponding with the three stereoglass standard formats.
1.77" x 4.21" / 2,36" x 5.1" / 3.34" x 6.69"

Depicted here is the Stereodrome for the 2,36" x 5.1 size, which is the most common. Some versions can be adapted for use as a 3-D projector.
The variety of stereoviewers is almost endless and goes from very simple free gift handheld viewers to the most luxurious
Natural Stereoscope.

Further on this page, some more modest stereoviewers will be shown, most of them designed for stereo
(tissue) albumin views in standard size.
Unlike the three different sizes in glass stereo views, in case of paper stereo views there is one dominant format we all know.
Smaller albumin stereoviews do exist but are more rare. The same is true for the corresponding viewers. The first stereoview depicted on my favorite stereophotograph page illustrate a suchlike "small size stereo tissue albumin". I welcome any help in identifying the corresponding viewer. @

   Stereodrome, Gaumont
 Holmes type stereoscope

The Brewster and the Holmes type stereoscopes are the two most popular handheld stereoviewers. The latter is most easily found in flea-markets because not rare at all.

Both types are suitable for albumine prints and albumine tissue stereo's.
Obviously, Brewster types for glass stereo's are also easily found.

Brewster type stereoscope °

See a replica Stereoscope and other newly made Optical Toys

Unfortunately, well illustrated books on the history of stereoscope viewers are extremely rare. Perhaps to best historical text reference is "Stereoscopes, the first one hundred years" by Paul Wing. The reproductions however are in black & white and therefore unable to unveil the beauty of most stereoscopes often due to the different kinds of wood used. No matter the latter drawback, to my knowledge this book is the most complete refererence source until today. It also reproduce a lot of stereoscope patents. A treasure for every real stereo enthusiast.

Other types of photo viewing apparatus are interesting too. Here we see two versions of the Graphoscope, one with a concave mirror, the other with a bi-convex lens. The latter is often found in combination with a stereoscope as we will see further on this page. The lens graphoscope on the right displays a postcard of the famous
Sarah Bernhardt. To see other cabaret women click on the postcard of Sarah.

  Graphoscope with concave mirror
  Graphoscope with Lens   © Veerle Van Goethem


Click photo to see a double portait of the two women on the left

5 Women with a Salon Stereoscope and a handheld stereoviewer on the table
(ca. 1900)


The subsequent images are shown in an effort to give an idea of the variety of stereoscope designs, although I'm unable to achieve this goal
For this page I own thanks to Matthew Isenburg who allowed me use of important items from his vintage photo collection


  Kilbourne Stereo Daguerreotype in folding stereoscope
   Collection © Matthew R. Isenburg

Perry stereoscope viewer °

 Collection © Matthew R. Isenburg °

On the left, below, we see a photographer in front of the Hawes Photographic wagon posed with a stereo wetplate camera.
Further right, some early wooden stereo camera's from the same collection are seen. Top left to right:
Koch, ca. 1857 French - J.B. Dancer, ca. 1856 English - Ross, ca. 1860 English Bottom left: Dallmeyer, ca. 1860 English  Bottom right: John Stock, ca. 1863 American
  Photographer at work with stereo camera
  Collection © Matthew R. Isenburg (detail of stereopair)

Five stereo stereo camera's °

Collection © Matthew R. Isenburg °

  Find more stereo images on visual media 14 pages

More viewers soon online


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