Catching the world by stereoviews

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The year was 1935. The place was Salem Library. The occasion was my first visit to a library.

The exterior of this fine establishment has not changed much, however, the interior has been altered to serve the needs and offer more education and pleasure to the citizens of the Salem community.

The front entrance used to be the only access for the patrons. As a person entered, the stairs were immediately to the left, leading down to the juvenile section.

To the right at the bottom of the stairs were, of course, books, tables and chairs. However, my main interest were the stereoscopes and stereoview cards.

Only on rare occasions had I seen a stereoscope viewer, and that was in the parlor of a home in North Benton, Ohio. I wasn’t allowed to touch it because I was too young.

Nearby enjoyment. For two decades I visited Salem Library and enjoyed this very special instrument and the 3-D view cards regularly.

McKinley School was close, so I would often stop at the library on the way to school.

The interest in old photos began around mid-1900. There are many historical and cultural illustrations of America that reveal domestic, social customs, inside views of buildings , street scenes, foreign travel plus a seemingly endless amount of other subject matter. Stereoviews were the first 3-D entertainment.

The method of photography relies on the same principle as how eyes work, which is called binocularism.

Discovery. The process of obtaining these views was discovered in 1836 by Sir Charles Wheatstone, a pioneer in electronics of that era. Wheatstone gave this new discovery its name as we know it today – stereoscope. This was a few years before photography was discovered.

About three years after Wheatstone’s announcement of his concept, two men unknown to each other, said they had discovered a method of permanently recording an image of life on silver plates, and then the image was transferred onto paper.

These two processes, stereoscope and photography, were combined and soon folks began to enjoy stereo Daguerrotypes.

Perfection of stereophotography became possible around 1851 with the double-lens camera equipped to expose two images at once.

Around 1860, William Brewster, invented a Brewster Box, which was a projector that became an enjoyment at home and later was used in theaters to amuse an audience.

This projector was quite expensive plus had to be imported. Only the wealthy could afford them, so they are usually difficult to find today.

Compared to an American-made viewer, the Brewster Box was made of hand-carved exotic wood plus elaborate Victorian decorations. These decorations were mother of pearl or ivory inlaid embellishments.

More affordable. The American and more affordable version was first wood and later cardboard and metal. It was a simple construction but serviceable.

Oliver Wendell Holmes suggested the hand-held viewer. Most people could then afford these interesting double photographs and almost sense the closeness of the subjects on the cards.

Stereoviews first became available around mid-1800. The most uncommon are the glass-covered views. Around 1860 the lower cost views were mounted on cardboard and the photos were printed on paper.

Other views were mounted on curved cardboard, possibly to reduce the glare or to enhance the 3-D effect.

Mass production and avid marketing spread to views, which look like today’s postcards. This new fad spread, and anyone that could afford them, had one.

Colored reproductions were produced in the 1890s but due to the handpainted illustrations, the imaging was of lesser quality.

Stereoview cards can still be found more often than viewers in antique shops. The cards are not too expensive, especially considering that originally the cards were 25 cents each.

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