As photography developed as a commercial medium during the 1840s, it was realised that it was perfect for producing stereoscopic images and daguerreotypes were produced to be viewed using Wheatstone’s apparatus. This was achieved initially by taking one photograph, then moving the camera a few inches and taking a second. In early stereo views, sometimes the movement of people between the exposure of the left and right images is obvious. Soon, special stereoscopic cameras were developed to take the left and right images simultaneously, with two lenses separated by around the same distance as human eyes.
In late 1840s, David Brewster greatly improved the viewer by using lenses instead of mirrors and this allowed a compact, portable device to be produced. Queen Victoria was amused by his viewer at the Great Exhibition 1851 and helped spawn a craze. Brewster claimed that by 1856 over 500,000 viewers had been sold.
In the 1850s and 1860s, it can be argued that it was stereoscopic views, along with cartes-de-visite that popularised photography and spurred its growth and development. The London Stereoscopic Company was probably the largest manufacturer of photographs in the world during the 1860s, with its slogan ‘a stereoscope in every home’. By the end of the 1860s, this must have been virtually true for the middle class homes of Britain.
Although its popularity ebbed, there was a second growth phase in the 1890s, with Underwood and Underwood becoming a huge publisher of images. They were eventually taken over by Keystone, who continued producing stereo views into the 1930s.
In addition to the classic stereo view card (approx. 170mm x 80mm), several other smaller side-by-side formats emerged (particularly in France). The Viewmaster disc was probably the best known and is still produced today. (internet-no source name available)
The stereoscopic viewing cards posted here are from our collection and give you a glimpse into the past.