Collecting Stereoviews

written for the stereosite by André Ruiter, The Netherlands

This is the first post of a two-part series about col­lect­ing stere­oscopy antiques. This post is about col­lect­ing stere­oviews. In the next part I will deal with col­lect­ing stere­o­scopes. My expe­ri­ences are based on two years of search­ing and bid­ding on glass stere­oviews of the First World War, but in gen­er­al these tips apply to all themes.

What to collect?

Stereo pho­tog­ra­phy was big busi­ness between 1850 and 1930. The vol­umes of glass and paper stere­oviews offered today are still very large. To start col­lect­ing, it’s good to think about a strat­e­gy, or you may be over­whelmed by the huge offer­ings and end up with a large col­lec­tion of stere­oviews that you may not enjoy in the end. Think big, but start small!

I start­ed with col­lect­ing glass stere­oviews from the Bat­tle of Ver­dun in France. I worked on a pho­to project about the bat­tle and searched for stere­oviews of the places which I vis­it­ed dur­ing my project. I learned what worked and didn’t work for me and start­ed slow­ly expand­ing my col­lec­tion with new themes.

6 x 13cm glass stere­oview from La Stéréo­scopie Universelle

Where to search?

While it can be very sat­is­fy­ing to find a nice col­lec­tion at the flea mar­ket, this post is about col­lect­ing stere­oviews on the many online auc­tion sites. eBay is by far the best-known and largest auc­tion site with a large range of stere­oviews avail­able. How­ev­er, there are more sites. Catawi­ki is pop­u­lar in Europe, just like Del­campe, which main­ly focus­es on col­lec­tors. In addi­tion, there are more spe­cialised antique sites such as The Sale­room and Invalu­able, where also renowned auc­tion hous­es offer their items.

How to search?

Some­times it can help to know a bit about the his­toric back­ground of the desired stere­oviews. For exam­ple, the search term “glass stere­oviews war” already gives a lot of results but if you know that most glass stere­oviews of the First World War were pro­duced and sold in France, it’s bet­ter to search for the French words “plaque verre guerre”. 

You can use the stan­dard search engine on eBay, but I rec­om­mend Picclick. This search engine search­es on Ama­zon and eBay and is much more pow­er­ful and shows relat­ed items. I’ve found many items that I prob­a­bly would not have found by the default search engine of eBay.

Lots or individual stereoviews?

Stere­oviews are offered both in lots and indi­vid­u­al­ly. The cost per stere­oview in a lot is gen­er­al­ly low­er and your col­lec­tion will grow faster. Also, you will be more sur­prised by what you’ve acquired because the sell­er prob­a­bly hasn’t scanned all stere­oviews. The down­side of bid­ding on lots is that as your col­lec­tion grows, you’ll get dupli­cates. In that case, bid­ding on indi­vid­ual slides can be inter­est­ing. You can do your “cher­ry picking”.

Box with 45x107mm glass stere­oviews from La Stéréo­scopie Universelle

How much?

The cost per stere­oview depends main­ly on the theme and rar­i­ty. For a 45x107mm stere­oview of the First World War, I pay an aver­age of $3 in a lot and $5 for indi­vid­ual slides. A 6x13cm slide has an aver­age price of $6 in a lot and $8 for an indi­vid­ual slide. 

How­ev­er, the boudoir pho­tos from Jules Richard’s Atri­um col­lec­tion have an aver­age price of $40 each and are usu­al­ly not offered in a lot. 8,5x17cm glass stere­oviews of Fer­ri­er & Souli­er are sold for about $80 each, although I still haven’t fig­ured out what a fair price is for these slides. A stereo Daguerreo­type starts with $400 but the real­ly inter­est­ing ones are offered from $1000 or more.

8,5 x 17cm boudoir stere­o­card from Jean Agélou

Per­son­al­ly I think glass stere­oviews give the best view­ing expe­ri­ence, but of course it’s also pos­si­ble to col­lect paper stere­o­cards. They are gen­er­al­ly cheap­er and in a lot you can some­times get them for $ 0.25 each.

So you’ll have to gain some expe­ri­ence for the theme that inter­ests you. I sug­gest to fol­low some auc­tions (with­out bid­ding) and see what the win­ning bid is. You’ll soon get a feel­ing with real­is­tic prices.

How to bid?

My advice is to enter a max­i­mum bid that you’re hap­py with. The auc­tion site will auto­mat­i­cal­ly bid for you as long as your max­i­mum bid is high­er than that of your com­peti­tors. When you win, you can be sure that you have the item for a sat­is­fy­ing price. If you let your­self car­ry away in a “bid­ding war”, you’ll always pay too much.

You can devi­ate from this strat­e­gy if you are con­vinced that an item is rare and you absolute­ly want it, but you don’t know exact­ly what the val­ue is. Maybe you’ll pay too much but that’s ok, as long as you’re hap­py with it.

Espe­cial­ly on eBay you may expe­ri­ence that buy­ers some­times sur­pass your high­est bid in the last sec­onds so you’ll no longer be able to sub­mit a high­er bid. It can be frus­trat­ing if you have been the high­est bid­der for days but the item is “stolen” from you in the last sec­onds. Unfor­tu­nate­ly this is how it works and you’ll have to deal with it.

Make offer

Items are also offered with a fixed price, but the sell­er allows you to make an offer. My advice is to offer no more than 20% below the  price. Of course you can make a cheeky offer of 50%, but chances are high that the sell­er rejects your offer and may be insult­ed and no longer wants to do busi­ness with you. If you have bought items from the same sell­er before, you may want to go a bit fur­ther by nego­ti­at­ing a discount.

Just ask

Even if a sell­er uses fixed prices and does not offer an option for mak­ing an offer, you can still try by send­ing a mes­sage to the sell­er. Per­haps an item has been offered for a long time and the sell­er accepts a low­er bid in the end. You can also ask for a best price if you buy mul­ti­ple items. 

Some­times items are only offered in the seller’s own coun­try and they don’t do inter­na­tion­al ship­ping. Just send a mes­sage and maybe the sell­er might con­sid­er ship­ping to you. Just ask polite­ly and what can help is to address the sell­er in his/her own lan­guage. Google Trans­late is your best friend.

Be patient

Most stere­oviews are not rare and some­times you just have to be patient. If the price is too high, just wait until the item is offered again. I myself was once involved in a “bid­ding war” with anoth­er bid­der for a spe­cif­ic stere­oview. I end­ed up win­ning the stere­oview with a $70 bid, which of course was way too expen­sive. A week lat­er, the same stere­oview was offered again and I could have bought it for just $5.

Box with 8,5 x 17cm stere­o­cards from Paris-Stéréo

Beware of extra costs

When bid­ding, take the extra costs into account. Most of the time you’ll have to deal with ship­ping costs, but there is more. At eBay, the costs to the plat­form are for the sell­er. On Catawi­ki it’s for the buy­er and the costs are 9% of the win­ning bid. The extra costs of tra­di­tion­al auc­tion hous­es can eas­i­ly be 30% of the win­ning bid!

Also beware from which coun­try the sell­er ships your item. I buy most items in Europe and don’t have to deal with import duties. When I buy items in the Unit­ed States I have to take into account that I’ll be pay­ing tax and admin­is­tra­tion costs when the items enter The Nether­lands. What first seemed a bar­gain can eas­i­ly become too expensive. 

Good luck with your col­lect­ing endeav­ours, and if you ever want advice, feel free to con­tact me!

André Ruiter (Putten, The Netherlands)

I’m a Dutch pho­tog­ra­ph­er who spe­cial­izes in con­cep­tu­al black & white pho­tog­ra­phy. My pho­to projects are based on his­toric themes.
While work­ing on a project about the First World War bat­tle­field of Ver­dun in France, I dis­cov­ered French glass stere­oviews. This result­ed in my great inter­est in stereo pho­tog­ra­phy and I am now a pas­sion­ate col­lec­tor of French and Ger­man stere­oscopy antiques from 1850 to 1930.
On my web­site I share my black & white pho­tog­ra­phy and blogs about stere­oscopy his­to­ry and my col­lec­tion.

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