Le Taxiphote — the most famous French stereo viewer

written for the stereosite by Pascal Martiné, Germany

Jules Richard and the Verascope

Jules Richard took over his father’s pre­ci­sion instru­ment com­pa­ny in the late 19th cen­tu­ry and patent­ed a stereo cam­era called the Veras­cope in 1893. The name is derived from the antique God­dess of truth Ver­i­tas and the Greek word σκοπός (watch­er). This neol­o­gism refers to the sep­a­ra­tion of the cam­era lens­es, which is just about the aver­age human eye spacing. 

The cam­era itself was also a high pre­ci­sion instru­ment. It was entire­ly made of met­al to pre­vent humid­i­ty and tem­per­a­ture from affect­ing its oper­a­tion. But most impor­tant, it used a new image for­mat, 45x107mm, which was much small­er than the two com­mon stereo for­mats of that time – and so was the cam­era, too.

The small Veras­cope beside a Jumelle Bel­lieni for 8.5x17 glass plates.
The two com­mon for­mats, 8.5x17 and 6x13, and below the new Veras­cope for­mat 45x107

Despite a wide­spread inter­est in stere­oscopy, the small­er size was prob­a­bly the required spark that ignit­ed the boom in ama­teur stereo photography.

In addi­tion to hand­held view­ers, Richard also man­u­fac­tured revolv­ing stere­o­scopes for glass slides in the new for­mat. These view­ers were all sim­ply labeled Stéréo­scope, vues pris­es avec le Veras­cope (Stere­o­scope for views tak­en with the Veras­cope). Veras­cope became a syn­onym for ama­teur stereo cameras.

Richard stere­o­scope, 1890’s
Richard stere­o­scope deluxe, 1890’s
© Sébastien Lemagnen

Even today, stereo cam­eras and stere­o­scopes in the French local adver­tise­ments are still titled Veras­cope and Tax­iphote some­times, even if they were made by oth­er manufacturers.

The revolv­ing stere­o­scope had one large draw­back: chang­ing the slides is extreme­ly annoy­ing and so you would only have access to a lim­it­ed selec­tion of your pho­tos in the end. And while the Veras­cope is a high pre­ci­sion device, flip­ping the glass slide through your field of vision is rather sim­ple and the view­ing expe­ri­ence is not as good as with a hand­held viewer.


But in 1899 Richard and his tech­ni­cian Louis Colardeau patent­ed a new sys­tem that allowed the use of bake­lite mag­a­zines con­tain­ing 25 slides each. The dimen­sions of that stere­o­scope were the same as the com­mon table­top view­ers, but instead of 50 views, it could hold up to 300 views in draw­ers under­neath the mechanism.

Patent draw­ing, 1899
Bake­lite mag­a­zine for Veras­cope slides

They sim­ply called it Stéréo-Classeur (stereo cab­i­net), and it was offered in their cat­a­logue in 1900, unspec­tac­u­lar­ly besides the var­i­ous revolv­ing stere­o­scopes. This would change soon after.

Page from the 1900 Richard catalogue

Le Taxiphote

I believe that the Stéréo-Classeur was planned as a test run. The view­er was renamed to Tax­iphote one or two years lat­er – with­out any changes of the mech­a­nism. From then on there would be an update or exten­sion of the Tax­iphote fam­i­ly every year, wide­ly pro­mot­ed through advertisements.

The Tax­iphote was avail­able with or with­out stor­age base
Adver­tise­ment in l’Il­lus­tra­tion, 1901

If you thought the Tax­iphote has any­thing to do with the vehi­cle, you’re wrong. The name is again derived from ancient Greek: the first part comes from τᾰ́ξῐς (arrangement/ordering) and the sec­ond from φῶς (light). In fact, this is quite close to the for­mer name Stéréo-Classeur.

It’s time to take a clos­er look.

In most cas­es, the stan­dard Tax­iphote, lat­er called Tax­iphote foy­er moyen (long focus), con­sists of a stor­age base and an upper part hous­ing the mech­a­nism, just like the Stéréo-Classeur before. After plac­ing the mag­a­zine on a car­ri­er, a lever on the right oper­ates two met­al arms below the car­ri­er that push the indi­vid­ual slides to the ocu­lar lev­el for view­ing. These two met­al arms need to move very pre­cise­ly to pre­vent scratch­ing the neigh­bor­ing slides. When the slide is brought back into the mag­a­zine the car­ri­er is moved back­wards so that the met­al arms access the next slide. This hor­i­zon­tal move­ment is con­nect­ed to a counter on the left side of the Tax­iphote. If you hold down the main oper­at­ing lever you can turn the knob on the counter and nav­i­gate direct­ly to a spe­cif­ic slide in the magazine.

Tax­iphote mech­a­nism, front view
Tax­iphote mech­a­nism, rear view
Counter with knob for navigation

The new Veras­cope slides all had some blank space in between the two sin­gle images. This area was com­mon­ly used to record infor­ma­tion about the stereo pho­to, like place and date. Anoth­er lever on the left of the Tax­iphote tilts down an addi­tion­al lens and mir­ror sys­tem that enables view­ing that space with your right eye.

Lens and mir­ror sys­tem in start­ing position
Lens and mir­ror sys­tem tilt­ed down

Final­ly, like all bet­ter stereo view­ers, the Tax­iphote also has adjustable focus.

In addi­tion to view­ing pho­tos, a 1902 adver­tise­ment tells us about a lantern attach­ment that could be used for pro­jec­tion over dis­tances of up to 4m. The com­bi­na­tion of lantern attach­ment and Tax­iphote result­ed in a huge appa­ra­tus that allowed only mono­scop­ic, and not stereo, pro­jec­tion. In 1923, the pro­jec­tion unit was sub­stan­tial­ly reduced in size, and in 1927, anaglyph 3D pro­jec­tion was introduced.

Page from the 1912 Richard catalogue

In 1903, an employ­ee of the Richard com­pa­ny wrote to a pho­tog­ra­phy reseller that the Tax­iphote would also be avail­able for the 6x13 and 8,5x17 for­mats. One year lat­er, Richard intro­duced anoth­er new for­mat upon sug­ges­tion of the mem­bers of the Stéréo­club Français. This 7x13 for­mat was said to be the most ratio­nal stereo for­mat for sev­er­al reasons.

These four for­mats were con­tin­u­ous­ly pro­duced even though the stor­age space in the base var­ied. In most cat­a­logues the names are as follows:

  • Tax­iphote nor­mal / foy­er ordi­naire / foy­er moyen for 45x107
  • Tax­iphote no. 1 for 7x13
  • Tax­iphote no. 1bis for 6x13
  • Tax­iphote no. 2 for 8,5x17
Tax­iphote No. 1, 7x13
Tax­iphote No. 2, 8.5x17

Also in 1904, Richard patent­ed a new fea­ture for all mod­els. From now on, the two ocu­lars were placed on two wood­en plates that allowed inte­roc­u­lar adjust­ment to suit the eye spac­ing of the indi­vid­ual person.

If the label on your device already bears the Tax­iphote name but the inte­roc­u­lar dis­tance can’t be changed, then your unit was pre­sum­ably made between 1900 and 1903.

Le Taxiphote court foyer

It goes with­out say­ing that the dis­tance between the lens­es and the slide has to be at least the width of a mag­a­zine, which is almost 10cm. This is no prob­lem for the larg­er for­mats, but when view­ing Veras­cope slides, it feels like you were stand­ing in a dark room with a small win­dow, because large areas of your field of vision are just black space. 

This seems to have both­ered Richard sev­er­al years. In my opin­ion, this was pos­si­bly the most chal­leng­ing task in the devel­op­ment of the Tax­iphote. It would take five patent­ed attempts final­ly result­ing in two dif­fer­ent solutions.

Modèle mécanique

There were sev­er­al hand­held Richard view­ers that had less dis­tance between the slide and the lens­es. This court foy­er (short focus) pro­vid­ed a supe­ri­or view­ing expe­ri­ence, where­as 45x107 slides still looked just like 6x13. Richard want­ed to make that pos­si­ble for the Tax­iphote as well. In 1905, two patents show mech­a­nisms that car­ried the indi­vid­ual slide both ver­ti­cal­ly from the mag­a­zine to the ocu­lar lev­el, and after­wards also hor­i­zon­tal­ly towards the lens­es. A cat­a­logue proves that this so called mod­èle mécanique was sold in 1909, but it is rarely seen. Prob­a­bly the mech­a­nism was not per­fect­ed yet – this would take a few more years.

The first of five patents for the mod­èle mécanique, 1905
Modèle optique

The more com­mon­ly used method was the so called mod­èle optique, which took a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent approach. Instead of a hor­i­zon­tal move­ment, it used addi­tion­al block lens­es to mag­ni­fy the photo.

These lens­es could be either per­ma­nent­ly low­ered in front of the ocu­lars or man­u­al­ly by anoth­er lever on the left. Using lens­es for that pur­pose leads to some dis­tor­tion at the edge of the image, but over­all, the view­ing expe­ri­ence is quite sat­is­fy­ing, espe­cial­ly if you were annoyed by the black space around the image. On the oth­er hand, you had to pay quite a high price, because the stereo pho­to was cropped. Not much, but some­times you were going to miss details in the corners.

Mod­èle optique with addi­tion­al lever
Mech­a­nism in start­ing position
Low­ered addi­tion­al block lenses
Left: Veras­cope image with­out mag­ni­fi­ca­tion, right: mag­ni­fied Veras­cope image

Modèle simplifié

Start­ing at 250 francs the aver­age price for a Tax­iphote would be around 300 francs. In 1908 Richard intro­duced a new ver­sion only for the Veras­cope for­mat at a price of 148 francs. The so called Mod­èle sim­pli­fié (sim­pli­fied mod­el) had a crank oper­at­ed mech­a­nism instead of a lever, and is very com­fort­able to use. In fact, you can eas­i­ly move back and for­wards just by turn­ing the crank the oth­er way around. 

Mod­èle simplifié
Crank oper­at­ing system
Improved counter for navigation

There was still a counter on the left with anoth­er extreme­ly clever improve­ment. While you need to hold down the lever of the oth­er Tax­iphote mod­els to freely nav­i­gate through the insert­ed mag­a­zine, you now just need­ed to push the knob before turn­ing. The crank oper­at­ing sys­tem was prob­a­bly the key for the fur­ther devel­op­ment of the mod­èle mécanique.

Still, this mod­el was cheap over­all. No stor­age base, no pro­filed cor­ners, poor con­struc­tion for read­ing slide titles, etc. In the cheap­est ver­sion, the adjustable inte­roc­u­lar dis­tance was also miss­ing. The sim­pli­fied prod­uct line was con­tin­u­ous­ly pro­duced though. A 6x13 ver­sion appeared in 1926, and in 1931 the wood­en body was enlarged for a more com­fort­able view­ing height and a stor­age base was added.

Mean­while, an elec­tric lamp attach­ment clair soleil was patent­ed in 1909 for all for­mats and the wood­en ocu­lar plates were replaced by adjustable eye­pieces entire­ly made of met­al, patent­ed in 1911. The lat­ter are a good hint for dat­ing Tax­iphotes, because the ser­i­al num­bers hard­ly pro­vide reli­able information.

Lamp attach­ment clair soleil
Tax­iphote 45x107 with lamp attachment
From left to right: Tax­iphote foy­er moyen 45x107, Tax­iphote No. 1 7x13, Tax­iphote sim­pli­fié 45x107, Tax­iphote No. 2 8.5x17

Taxiphote court foyer, modèle mécanique – Part 2

Even though the mod­èle mécanique was already avail­able, it seems like­ly that Richard changed the mech­a­nism. This is extra­or­di­nary espe­cial­ly because the mech­a­nism wasn’t changed in any of the oth­er mod­els, except the addi­tion of new features.

But in 1911, there are two more patents on the mod­èle mécanique. It seems to me that this new mech­a­nism was intro­duced anoth­er two years lat­er in 1913 because the price sud­den­ly jumped, while the prices for the oth­er mod­els remained the same. Indeed, it’s worth it!

Mod­èle mécanique
Right side
Left side

The mech­a­nism is now dri­ven by a crank, just like the mod­èle sim­pli­fié. One turn to lift the slide and anoth­er turn to move it towards the ocu­lars. No crop­ping of the image, no dis­tor­tion. The view­ing expe­ri­ence is fan­tas­tic. In my opin­ion this is real­ly the best Tax­iphote ever produced.

Mech­a­nism in start­ing position
Mech­a­nism after one turn
Mech­a­nism after two turns
Left: Veras­cope image with­out mag­ni­fi­ca­tion, right: mag­ni­fied Veras­cope image

It takes also advan­tage of the push-and-turn mech­a­nism of the sim­pli­fied mod­el to nav­i­gate through the slides. The lens and mir­ror sys­tem for read­ing the slide title is now low­ered by pulling a chain on the left. I think this looks a lit­tle weird and unsta­ble com­pared to the for­mer lever mech­a­nism but it works very well.

Autochromes and the Taxiphote

Because of the suc­cess of col­or pho­tog­ra­phy achieved with Autochrome slides, many man­u­fac­tur­ers like Gau­mont, Plocq or Hemdé offered spe­cial mag­a­zines to han­dle Autochrome slides. This was nec­es­sary because Autochromes were devel­oped as direct pos­i­tives and there was no pos­si­bil­i­ty for invert­ing the left and right images, except by cut­ting the glass and switch­ing the posi­tions. There­fore, a sec­ond glass was typ­i­cal­ly added for sta­bi­liza­tion and pro­tec­tion because autochromes were extreme­ly prone to humid­i­ty. So, the slides were twice as thick as nor­mal slides. This is the rea­son why dif­fer­ent mag­a­zines were required.

Richard went a more sophis­ti­cat­ed way. Instead of cut­ting Autochromes he rec­om­mend­ed turn­ing the slides upside down (because this switch­es the left and right images as well!) and then attach­ing prisms on the ocu­lars to invert the image. These so called Redresseurs became avail­able 1913 as well.

Mod­èle mécanique with prism lenses

Because Autochromes were expen­sive and dif­fi­cult to devel­op, a stereo pho­to col­lec­tion would typ­i­cal­ly con­sist of most­ly black and white pho­tos, with just a few col­or images. Switch­ing the Tax­iphote from view­ing black and white to col­or thus meant man­u­al­ly exchang­ing the ocu­lars from time to time. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, this would take a few moments each time.

This leads to the last addi­tion for the Tax­iphote mod­èle mécanique: A quick exchange mech­a­nism for the entire eye­piece assem­bly togeth­er with two addi­tion­al sets in a high-qual­i­ty leather case. One set for Autochrome lens­es, and one set to change the short focus back to the long focus– for what­ev­er reason.

Mod­èle mécanique with exchange­able eye­pieces and two addi­tion­al sets of lenses
Detail of the lens chang­ing mechanism

Further developments

In 1923, addi­tion­al mag­ni­fy­ing lens­es were avail­able also for the 6x13 and 7x13 Tax­iphotes. These had the same short focus effect as the mod­èle optique.

As men­tioned above there was a small­er design for the pro­jec­tion lantern in 1923 as well as an exten­sion and a redesign of the sim­pli­fied mod­el in 1926 and 1931. Also, in 1927 anaglyph pro­jec­tion units became avail­able. The 8,5x17 mod­el dis­ap­peared in 1930.

But, we can con­clude that all impor­tant devel­op­ments were fin­ished by 1915 and all mod­els were in con­tin­u­ous pro­duc­tion until the 30’s. With the intro­duc­tion of the Veras­cope F40, the era of the mul­ti-slide-view­ers ended.

Deluxe versions and furniture

To arouse inter­est there were also spe­cial­ly designed deluxe ver­sions of the Tax­iphote that were not always avail­able accord­ing to catalogues.

Tax­iphote deluxe with stor­age cab­i­net
© Sébastien Lemagnen
Tax­iphote deluxe
Tax­iphote art deco
© Sébastien Lemagnen

For those who had larg­er pho­to col­lec­tions, there were stor­age cab­i­nets espe­cial­ly designed for the Tax­iphote and pro­duced by Richard. You could also buy just the draw­ers and incor­po­rate them into oth­er pieces of fur­ni­ture to suit your purpose.

Richard sin­gle col­umn stor­age cab­i­net for 1200 slides
Richard Meu­ble bureau for 2000 slides
Cus­tom built stor­age cab­i­net for 2400 slides
Open cab­i­nets
Cus­tom built shelf con­tain­ing 4800 Veras­cope slides


The Veras­cope and the Tax­iphote are two halves of an unbe­liev­able stereo devel­op­ment effort that went on for 40 years essen­tial­ly with­out any changes. The Tax­iphote was export­ed to and patent­ed in many coun­tries. All this serves as an exam­ple of how attrac­tive stere­oscopy was at that time, and also con­firms the qual­i­ty of the Tax­iphotes as a tech­ni­cal device. We can only guess at the pres­tige of hav­ing a Tax­iphote at that time. 

But what would bet­ter illus­trate the mean­ing of the Tax­iphote to its own­ers than the Autochrome stereo pho­to Thomas Asch found in one of his devices?

© Thomas Asch

If not oth­er­wise stat­ed all pic­tures show pieces of my per­son­al col­lec­tion. I’m thank­ful that Sébastien Lemag­nen from antiq-photo.com pro­vid­ed me with some pho­tos as well as Thomas Asch and Paul Burford.

Pascal Martiné (Mainz, Germany)

Pas­sion­ate about stere­oscopy as a col­lec­tor and pho­tog­ra­ph­er since 2016. Admin of the stere­osite. More on About me.