My Stereoview Box Set Collection and 3D Photography

written for the stereosite by Andrew Lauren, USA


My stereopho­tog­ra­phy and stere­oview col­lec­tion are two sides of the same coin for me and have a com­mon ori­gin sto­ry. Trav­el back with me to May 2014 — Lon­don. A chance encounter on a canal boat. A ques­tion asked. An answer giv­en. My life… transformed.

Lit­tle Venice Neigh­bor­hood — where the Regen­t’s Canal, the Grand Union Canal and Padding­ton Basin meet.
Feng Shang Princess Restau­rant — Regen­t’s Canal (Cum­ber­land Basin)

I had board­ed a canal boat in Lit­tle Venice, not far from the Padding­ton train sta­tion. The area is crowd­ed and full of cheer. It is the annu­al Canal Cav­al­cade. Lit­tle do I real­ize that dur­ing this short boat trip I will be trans­formed from a 2D pho­tog­ra­ph­er to a 3D one. On the boat I saw anoth­er pho­tog­ra­ph­er tak­ing pic­tures too but with what looked like a pair of binoc­u­lars attached to his cam­era. Curi­ous, I asked him what it was. He said he was shoot­ing 3D.

I imme­di­ate­ly real­ized that cre­at­ing my own 3D images would give a “being there” immer­sive­ness to my pho­tographs and be easy to share with oth­ers. As I began learn­ing this new pho­to­graph­ic skill I also researched what was done in the past. It was then that I began to dis­cov­er that the biggest stere­oview com­pa­nies had cre­at­ed box sets in addi­tion to indi­vid­ual cards.

Some of the Box Sets in my collection

Brief history of box sets

The box sets were an inno­va­tion of the Under­wood & Under­wood Com­pa­ny begin­ning around 1900 and were a rad­i­cal depar­ture from what had been done pre­vi­ous­ly. Instead of sell­ing cards indi­vid­u­al­ly or as part of a genre series they sold groups of images togeth­er that were con­tained in a box that resem­bled a book on a shelf.

The images and tex­tu­al descrip­tions at times con­tain cul­tur­al bias­es and prej­u­dices that today sound very offen­sive. But they also pro­vide cul­tur­al insights in their own right about the pho­tog­ra­phers and the pub­lish­ers of these images. I often won­der if the sub­jects of these pho­tos would agree with how their sto­ry was get­ting told?

A stere­o­card typ­i­cal­ly has a title on the front describ­ing the scene. Fur­ther­more, a card from a box set like­ly has a num­ber on the front indi­cat­ing its posi­tion in the set.
These cards might also have addi­tion­al text on the back to pro­vide even more details about the scene. Note that Key­stone added GPS coor­di­nates to this card.

Some of these sets also had a com­pan­ion book that pro­vid­ed even more detail about each image in the set. For me they read like I am there on that trip too. My tour guide explains what I am see­ing with each image and points out things of inter­est I might not have first noticed. Spe­cif­ic aspects of the cul­ture are high­light­ed such as cloth­ing or aspects of occu­pa­tions and even songs. Things that are out­side of the view of the stere­o­card are also point­ed out.

Our Stolk­jaer­re­upset in Norang­dal, Nor­way — Stereo-Trav­el Co. — Nor­way Box Set (Card 25 of 100), 1914

Just by look­ing at the loca­tion where each image in the set was tak­en the view­er can map out the pho­tog­ra­pher’s route. What stands out for me when I’ve done that was how ardu­ous and how much time was spent on these jour­neys to cre­ate the images in some of these box sets. In a time before trav­el­ing by plane or car exist­ed the pho­tog­ra­phers had to rely on ships to arrive at their des­ti­na­tions and for local trav­el as well. Where trains exist­ed they were used. Pre­sum­ably, hors­es or oth­er ani­mal trans­port with wag­ons was used for over­land trav­el. The pho­tog­ra­ph­er had to trans­port along these routes heavy cam­eras and the frag­ile and pre­cious glass plates used for cap­tur­ing the images of these remote areas.

A hill-coun­try “ekka” with pas­sen­ger and lug­gage com­ing from cash­mere to mur­ree, India — Under­wood & under­wood — India box set (card 28 of 100), 1903

James Rical­ton, shown in this image, was a pri­ma­ry pho­tog­ra­ph­er for Under­wood and Under­wood. Dur­ing his 20 years work­ing for them he trav­eled com­plete­ly around the world 6 times with no few­er than 43 cross­ings of the Atlantic and Pacif­ic Oceans. He took tens of thou­sands of images for the com­pa­ny depict­ing notable places, the local pop­u­la­tion and their cus­toms, and front-line views of war. He often took the least trav­eled routes iden­ti­fy­ing him­self as a trav­eller and not a tourist.

Before work­ing for them Rical­ton had already trav­eled exten­sive­ly includ­ing an 800 mile solo walk through north­ern Rus­sia in 1886. His trav­els came to the atten­tion of Thomas Edi­son, who hired him in 1888 to trav­el around the world to help with his research to cre­ate an incan­des­cent lamp.

In 1891, at the age of 47, Rical­ton began a new career as a full-time trav­el­ing pho­tog­ra­ph­er for Under­wood and Under­wood which includ­ed being a war cor­re­spon­dent on the front lines dur­ing the Boer War,…

The Eng­lish Drum­mer Boy’s Let­ter — Writ­ing home to moth­er after the vic­to­ry at coles­berg — Under­wood & Under­wood — South African war through the stere­o­scope Box set (Card 34), 1900

…the Span­ish-Amer­i­can War, where this image shows a real bat­tle scene and is not a re-cre­ation of one,…

Hero­ic Wash­ing­ton vol­un­teers advanc­ing — fil­ipinos 800 yards in front — Under­wood & Under­wood — Philip­pine Islands and Hawai­ian islands box set (Card 42 of 100), 1899

…the Box­er Upris­ing in Chi­na, where this image seems designed to pro­duce out­rage at atroc­i­ties com­mit­ted by the Box­ers against children…

Mis­sion chil­dren, with one lit­tle Amer­i­can girl, can­ton, chi­na — thou­sands of such mas­sa­cred by “box­ers” — Under­wood & Under­wood — Chi­na box set (card 12 of 100), 1900

…and the Russ­ian-Japan­ese War. Rical­ton became world famous for his stereoim­age of the fir­ing of a Japan­ese artillery can­non and cap­tur­ing its pro­jec­tile in flight from the weapon. He did this even as his posi­tion was under heavy fire from Russ­ian artillery.

Pro­fes­sor rical­ton with Japan­ese offi­cers of 11th divi­sion, at foot of Takushan, Port Arthur — Under­wood & Under­wood, 1905

Some­times the com­pan­ion books for the box sets con­tained maps uti­liz­ing a sys­tem devel­oped specif­i­cal­ly for them. The loca­tion of where each pho­to­graph was tak­en was pro­vid­ed as well as the direc­tion the pho­tog­ra­ph­er was fac­ing. The cir­cled 11 at the bot­tom shows from where Image 11 was tak­en. The area between the two lines, extend­ing from it, shows the scene cap­tured on the card.

This is a por­tion of Map 4 of the Under­wood Chi­na box set, 1900.
And this is Image 11 whose pho­tographed posi­tion we just saw on the map.

The scale of pro­duc­tion by Under­wood & Under­wood was tremen­dous. By 1901 they were pub­lish­ing 25,000 stere­oviews per day which trans­lates to more than 7 mil­lion a year. The sets were sold door to door by salesmen.

The suc­cess of Under­wood and Under­wood with their box sets result­ed in oth­er pub­lish­ers of stere­oviews start­ing to cre­ate their own box sets. How­ev­er, by 1915 the Key­stone View Com­pa­ny had bought out most of these com­peti­tors. When Under­wood & Under­wood sold their neg­a­tives to Key­stone between 1921 and 1923 Key­stone was left as essen­tial­ly the only major pub­lish­er of stere­oviews in the world.

Heart of children’s par­adise, enchant­ed isle — a cen­tu­ry of progress, Chica­go — Key­stone View Com­pa­ny — key­stone junior stere­o­graph units — Chica­go world’s fair (card 13), 1933–34

In 1933 Key­stone began pro­duc­ing what were called “Key­stone Junior” sets. Instead of hav­ing 2 pho­to images affixed to a thick curved card these cards were small­er sized pho­to prints with the sets con­tain­ing 25 views.

The human body is strength­ened by prop­er exer­cise — the eyes are no excep­tion — Key­stone View Com­pa­ny — the key­stone eye com­fort series Beta Unit (card 10 of 12)

Key­stone end­ed its reg­u­lar pro­duc­tion of stere­o­cards in 1939 though it con­tin­ued to pro­duce optom­e­try-relat­ed sets under the name “Key­stone Eye Com­fort Series.” These sets were pre­scribed by doc­tors for patients who were hav­ing dif­fi­cul­ty with the coor­di­na­tion of their two eyes work­ing togeth­er inter­fer­ing with their abil­i­ty to read and oth­er close up work. They pro­vid­ed dif­fer­ent exer­cis­es to restore the abil­i­ty of the eyes to coor­di­nate. This card is from their Beta Unit. I also have the Alpha, Gam­ma, Delta and Epsilon series and the stere­o­scope made for these exercises.

The Capi­tol.  Wash­ing­ton, D.C. — Key­stone View Com­pa­ny — Trav­el Tour of the world (72) box set (Card 4 of 72)

I have box sets cre­at­ed by each of the major stere­oview com­pa­nies of the time: that is, Under­wood & Under­wood, Key­stone, HC White and the Stereo-Trav­el Com­pa­ny. Each set varies in size. My largest has 100 cards. But, Key­stone cre­at­ed even larg­er col­lec­tions for its Tour of the World set with the most com­mon ver­sion hav­ing 600 cards and the largest hav­ing 1200 cards. I have the small­est ver­sion with 72 cards.

Some box sets were updat­ed with new images to replace old images with bet­ter ones, to expand the geo­graph­ic scope of a box set or to keep them cur­rent. This one shows Pres­i­dent Theodore Roo­sevelt and is Card 11 of the Unit­ed States box set.

Pres­i­dent Roo­sevelt sign­ing bills, white house.  Wash­ing­ton, D.C. — Under­wood & under­wood — unit­ed states of Amer­i­ca box set. (Card 11 of 100), 1903

Card 11 was updat­ed when William Howard Taft became the next Unit­ed States president.

Pres­i­dent William h. Taft at his desk.  Exec­u­tive office.  Wash­ing­ton, D.C. — Under­wood & under­wood — unit­ed states of Amer­i­ca box set. (Card 11 of 100), 1903

Continents and countries

Some of the box sets in my col­lec­tion cov­er entire con­ti­nents like:

South Amer­i­ca,

Milk venders, puer­to cabel­lo, Venezuela — Key­stone View Com­pa­ny — South Amer­i­ca box set (Card 4 of 100)


A busy morn­ing on bar­rack St. in Perth, the cap­i­tal of West Aus­tralia — Under­wood & Under­wood — Aus­tralia and new Zealand box set (Card 2 of 100), 1908


Kikuyu women with water ves­sels (gourds) beside vil­lage store­hous­es, East Africa — Key­stone View Com­pa­ny — Africa (36) box set (card 26 of 36)

Oth­er sets are coun­try spe­cif­ic like:

The Unit­ed States,

In the great spin­ning room — 104,000 spin­dles — olympian cot­ton mills, Colum­bia, S.C. — Under­wood & under­wood — Unit­ed States box set (card 20 of 100), 1902


No room to spare — look­ing from lit­tle Cham­plain st up the break­neck steps.  Que­bec, Cana­da — Under­wood & under­wood — Cana­da box set (card 22 of 72), 1903


A poor fam­i­ly of cashel, Ire­land — Stereo-trav­el Co. — Ire­land box set (card 31 of 100), 1910


“Field of the cloth of gold” where kings met, (1520).  Bal­inghem, France — Under­wood & under­wood — France box set (card 2 of 100), 1907


Vil­lage of Gross Win­ter­heim, Rhein Dis­trict, Ger­many — Stereo-trav­el Co. — Ger­many box set  (card 18 of 30), 1910


Train at Finse Sta­tion, Nor­way — Stereo-trav­el Co. — Nor­way box set (card 15 of 100), 1914


The Nevs­ki prospect, the main thor­ough­fare of st. Peters­burg, Rus­sia — H.C. white co. — Rus­sia box set (card 6 of 50), 1901


Ven­er­a­ble tombs and young Ital­ian life, beside the renowned Appi­an Way, Rome, Italy — Key­stone View Com­pa­ny — italy box set (card 45 of 100)


Look­ing down the S.W. cor­ner of the Great Pyra­mid upon the mastabas of Khufu’s lords, Egypt — Key­stone View Com­pa­ny — Egypt box set (card 22 of 100)


Burmese young lady with huge cig­ar. Ran­goon, Bur­ma — Stereo-trav­el co. — Bur­ma box set. (Card 10 of 100), 1908


Samu­rai (on foot) and Daimyos in the annu­al Tai Kyoku Den Tem­ple Pro­ces­sion. Kyoto, Japan. — H.C. white Co. — Japan box set  (Card 41 of 50), 1905


Oth­er sets have sub­sets like the Jaf­fa to Jerusalem sub­set of the Pales­tine set, …

Ancient olive trees, gar­den of geth­se­mane, near Jerusalem, Pales­tine — Under­wood & Under­wood — Jaf­fa to Jerusalem box set. (Card 14 of 30)

…the Berne and the Bernese Alps sub­set of the Switzer­land set…

Edge of aletsch glac­i­er, show­ing the treach­er­ous crevass­es, and mar­je­len lake (look­ing west) — Under­wood & Under­wood — Berne and Bernese alps box set (Card 52), 1901

…or one of my newest acqui­si­tions the Bom­bay to Cash­mere sub­set of the India set.

Hum­ble shawl-weavers at cash­mere patient­ly cre­at­ing won­der­ful har­monies of line and col­or — India — Under­wood & under­wood — Bom­bay to cash­mere box set (card 25 of 27), 1908

Themes and sites

I have oth­er box sets that are the­mat­ic and site spe­cif­ic. This one is about Real chil­dren in many lands.

In nature’s bath-tub where hot water nev­er fails — Maori chil­dren, Whakare­ware­wa, N.Z. — Under­wood & Under­wood — Real Chil­dren in many lands box set   (Card 25 of 36)

This set is about Nia­gara Falls (notice that this card was hand tint­ed and is not black and white).

Admir­ing tourists view­ing the falls from prospect point, Nia­gara, U.S.A. — Under­wood & under­wood — nia­gara falls box set (card 2 of 10), 1903

The Cow­boys box set shows cow­boys at work, cow­boys doing enter­tain­ment and cow­boys in rodeos.

A skir­mish between Indi­ans and whites — a his­toric pageant in Okla­homa — Key­stone View Com­pa­ny — cow­boys box set (Card 11 of 50)

This Famous Eng­lish Cathe­drals set shows them from both the out­side and the inside.

Lin­coln cathe­dral, one of the finest church­es in Eng­land — H.c. white co — famous Eng­lish cathe­drals box set (card 17 of 18), 1902

This box set about Birds was one of the biggest sur­pris­es for me. Not only are the cards in this set hand tint­ed but much to my sur­prise they are liv­ing birds not pre­served models.

Birds — Wilson’s thrush or veery, and young — Key­stone View Com­pa­ny — birds box set (card 14 of 25)

I think this Geom­e­try set shows the greater clar­i­ty that view­ing things in 3D can bring.

Geom­e­try — the area of a sphere­ical tri­an­gle — Key­stone View Com­pa­ny — geom­e­try box set (card 50 of 50)


I am fas­ci­nat­ed by how these dif­fer­ent pub­lish­ers chose to por­tray each of these places and the result­ing men­tal por­trait these images and words cre­at­ed for their view­ers. But, they prompt ques­tions for me, too.

Why did the pho­tog­ra­ph­er go to cer­tain places? Why did the pho­tog­ra­ph­er choose to pho­to­graph what he did? Why did he think there would be an audi­ence who would want to see those spe­cif­ic places and find them inter­est­ing? What do these choic­es say about the pho­tog­ra­ph­er, the view­ing audi­ence, their val­ues etc.? What agen­da exist­ed for this whole thing beyond giv­ing a tour of for­eign places (for exam­ple, did they rein­force a cul­tur­al supe­ri­or­i­ty)? What did the peo­ple in these images think of this for­eign­er amongst them? Were they curi­ous? Antagonistic?

And the pho­tog­ra­phers who trav­eled the world to bring us these remark­able images are essen­tial­ly anony­mous — their names unknown.

They trav­eled to places where they almost sure­ly did­n’t know the lan­guage and cus­toms. Pos­sess­ing a lim­it­ed amount of pho­to­graph­ic glass plates they were entrust­ed with cap­tur­ing the essence of each place, a sin­gle image at a time, to a view­ing audi­ence who might spend their entire lives in the town of their birth.

Marie and Gre­go­ry, two Bre­ton chil­dren in France who live near the cas­tle Jos­selin — Key­stone View Com­pa­ny — Pri­ma­ry box set (card 53)

The dan­ger these anony­mous pho­tog­ra­phers were will­ing to put them­selves in to get a com­pelling image was some­times obvious:

Look­ing N. Up fifth avenue past flat­iron Bldg and Madi­son Sq. New York — Under­wood & Underwood
A sud­den ter­rif­ic vol­canic explo­sion — smoke, steam and stones thrown from the crater of Asama-yama — Under­wood & Under­wood — Japan box set (card 38 of 100), 1904

Oth­er images seem unevent­ful but the seem­ing qui­et masks the per­ilous­ness of the sit­u­a­tion for the photographer.

Trav­el­ing in inte­ri­or chi­na — our house boat on a canal near Kinkow (600 miles inland) — Under­wood & Under­wood — chi­na box set (card 37 of 100), 1900

After spend­ing a year in the Philip­pines pho­tograph­ing the Span­ish-Amer­i­can War James Rical­ton, the Under­wood pho­tog­ra­ph­er, trav­eled to Chi­na in 1900 when the anti-for­eign­er Box­er Rebel­lion broke out. He pho­tographed through­out Chi­na for a year. Many of the images doc­u­ment the rav­ages of war and the fear felt by Euro­pean refugees escap­ing anti-for­eign­er attacks. Unde­terred, Rical­ton trav­eled by small boat into Chi­na’s inte­ri­or. At one stop­ping point he describes the har­row­ing expe­ri­ence of being unable to take the image he intend­ed because a mob of the local pop­u­la­tion gath­ered and began attack­ing him and his trav­el­ing com­pan­ions. They were forced to hur­ried­ly retreat to their boat as the crowd threw mud and lumps of clay at them. Rical­ton and his com­rades were grate­ful that there were no rocks at hand for the crowd to throw at them. Once safe­ly back at their boat they got their guns and fright­ened the crowd back. Then Rical­ton gave his gun to a col­league, and marched back with his cam­era to where he had want­ed to take the pho­to before the attack. He hur­ried­ly took his pho­to. They then fled for their lives.

After all of our trav­els to the far cor­ners of the world at the end of the day there’s still no place like home.

“Still there’s no place like home” — Key­stone View Com­pa­ny — Trav­el Tour of the world (72) box set.   (Card 72 of 72)

My modern adaption

For those of you who have seen my Insta­gram posts you know that many of my stereoim­ages are trav­el-relat­ed. I have also had sev­er­al arti­cles pub­lished in the Inter­na­tion­al Stereo­scop­ic Union’s jour­nal Stere­oscopy. My arti­cles have a trav­el­ogue qual­i­ty to them that resem­bles the text of the com­pan­ion books for the box sets.

The rea­son why I pho­to­graph in 3D is the same as why I col­lect what I do and which inspires my 3D pho­tog­ra­phy in turn.

I always envi­sioned cre­at­ing my own stere­o­cards and have at last begun to think my cards are com­ing clos­er to my cre­ative aspi­ra­tions for them.

Dash­ing through the snow — front — Andrew Lau­ren, 2017

This is the back of the card. The type of text I added to the back is intend­ed to con­vey the sense of being there that I so admire in the com­pan­ion books of the box sets.

I have always want­ed to include a map with very pre­cise GPS coor­di­nates for the depict­ed image. It came from my frus­tra­tion of try­ing to find places list­ed in guide­books. You can see this car­ried through in my inclu­sion of a map of where I took the pho­to and GPS coor­di­nates on the back of my card. If you type the coor­di­nates into a map­ping app (espe­cial­ly in Satel­lite mode) you will see exact­ly where I took the photo.

Dash­ing through the snow — back — Andrew Lau­ren, 2017
Andrew Lauren (Hicksville, New York, USA)

My love for pho­tog­ra­phy began in my ear­ly teens. I can remem­ber going with my Dad to Man­hat­tan and buy­ing my first cam­era.  His advice that day stuck with me and became a broad­er life les­son. He said I should buy a cam­era I could “grow into” even if it meant spend­ing slight­ly more than I had planned. I bought a Canon AE1. With that cam­era I became an award-win­ning Pho­tog­ra­phy Edi­tor for my high school news­pa­per — its first. I used that film cam­era until I was com­pelled to buy a dig­i­tal one because I could no longer find a bat­tery to buy for it!
My path to becom­ing a stereopho­tog­ra­ph­er comes from that 2D pho­tog­ra­phy back­ground. In that regard, my path seems atyp­i­cal as it did not begin with View-Mas­ters or Bri­an May’s Lon­don Stereo­scop­ic Com­pa­ny or through a stere­o­cam­era. On a basic lev­el I think of myself as a visu­al sto­ry­teller who uses stereo pho­tog­ra­phy, with the skills and patience I devel­oped as a 2D film pho­tog­ra­ph­er.

Insta­gram-pro­file: andrew_lauren_6