Stereoscopes

If stere­oviews allow us a jour­ney through time, stere­o­scopes are the vehi­cles that take us there. Antique stere­o­scopes are sim­ple yet ele­gant devices that come in a vari­ety of forms. Hold­ing an antique hand­held stere­o­scope, you can imag­ine the excite­ment some­one else may have felt receiv­ing it as a present for their birth­day or Christ­mas. On the oth­er hand, you also have floor stand semi-auto­mat­ed stere­o­scopes, that were designed to con­tain over a thou­sand stere­oviews. These served as a media cen­ter in the liv­ing rooms of the rich, meant to amaze every vis­i­tor, and per­haps even spark a bit of envy. Think of them as the antique equiv­a­lents of the lat­est flat screen TV mod­els! In some ways, antique stere­o­scopes are wit­ness­es of time, bring­ing old and for­got­ten moments back to life. In this sec­tion, we will intro­duce dif­fer­ent types of antique stere­o­scopes and their his­to­ry, and share tips on build­ing your own stere­o­scope col­lec­tion and restora­tion of these antique treasures.


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Fine British Stereoscopes and their makers

Early Stereoscopes, Part 2

written for the stereosite by Paul Burford, United Kingdom

The Brew­ster stere­o­scope was with­out a doubt the sin­gle most pop­u­lar design of stere­o­scope from 1851 until the 1930s. Part 1 of the series about Ear­ly stere­o­scopes illus­trates its ear­ly devel­op­ments. But not long after the Brew­ster view­er first appeared and inter­est in stere­oscopy grew, the mar­ket for view­ers grew as well and many oth­er designs of stere­o­scopes appeared, includ­ing some very fine British viewers.

When George Low­den sug­gest­ed larg­er lens­es to improve the view­ing expe­ri­ence, Sir David Brew­ster didn’t agree. He was set on his design of the taper­ing hand held view­er with its brass eye­pieces and small lens­es. How­ev­er, oth­ers saw the ben­e­fit of larg­er lens­es and a new design of view­er emerged. There was no space for larg­er lens­es on the nar­row lens board of the Brew­ster view­er and there­fore, a larg­er lens board was need­ed. This is why the slid­ing box view­er was conceived.

George Knight’s design (1854) took the “larg­er lens improve­ment” to the extreme with its goth­ic lens­es. There was noth­ing to be gained by hav­ing lens­es this large oth­er than the aes­thet­ic appear­ance of the view­er. The Knight’s Cos­mora­ma would have been expen­sive to pro­duce, the lens­es being cut from a sin­gle 3.5–4.25” lens (88–108cm). Ebenez­er Scott’s view­er (1856) used lens­es just over 2” (5cm) in diam­e­ter mount­ed behind 1.75” (4.5cm) aper­tures. Negret­ti and Zam­bra amongst oth­ers also pro­duced slid­ing box view­ers with 2” lens­es and trum­pet shaped eyepieces.

George Knight’s Cos­mora­ma viewer
Slid­ing box view­er by Ebenez­er Scott
Negret­ti and Zam­bra view­er with trum­pet shaped eyepieces

The clairvoyant viewer

Reg­is­tered in 1858 by Hen­ry Swan, the design of this view­er enabled the view­ing of stereo pairs pic­tured in books as well as tra­di­tion­al stere­o­graphs. It is a very fine and del­i­cate view­er which came trimmed in red, blue or green. The ver­sion most com­mon­ly seen comes in its own attrac­tive dome topped stor­age box which also has com­part­ments for stor­ing stere­o­graphs. The del­i­cate nature of this view­er is the rea­son why the stor­age box with its dome top and ivory plaque The Stereo­scop­ic Trea­sury often appears for sale with­out a viewer.

A less com­mon fold­ing leather cov­ered ver­sion of this view­er came with a leather slip case which also had a stor­age com­part­ment for stereographs.

Smith Beck and Beck

After being employed by James Smith for sev­er­al years Richard Beck became a part­ner in the busi­ness in 1847 (Smith and Beck). When Richard’s broth­er Joseph joined the busi­ness in 1851 it was renamed Smith Beck and Beck soon after in 1854. The com­pa­ny then became R & J Beck in 1865 when James Smith retired.

Smith Beck and Beck were well estab­lished opti­cal instru­ment man­u­fac­tur­ers and famous for their high qual­i­ty micro­scopes when 1851 came along with the Great Exhi­bi­tion which pop­u­larised the stere­o­scope and cre­at­ed a mar­ket for this new instrument.

With the Brew­ster style stere­o­scopes being all the rage, Smith and Beck pro­duced their own vari­ant, whilst oth­er man­u­fac­tur­ers repli­cat­ed the orig­i­nal Brew­ster design. Smith and Beck pro­duced a top load­ing mod­el with the light reflect­ing flap extend­ing all the way to the edges and rear of the view­er and thus allow­ing access for the inser­tion of the stere­o­graph. It also had a rack and pin­ion focus­ing lens board.

The Achromatic Stereoscope

The view­er we all know and refer to as the “Smith Beck and Beck” was first pro­duced in 1858. It was quite a nov­el design with the view­er invert­ing into a match­ing wood­en box which pro­tect­ed it when not in use and con­vert­ed to a stand for the view­er when in use. The cost was £3 10s in Wal­nut or £3 3s in mahogany (they did go on to pro­duce them in oth­er woods). Match­ing cab­i­nets were also avail­able which pro­vid­ed stor­age for the view­er along with the own­ers col­lec­tion of views. These were avail­able in dif­fer­ent sizes or as just stor­age cab­i­nets for stereographs.

The Smith Beck and Beck Achro­mat­ic Stereoscope
Dou­ble door cab­i­net with posi­tion for view­er on top and inter­nal stor­age for view­er and stereographs

There were well over three thou­sand of these pro­duced and a great many have sur­vived, prob­a­bly due to them being pro­tect­ed by their stor­age box­es and cabinets.

Sin­gle door cab­i­net with view­er posi­tion on top and inter­nal stor­age for view­er and stereographs
Sin­gle door cab­i­net with view­er posi­tion on top and inter­nal stor­age for just stereographs
The Mirror Stereoscope

A year lat­er Smith Beck and Beck reg­is­tered anoth­er design which enabled the view­ing of stereo pairs in a book as well as tra­di­tion­al glass and card stere­o­graphs. This view­er also came with a pro­tec­tive stor­age box.

The Parlour Stereoscope

Some time after 1865 and the company’s name chang­ing to R & J Beck, they added a 50 slide table view­er to their cat­a­logue. Pro­duced in burl wal­nut and with the top dri­ve shaft mount­ed in bear­ings, it has the smoothest action of all table viewers.

The London Stereoscopic Company

The Lon­don Stereo­scop­ic Com­pa­ny did not have a unique flag­ship view­er like Negret­ti and Zam­bra but they also pro­duced / com­mis­sioned / sold a fine range of view­ers includ­ing some fine par­lour view­ers with dec­o­ra­tive band­ing inlays and strong wood­en slide hold­ers con­nect­ed to each oth­er with brass hinges. With the extra strength of the slide hold­ers and high qual­i­ty con­struc­tion, these view­ers were ide­al for the heav­ier and more frag­ile glass stereo views. The view­er illus­trat­ed holds 50 views.

Negretti and Zambra

The firm of Negret­ti and Zam­bra was found­ed in 1850 when the pair entered into a part­ner­ship pro­duc­ing and sell­ing sci­en­tif­ic and opti­cal instru­ments. Their cat­a­logue was soon to include a large range of stere­o­scopes and stereo­scop­ic acces­sories, the flag­ship of which was the Negret­ti and Zam­bra patent Mag­ic Stere­o­scope.

A view­er which had no few­er than four pairs of lens­es and was sup­plied as view­er only or on a selec­tion of stands. The view­er is of a slid­ing box design and has two top mir­ror flaps and two dif­fer­ent posi­tions for insert­ing a stere­oview. There is a fine qual­i­ty pair of achro­mat­ic lens­es fit­ted to the front lens board, then imme­di­ate­ly behind these are two more pairs of lens­es, one pair turns down into posi­tion from the top of the view­er and the oth­er turns up into posi­tion from the base of the view­er. The fourth pair of lens­es is posi­tioned mid­way with­in the view­er. With the dif­fer­ent slide posi­tions and by using the lens­es in dif­fer­ent con­fig­u­ra­tions this view­er pro­vides dif­fer­ent mag­ni­fi­ca­tion along with the abil­i­ty to com­pen­sate for the dif­fer­ent focal require­ments of long and short sight­ed­ness. How­ev­er, the orig­i­nal patent for an addi­tion­al pair of cor­rec­tive lens­es like one of the inter­nal pairs with­in the Mag­ic Stere­o­scope was grant­ed to George Cooke in 1856. In 1859, the cost of this view­er — depend­ing on the Body only or stand selec­tion you made — var­ied between £5 and £10.10s.

The Magnificent “Hirst and Wood”

The “Rolls Royce” of stere­o­scopes and the pin­na­cle point of any col­lec­tion is for sure Joseph Woods Nat­ur­al Stere­o­scope. It was patent­ed in 1862 by John Hirst (patent agent) and Joseph Wood and was man­u­fac­tured at Birk­by in Huddersfield.

It is uncer­tain how many were made but it was cer­tain­ly not many. Approx­i­mate­ly twen­ty five view­ers can be account­ed for today in muse­ums and pri­vate col­lec­tions. The stands they are mount­ed on do vary and either rep­re­sent an evo­lu­tion cul­mi­nat­ing with the beau­ti­ful­ly ornate carved qua­tre­foil base or were pro­duced to pro­vide a price range. Every view­er is orig­i­nal­ly unique in the carv­ings and com­bi­na­tions to its feet, base plate, legs crest and brass engrav­ing. How­ev­er, there are a few stands that have been pro­duced in more recent times for restora­tion and these appear to repli­cate the stand in the exam­ple illus­trat­ed in the Lon­don Sci­ence Muse­um post card. There are a cou­ple of exam­ples in exis­tence with the elab­o­rate stand that have their brass plate engraved with “G.H. Charlesworth Mak­er”. It is unclear where these fit into the equa­tion. In addi­tion to the elab­o­rate design, the view­er has very high qual­i­ty lens­es and two coloured gauze fil­ter strips, one to the rear and one to the top for pro­vid­ing dif­fer­ent tints / light­ing effects to glass views (rear) and card views (top).

A footnote on the Lenses found in these viewers

Smith Beck and Beck designed and man­u­fac­tured their own view­ers, Joseph Wood also did and there­fore had con­trol over the lens­es used, but many view­ers were man­u­fac­tured and sold by more than one com­pa­ny. The patents they were licensed under were more con­cerned with the actu­al design and “improve­ment” of the view­er. There was no spec­i­fi­ca­tion of lens type. Con­se­quent­ly, there is no uni­for­mi­ty of lens­es even when com­par­ing lens­es in iden­ti­cal view­ers. Achro­mat­ic lens­es hav­ing been man­u­fac­tured from a flint and a crown pre­vent­ed spher­i­cal aber­ra­tion and were far high­er qual­i­ty than sin­gle lens­es. But even well respect­ed man­u­fac­tur­ers / retail­ers pro­duced and sold view­ers with cheap­er sin­gle lens­es. Per­haps this was due to them buy­ing in the view­ers and not man­u­fac­tur­ing them­selves. My own view­er of choice has achro­mat­ic dou­blets with a diopter read­ing of +10.5. I once pur­chased an iden­ti­cal view­er and to my sur­prise and dis­ap­point­ment it was not as good. When I checked, the lens­es were only +9.5. The Knight’s Cos­mora­ma with its dec­o­ra­tive goth­ic lens­es can be found with a vari­ety of dif­fer­ent lens­es. An orig­i­nal bear­ing a Knight’s label had plano / con­vex lens­es with a diopter read­ing of +6.5, one bear­ing a label for Bur­field and Roach had plano / con­vex +5, the exam­ple illus­trat­ed above mount­ed on a stor­age box had con­vex / con­vex +3 / +4 and anoth­er exam­ple had con­vex / con­vex +3/+3. Even the lens­es of the fine qual­i­ty Negret­ti and Zam­bra Mag­ic Stere­o­scope vary from view­er to viewer.

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Paul Burford (Hitchin, United Kingdom)

I first dis­cov­ered 3‑d as a child and use to pop into a W. H. Smiths shop on my way home from school to view the images in the view­mas­ters which were dis­played in pack­ag­ing that allowed you to use them. Many years lat­er I pur­chased a Holmes view­er and some card sets whilst at an auc­tion. I have now been col­lect­ing stere­o­scopes for approx­i­mate­ly twen­ty five years with a focus on 19th cen­tu­ry Eng­lish view­ers I also have a spe­cial inter­est in 19th cen­tu­ry glass stereo views.

The Brewster Stereoscope – its improvements and variations

Early Stereoscopes, Part 1

written for the stereosite by Paul Burford, United Kingdom

It was the lentic­u­lar stere­o­scope designed by Sir David Brew­ster that became the first com­mer­cial stere­o­scope when stere­oscopy orig­i­nal­ly became pop­u­lar in 1851. The view­er was ini­tial­ly pro­duced in 1849 for Brew­ster by George Low­den. The exam­ples dis­played and pre­sent­ed to Queen Vic­to­ria at the Great Exhi­bi­tion in 1851 were then pro­duced by Louis-Jules Duboscq. But it was pos­si­bly not the first lentic­u­lar stere­o­scope as Sir Charles Wheat­stone had also had a lentic­u­lar view­er pro­duced for him. The rare Wheat­stone view­er illus­trat­ed here is the only design of Wheat­stone lentic­u­lar view­er known.

Sir David Brew­ster with his lentic­u­lar stereoscope
Wheat­stone lentic­u­lar stereoscope

There are also records of Sir Charles Wheat­stone hav­ing pairs of stereo­scop­ic Daguerreo­types made for him as far back as 1841 by Richard Beard and in 1842 by Antoine Claudet and Louis Armand Hip­po­lite Fizeau. With the size of the daguerreo­type pairs you have to ask the ques­tion: Did Wheat­sone view them in his reflect­ing stere­o­scope or in a view­er such as this?

The first Brew­sters had sol­id backs, there was no need for a trans­par­ent ground glass as the  Daguerreo­types that were viewed in them also had sol­id backs. Glass stere­oviews became avail­able in 1852 and with them came the need for light to be admit­ted at the rear of the view­er and so the Brew­ster view­er evolved to hav­ing an open back (this was short lived) or a ground glass window.

Brew­ster Stere­o­scope with sol­id back
Brew­ster stere­o­scope with open back

Antoine Claudet was the first to take out patents on improv­ing the design of the Brew­ster and one of his patents was respon­si­ble for an amend­ed shape where great care was tak­en in the design of the view­er body so that rays of light enter­ing from the open­ing light flap can­not be reflect­ed from the inte­ri­or onto the stereograph.

New vari­a­tions on designs and “improve­ments” appeared such as this hand­some leather ver­sion by The Lon­don Stereo­scop­ic Com­pa­ny. This improve­ment was for inter ocu­lar adjust­ment which was done by part­ing or pulling togeth­er the sep­a­rate bar­rels. It was patent­ed by William Hen­ry Phillips in 1857, the patent also includ­ed ver­sions with thread­ed con­nect­ing rods and knurled winders.

Spe­cial­ly shaped Claudet viewers
Lon­don Stereo­scop­ic Com­pa­ny viewer

Due to the suc­cess of stere­oscopy, fine qual­i­ty view­ers became avail­able like this Brew­ster view­er badged for C. W. Dix­ie on the left and an iden­ti­cal view­er bear­ing a Car­pen­ter and West­ley badge on the right.

Two iden­ti­cal fine qual­i­ty view­ers with dif­fer­ent badges

There were also Brew­ster to suit all pock­ets. This low cost met­al ver­sion was avail­able from the 1864 Negret­ti and Zam­bra cat­a­logue for 3 Shillings and 6 pence. A Brew­ster with a pro­vi­sion for insert­ing a coloured fil­ter behind the lens board was devel­oped to tint and enhance the view.

Low cost met­al viewer
View­er with colour filter

A Brew­ster stere­o­scope mount­ed on a stand could be placed on a table for com­fort­able view­ing. Some stands had quick release cou­plings releas­ing the view­er to be used hand held. The view­er illus­trat­ed here also has an adjustable rear cov­er with a reflec­tive sur­face, allow­ing the user to direct light onto the back of a glass or tis­sue view.

A Brew­ster man­u­fac­tured to the Cooke patent has a small brass thumb screw on the bot­tom right of the lens board. It winds an extra pair of lens­es into posi­tion. Fit­ted with the cor­rect lens­es these view­ers would com­pen­sate for long and short sightedness.

Stand mount­ed view­er with reflec­tive rear cover
Cooke patent view­er with addi­tion­al inter­nal lenses

When George Low­den sug­gest­ed that larg­er lens­es would improve the view­ing expe­ri­ence Sir David Brew­ster was wed to his orig­i­nal design and did­n’t agree but man­u­fac­tur­ers could see the ben­e­fits and the lens­es became larg­er. Brew­ster style view­ers evolved and became longer with a slight­ly larg­er lens board. In most cas­es, it was fit­ted with square prisms cut out of larg­er lenses.

Of course, the improve­ments to stere­o­scopes were also com­bined in one and the same stere­o­scope like the fol­low­ing Brew­ster view­er on an elab­o­rate cast spel­ter stand. It has turned eye pieces and round lens­es, the body shape bel­lows out towards the ground glass win­dow — a design improve­ment by Antoine Claudet. It also has a Sands patent mir­ror door device which is used to open the mir­ror flap and then hold it in the desired posi­tion. The flap is held in posi­tion by means of fric­tion between the wind­ing rod and two brass clasps and ceas­es to work with wear. 

Claudet improved view­er with Sands patent mirror
Mur­ray and Heath view­er with remov­able lens board

Fine qual­i­ty view­ers by Mur­ray and Heath had an unique lens board which slides out for easy cleaning.

Detail of Mur­ray and Heath viewer

Besides tech­ni­cal improve­ments there was also a broad vari­ety of beau­ti­ful elab­o­rate designs like brass dec­o­ra­tion or Brew­sters with lens bar­rels in the style of opera glass­es or binoculars.

Brew­ster view­er with brass decoration
Binoc­u­lar style viewer

Papi­er-mâché Brew­sters, ele­gant and beau­ti­ful­ly dec­o­rat­ed, were mar­ket­ed as “ide­al wed­ding presents”.

Beau­ti­ful­ly dec­o­rat­ed papi­er-mâché viewers

Even the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry hand­held view­ers man­u­fac­tured in France are of a design direct­ly descend­ed from the Brew­ster. The French pre­ferred glass slides over paper cards and devel­oped their own improve­ments like the small­er 45x107 for­mat. View­ers of that size were orig­i­nal­ly intro­duced by Jules Richard but also adopt­ed by oth­ers like Albert Mattey.

Anoth­er improve­ment makes use of mag­ni­fi­ca­tion lens­es and a short­er view­er body. This might also be a French devel­op­ment but it is found among Eng­lish view­ers as well. The greater the mag­ni­fi­ca­tion, the short­er the focal point. While view­ers of this kind do have good mag­ni­fi­ca­tion, they also cut the cor­ners off of the image.

French view­ers for small for­mat glass views
Short bod­ied view­er for magnification

Final­ly, Mat­tey also pro­duced inno­v­a­tive Fold­ing Brew­sters for easy stor­age, with wood­en bod­ies as well as cheap­er card­board mod­els. As far as I know, the Ger­man com­pa­ny ICA and lat­er Zeiss also pro­duced their own Brew­ster versions.

Fold­ing viewers
Fold­ing viewers

The Brew­ster stere­o­scope was with­out doubt the sin­gu­lar most pop­u­lar design of stere­o­scope from 1851 until the 1930’s when new for­mats took over and dur­ing this time its basic design changed very lit­tle. But not long after it first appeared and the inter­est in stere­oscopy grew the mar­ket for view­ers grew like­wise and many oth­er designs of stere­o­scopes appeared includ­ing some very fine British viewers.

Part 2 of the series about Ear­ly Stere­o­scopes will be pub­lished in June 2021.

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Paul Burford (Hitchin, United Kingdom)

I first dis­cov­ered 3‑d as a child and use to pop into a W. H. Smiths  shop on my way home from school to view the  images in the view­mas­ters  which were dis­played in pack­ag­ing that allowed you to use them. Many years lat­er I pur­chased a Holmes view­er and some card sets whilst at an auc­tion. I have now been col­lect­ing stere­o­scopes for approx­i­mate­ly twen­ty five years with a focus on 19th cen­tu­ry Eng­lish view­ers I also have a spe­cial inter­est in 19th cen­tu­ry glass stereo views.

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.

Stéréo-Classeur

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.

Stéréo-Classeur
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
© Paul Burford
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

Conclusion

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?

Autochrome
© 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.

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Pascal Martiné (Mainz, Germany)

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

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