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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A Restorer’s Journey

written for the stereosite by Pascal Martiné, Germany

One essen­tial part of becom­ing a seri­ous col­lec­tor is fre­quent research from dif­fer­ent online sources such as eBay, plat­forms of tra­di­tion­al auc­tion­eers, etc. For fur­ther infor­ma­tion, I rec­om­mend the arti­cle Col­lect­ing Stere­o­scopes by André Ruiter. Most often, you only find par­tic­u­lar items or pre­vi­ous col­lec­tions, but you nev­er know where a spe­cif­ic view­er orig­i­nal­ly came from.

Thus said, there are some for­tu­nate excep­tions. One is the so called vide de gre­nier in France which means ‘emp­ty­ing of the attic’. This can sim­ply hap­pen like a tra­di­tion­al flea mar­ket with items from one sin­gle house­hold. Such sales are typ­i­cal­ly done by heirs after a bereave­ment. But the heirs could also hire a pro­fes­sion­al and the vide de gre­nier becomes a pro­fes­sion­al auc­tion held on site — and nowa­days some­times streamed online.

That way, you will get a glimpse of the indi­vid­ual his­to­ry of your trea­sure and know where it was stored, wether it was looked after or long for­got­ten, if the own­er was well sit­u­at­ed or not, etc. For me, these sto­ries are invalu­able and add a more per­son­al aspect to a col­lectible. This counts even more because those stere­o­scopes will usu­al­ly con­tain pho­tos that tell even more about their past.

As a pas­sion­ate restor­er, I espe­cial­ly appre­ci­ate view­ers that have remained untouched since their last use. I care­ful­ly remove the dust of decades to reveal the orig­i­nal beau­ty of a stere­o­scope. Being the first one to do so feels almost like get­ting in touch with those who bought it a cen­tu­ry ago. I want to take you to one of those journeys.

A vide de gre­nier took place on Sep­tem­ber 30, 2021 in Abbeville in the north-west of France near the coast. As usu­al­ly, you could take a look at the loca­tion online a few weeks in advance. Between fur­ni­ture, knick­knacks and rub­bish — all tagged on with a lit­tle num­ber — I spot­ted a table­top stere­o­scope care­less­ly placed in a closet:

Orig­i­nal pho­to pro­vid­ed in the online catalogue.

The large black knob on the site of the device iden­ti­fies it as a revolv­ing stere­o­scope (for addi­tion­al infor­ma­tion on this type see the arti­cle A Mul­ti­view Stere­o­scope Com­par­i­son). Fur­ther­more, the lit­tle key­hole and the and the indis­tinct hor­i­zon­tal line above tell that you can flip back the top to replace the whole chain. Indeed, on the left of the view­er you can see a sec­ond chain includ­ing stereo pho­tos. I eas­i­ly recalled the mod­el. This type of view­er was only man­u­fac­tured by Mat­tey both for the 8.5x17 and the 6x13 for­mat. If you used card board frames it was also suit­able for the 45x107 for­mat intro­duced by Jules Richard in 1893 (for back­ground infor­ma­tion see the arti­cle Le Tax­iphote). Once again, André Ruiter has writ­ten an inter­est­ing arti­cle about exact­ly this type, the Mat­tey Revolv­ing Stere­o­scope. While he has one of the rare deluxe mod­els, this one is the more com­mon mahogany stan­dard ver­sion. Nonethe­less, the exchange­able chain makes it one of the more advanced view­ers of that time.

So, I sub­scribed to the auc­tion and logged in live at Sep­tem­ber 30. As you may have already guessed, I won it for a good price, and after the nor­mal process I received the stere­o­scope a few weeks later.

Accord­ing to my request, they had removed the chain to pre­vent unwant­ed move­ment dur­ing the trans­port. So I was not able to tell which series of stereo pho­tos was inside the view­er most recent­ly. One con­sist­ed of fam­i­ly and trav­el pho­tos, one of a mix of pro­fes­sion­al and ama­teur slides depict­ing the first World War. What I could tell was that the lat­ter was used a lot more fre­quent­ly — the black paint on the right turn­ing knob was almost com­plete­ly worn down. Also, this one is the orig­i­nal chain that came with the view­er. Both bear the ser­i­al num­ber 1213. The addi­tion­al chain has the num­ber 1220. So I can assume that it was bought at the same time or only slight­ly later.

Mat­tey pro­duced this view­er mod­el for quite a long time with­out any remark­able changes. So how can I tell if my view­er is an ear­ly mod­el from short­ly before 1900 or a late mod­el from around 1920? As far as I know there is no ref­er­ence to the ser­i­al num­bers and a low four dig­it num­ber is nei­ther def­i­nite­ly ear­li­er nor later.

Luck­i­ly, restora­tion always requires a real­ly close look. The small­er turn­ing knobs that let you adjust the ocu­lars are made of wood and have a nar­row notch. Actu­al­ly, that notch is the rea­son why I am famil­iar with this kind of knob: it’s ter­ri­bly annoy­ing to clean it per­fect­ly. It seems that most man­u­fac­tur­ers, despite all com­pe­ti­tion, used the same focus­ing knobs. That’s why I’ve come across this type many times. But only on ear­ly view­ers! They all seem to have changed to bake­lite knobs at some point. More pre­cise­ly, Richard already start­ed to use bake­lite knobs with the intro­duc­tion of the Stéréo-Classeur in 1900, while the chain-oper­at­ed pre­de­ces­sor still used these wood­en knobs.

Anoth­er piece of evi­dence is that my sim­i­lar 8.5x17 Mat­tey view­er has also wood­en knobs and bears the ser­i­al num­ber 891 which is only a lit­tle ear­li­er than 1213. On the oth­er hand, two lat­er Mat­tey mod­els have also changed to bake­lite knobs but it seems that Mat­tey dis­con­tin­ued using ser­i­al num­bers so this ref­er­ence is unavail­able. Nev­er­the­less, it seems rea­son­able for me to con­clude that I got an ear­ly mod­el from around 1900.

After this lit­tle digres­sion about dat­ing the view­er, let’s return and take a clos­er look. Did I say that I enjoy remov­ing dust from an untouched view­er? I have to clar­i­fy that I was talk­ing about gen­tly blow­ing or wip­ing it of. This time it would be hard work.

This view­er was extra­or­di­nary dirty and made me doubt if I could reach a sat­is­fy­ing result. There was some sort of grey pow­der every­where, even on the inside and on every sin­gle stereo pho­to. So I did a clean­ing of the out­side with a damp sponge before I tried to dis­as­sem­ble as much parts as possible. 

I then applied a water based liq­uid includ­ing abra­sives that sand­ed off the remain­ing dirt and smoothed the shel­lac. For a more detailed descrip­tion see my arti­cle about Restor­ing Stereo­scop­ic Antiques. I had already seen that there was a flaw in the top trim, but with the dirt gone I dis­cov­ered even more scratch­es espe­cial­ly on the top, but also here and there on the base. For­tu­nate­ly, front, back and the sides were not affect­ed at all. Still, before I could do the fin­ish­ing I would have to do an addi­tion­al step.

Whether you use shel­lac, oil or wax, each will change the col­or of the wood in dif­fer­ent ways. For that rea­son, you may indeed apply dif­fer­ent lay­ers one after anoth­er, but you have to build up the sur­face the same way on every part. In this case, a thin lay­er of lin­seed oil var­nish would bring back the typ­i­cal shine on pol­ished shel­lac. But if there’s a scratch down to the wood oil will pen­e­trate through it and this part of the wood would become much dark­er than the sur­round­ing areas. I like vis­i­ble scratch­es as a part of the pati­na, but they don’t need to be high­light­ed. To pre­vent that from hap­pen­ing, I would need to retouch the scratch­es with shel­lac first. I only dabbed a lit­tle bit of shel­lac into the scratch­es with a cot­ton swab and repeat­ed the treat­ment with the pol­ish­ing liq­uid. I fin­ished the wood work­ing with a lay­er of shel­lac on the trims because these parts are gen­er­al­ly worn and I want­ed to bring back an over­all shiny effect.

Even though I think that the han­dles were orig­i­nal­ly bur­nished and not brass col­ored I had to grind them off with steel wool to remove all signs of cor­ro­sion and make them shine again. By leav­ing out the deep­er lying areas I still achieved a nice antique effect.

I also used my pol­ish­ing liq­uid for the black paint­ed met­al ocu­lars and steel wool for screw heads, etc. Final­ly, I put on a thin lay­er of lin­seed oil var­nish on all wood­en or paint­ed parts and pen­e­trat­ing oil on met­al parts to pro­tect them from fur­ther cor­ro­sion. I also cleaned the inside and the chain with a soft brush and applied only a lit­tle lin­seed oil var­nish to increase the sat­u­ra­tion of the black paint. A lit­tle oil on all mov­ing parts and that’s it.

I think it was good that the stere­o­scope was hid­den in a clos­et and the sun could not bleach the wood. Though, if you have a stere­o­scope that looks pale on the side that stood towards a win­dow for years, this is not always prob­lem. For exam­ple, if you have a waxed sur­face you can sim­ply wash it off. After you applied oil to the wood the col­or will most­ly come back. But this is always a prob­lem with shel­lac. Oil can not pen­e­trate the wood through it and you don’t want to remove the orig­i­nal shel­lac because you will always be able to dis­tin­guish between old and new shel­lac. But that’s anoth­er story.

So, over­all I’m real­ly hap­py how it turned out and I hope you enjoyed this time trav­el back to the orig­i­nal look of this stere­o­scope as much as I did dur­ing the process. Yes, this is real­ly the same viewer.

After this res­ur­rec­tion, it was, of course, not dif­fi­cult to find a nice place on my shelf, where it is sur­round­ed by com­rades made by Richard, Bize, Zeiss and others. 

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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.

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.

See all articles about collecting stereoscopes