“Tissues” or “The Happiness of the Collector in Collecting”

written for the stereosite by Thomas Asch, Switzerland

What to do in 2020, these dif­fi­cult times for pas­sion­ate col­lec­tors? There are no local col­lec­tors’ fairs and also trips to cities with promis­ing flea mar­kets are not pos­si­ble. I try to adapt, deep­en my knowl­edge of indi­vid­ual stereo pho­tographs of my col­lec­tion and go hunt­ing for new col­lectibles more often online. On var­i­ous plat­forms such as ebay I am look­ing for new rar­i­ties in my field of pas­sion: stereoscopy.

Recent­ly a major lot of Tis­sues was offered in an online auc­tion that caught my eye. Of the sev­er­al dozen cards on offer, only 3 were ful­ly dis­played, while the oth­ers were only seen in a pile next to it.

Fig. 1: Offered pile with 3 open cards

From the descrip­tion, which was kept very brief, you could only spec­u­late on the qual­i­ty of the oth­er “hid­den” cards, but the offer appealed to me. I trust­ed in my col­lect­ing instincts and decid­ed to bid. At the last minute I drove the price up a lit­tle and in the end I won the auc­tion. An inde­scrib­able moment for the col­lec­tor on the hunt… After that the long days of wait­ing fol­lowed until the cards final­ly arrived in the mail.

But just look­ing at a few cards gave me the cer­tain­ty: A very fruit­ful acqui­si­tion! A large vari­ety of top­ics and the con­di­tion almost con­sis­tent­ly good!

Fig. 2: My work table dur­ing the assess­ment of the tissues

What is a “Tissue”?

Before I show a few exam­ples of the cards, I would like to briefly high­light the spe­cial fea­tures of the “Tis­sues”. Tis­sues are black and white pho­tos copied on very thin paper, which appears almost trans­par­ent. The back of these thin pho­tos was more or less artis­ti­cal­ly col­ored, i.e. paint­ed with col­ors, so that when look­ing at them against a light source the pho­to is pre­sent­ed in col­or. A tis­sue is struc­tured like a sand­wich. A frame in the front and the back. In between the from behind col­ored pho­to and anoth­er pro­tec­tive tis­sue paper.

Fig. 3: Lay­ered view of a Tis­sue from the front
Fig. 4: Lay­ered view of a Tis­sue from the back
Fig. 5: View of the assem­bled tis­sue with light­ing from behind

Now to some exam­ples out of the pur­chased bundle: 

“Surprise” Tissues

Some­times the scenery of the pho­to is sub­merged in a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent light by the spe­cial col­oration of the back side. As an exam­ple observe the day / night Tis­sues. One of these is this stereo pic­ture of the Place de la Con­corde in Paris. (This is com­posed of two shots tak­en one after the other.)

Fig. 6: Place de la Con­corde by day

If you hold the card up against the light, the scene appears as a night shot with a full moon and artis­tic, fil­i­gree light­ing of the square.

Fig. 7: Place de la Con­corde in the back­lit view

In addi­tion to the col­ored back side every sin­gle lamp was marked with a fine nee­dle prick to allow light to shine through the paper. An enor­mous effort to pro­duce the indi­vid­ual cards.

These stere­os with an unex­pect­ed visu­al effect when back­lit are called “sur­prise Tis­sues “. I will show two more exam­ples later.

Theater tissues

But to stay in Paris, I’ll show two exam­ples from the “Les Théâ­trales de Paris” series. These are recre­at­ed scenes from then-cur­rent per­for­mances on the Parisian the­ater stages. For nat­ur­al pho­tos, there was sim­ply too lit­tle light in the the­ater itself.

First two scenes from “Voy­age dans la Lune” after Jules Verne, which was per­formed in 1875 in the Théâtre de la Gaîté.

Fig. 8: Voy­age dans la Lune, No 3 Le Canon (Jules Marinier, 1876)
Fig. 9: Voy­age dans la Lune, No. 11 Les Hiron­delles (Jules Marinier, 1876)

Then two scenes from “Cen­drillon” based on a fairy tale by the Broth­ers Grimm, per­formed in the Théâtre Impeér­i­al du Chatelet.

Fig. 10: Cen­drillon, Nr 7 La Course aux Lat­er­nes (Adolphe Block, 1867)
Fig. 11: Cen­drillon, No. 9 Le Lac d’Azur (Adolphe Block, 1867)

What is remark­able about the “Le Lac d’Azur” card is the elab­o­rate­ly “built-in” rain through very fine cuts in the left part of the stereo pic­ture with aston­ish­ing effect when viewed stereoscopically.

Genre Scenes

Card by card I enjoy immers­ing myself in the illus­tra­tions to embrace the detailed con­tents of each image, to clas­si­fy them in time, as well as to deter­mine their ori­gin. At that time it was uncom­mon to name the pho­tog­ra­ph­er specif­i­cal­ly on the card itself.

Some­times chance can help you. This time it was a recent talk by Denis Pel­lerin, in which he showed a sub­ject assigned to the Gaudin Frères that, in a slight­ly dif­fer­ent vari­ant, was also found on one of the acquired cards. So I had the cru­cial clue regard­ing the photographer.

Fig. 12: Punch and Toby (Gaudin Frères)

On anoth­er card with a street scene, on clos­er inspec­tion, you can see the same house facade as in Fig. 12 as a back­drop. Hence the legit­i­mate assump­tion that this pho­to was also cre­at­ed by the Gaudin Frères.

Fig. 13: Beg­gar with broom in front of the reused back­drop from Fig.12 (Gaudin Frères)

I have not yet been able to assign all of the oth­er Tis­sues. For exam­ple: Accord­ing to the frame of the fol­low­ing stereo pho­to with the boys in uni­form, play­ing leapfrog, the card was dis­trib­uted by Adolphe Block. But who is the pho­tog­ra­ph­er? Is he hid­ing behind the embossed ini­tials Ch. D. in the low­er left cor­ner of the frame?

Fig. 14: Boys in uni­form playing

Research­ing such images is very enter­tain­ing and some­times takes me a long way away from the start­ing point. It’s not uncom­mon to come across infor­ma­tion that leads to a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent card in your collection.

The Whole World

The vir­tu­al jour­ney through this col­lec­tion led me not only to Paris, but also to oth­er won­der­ful cities like here, thanks to this spe­cial night illu­sion, to Milano …

Fig. 15: Milan Cathe­dral from behind (Accord­ing to the infor­ma­tion on the frame: Pho­tographed by J. Andrieu, dis­trib­uted by A. Block in Paris and the card was bought from C. Eck­en­rath in Berlin)
Fig 16: Milan Cathe­dral. The cloudy night sky with the moon is only paint­ed on the back of the left half of the picture

… and even as far as Rio de Janeiro … 

Fig. 17: Hotel Pharoux, Rio de Janeiro

This pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with Vic­to­ri­an pho­tographs is an extreme­ly excit­ing activ­i­ty in times of order­ly calm and opens many unknown win­dows into bygone worlds direct­ly from one’s sofa.

Some­times, how­ev­er, all you need to do is to put a bright light on the back of a card to be able to enjoy a very sur­pris­ing scene on a Tissue.

Fig. 18: Emp­ty rail­way bridge (pho­tog­ra­ph­er: unknown, pub­lish­er: A. Block, sell­er: C. Eckenrath)
Abb 19: The same card with a sur­prise-train in trans­mit­ted light.

The cards of this recent pur­chase will keep me busy for a while and are a won­der­ful addi­tion to my collection.

Thomas Asch (Zürich, Switzerland)

The Col­lec­tor: In the ear­ly 1980s I found at a flea mar­ket a bun­dle of View­mas­ter reels with a view­er and this was the spark for enthu­si­as­tic col­lect­ing of stere­oscopy until today. My col­lec­tion con­sists of stereo cards, View­mas­ter and of course “hard­ware” such as Stere­o­scopes and Cam­eras. 
The Pho­tog­ra­ph­er: In 1983 I bought a  Revere from the 50s as my first Stere­o­cam­era and short­ly after that a View Mas­ter Per­son­al Cam­era to begin cre­at­ing my own stereo pho­tog­ra­phy. Main stereo sub­jects in the fol­low­ing years were my fam­i­ly and trav­el pho­tos on var­i­ous trips.  After my retire­ment from an IT job, five years ago, my activ­i­ties and pre­ten­sions as stereo pho­tog­ra­ph­er broad­ened sig­nif­i­cant­ly.

Insta­gram-pro­file: thomas.asch_3d_passion