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Collecting 19th c. Stereoviews: Antique Vintage Victorian Photographs

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 1879 Hand Tinted Stereoview Mourning Photograph of Sarah Cartner`s Grave, IL
1879 Hand Tinted Stereoview Mourning Photograph of Sarah Cartner`s Grave, Illinois. Found in Berrien County, Michigan, and Saint Joseph County, Indiana.  

...and click here to view 1000's of antique ID'd family photos on Ancestorville.

An Article on the History of Stereoview (or Stereoscopic) Antique Photographs by Debra Clifford, Ancestorville

   At Ancestorville, we find and sell vintage lost family photos and ephemera. Often we come upon stereoview photographs taken by small local photographers and/or small town gallery studios which depict family houses, family run businesses and store fronts, graveyard and cemetery markers and related 19th century scenes. Unfortunately, many of these antique stereoviews are not clearly marked or identified with family names. Our Ancestorville site has many identified vintage stereoviews, searchable by both surname and county, and also noted as to where they were found. They offer an important clue as to genealogy surnames, families, architecture, mourning customs and lost family ties of these generations. 

Stereoview photographs are taken by a camera with two lenses, which takes two separate photos about 2.5 " apart, which is approximately the distance between our eyes. The photos appear identical, but in fact are both slightly different. When viewed in the lens of a stereoviewer, the two views assimilate into one, and the brain then actually perceives the image in 3D. This effect can be still quite amazing to view even today, with many stereoview collectors still enthralled with collecting these photographs. They offer us intimate historical and cultural views of the 19th century world here and abroad. 

As in the case of the above Cartner family stereoview photograph we can actually observe Cartner family members (it is assumed) around the grave of their deceased relative, Sarah Cartner. We can observe their class, realize the state of Illinois as her burial place as a clue, observe the cemetery marker we are assuming (and hope!) still stands, and see the surrounding fauna, time of year, mourning clothes of her family and Victorian horseshoe wreath laid at her presumably recent grave. The family most likely hired the local photography team of Cook & Seely of East Rockford, Illinois to take this likeness, to be saved for generations. And luckily, it was! East Rockford is in Winnebago County, IL. 

Stereoview Photograph History: Jules Dubosq (1817-1886) was a French optician with a world wide reputation as an instrument maker. He built a stereoscopic camera that took daguerreotype exposures of the spark produced by an electric arc, thus winning medals at the World's Fair in London in 1851. In 1853, Dubosq published 'Practical Rules For Photography' which discussed his stereoscopic invention. Jean Francois Antoine Claudet (1797-1867), directly influenced by Dubosq, patented stereoscopes in 1853. Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert first observed a stereoscope at the 1851 Crystal Palace Exhibition in London, now considered to be the first World's Fair. They were serious photography collectors, with the Queen having 35-100 photo albums filled with CDV Carte de Visite photos, and her husband Albert haven recently built a darkroom setup for his new hobby of photography in Windsor Castle.

Stereoview photography became a Victorian era craze when the Queen was presented with a stereoscope made by Duboscq. Thus began a huge trade in stereoscopes and stereoview images. The largest salesmen of stereoscopic cards then was George Nottage of London, with his catalog listing over one hundred thousand views for the public to purchase. The most common early process for making stereoscopic cards was the Albumen (egg white) photograph which consisted of coating a glass plate with salted white of egg containing some potassium iodide. This process was also used for the CDV, (or Carte de Visite) paper photographs, another huge Victorian era fad in this important era of the beginnings of photography.

stereo viewer
Hand Held 19th c. Stereoviewer & Stereoview Photograph 

The most influential era for the stereoview was from the 1860's (Civil War era) to the 1890's. American, Oliver Wendell Holmes is credited with inventing the first hand held stereograph viewer in 1859, as seen above. Millions of these viewers were sold to the public after Joseph Bates of Boston, Massachusetts made some simple improvements and manufactured them commercially in the United States. The public was enamored with the armchair travel offered by this new fad. The excitement was in viewing scenes afar, those they would probably never have the opportunity to visit in a lifetime. Stereoview photos offered a view of exotic lands, Parisian streets, the London streets of their forbears, Pyramids, Wonders of the world, Civil War battlefields, family members in front of their newly built homes, family grave markers, monuments and cemeteries, famous personalities such as writers, politicians, presidents and monarchy, nudes, Ethnic tribes, slavery and abolition, religion and rituals, masonic and fraternal scenes, American and European views, and thousands of other scenes depicting nineteenth century culture. A person in a small Vermont town, with the 3D nature of stereography, could suddenly view a NYC street and feel they were walking in a new land! Likewise a family in Illinois could send the sad Sarah Cartner grave scene above to relatives in far off Massachusetts. These relatives could magically view her grave as if actually there with the grieving family for that single moment. 

Ambrotypes and tintype photographs were rarely used in stereoview photography. A "tissue" stereoview was a hand tinted or colored piece of tissue behind the very thin albumen paper print, which was then mounted in special open stereo cards (also known as a "mount"). Looking into the viewer at a tissue aimed at some light, the scene then became vivid in color, long before the advent of color photography. These "tissues" are considered rare, as they were very fragile. An example of a stereoview tissue card in our collection is below. It depicts a slew of frightening devils on bicycles, which when viewed to a light source shows their red glowing eyes! Even in the 21st century, this stereoview has a very scary and eery Halloween related image! 

Early French "Tissue" Stereoview Photograph of Devils on bicycles. "La Cavalerie Infernale"Early French "Tissue" Stereoview Photograph of Devils on bicycles
"La Cavalerie Infernale"

In the late 1850-70's across America, both local amateur photographers as well as large city publishers were scrambling to quickly get stereoview images out to the public. The stereoviewer became a staple in American households much as the radio or television did in the 20th century to come. Millions of homes of all classes owned, collected, traded, purchased and viewed stereoview photos as a solid pastime. Stereoview photographers often traveled to take scenes of their property, livestock, kin, architecture, churches, towns, monuments, graveyards, gardens, greenhouses, and local town squares. 

Here at Ancestorville, we seek out the one-of-a-kind vintage stereoview photo. We look for the personal family memento related to genealogy, as opposed to the later 19th century and early 20th century commercially produced stereoviews, which became readily mass produced and are prevalent. Although these have a solid place in the antique collectibles world, they were made in quantity for the masses. Our aim here is to find and sell family related stereoviews, usually made in the smaller towns of America. Many have early orange or yellow mounts, some clearly defined by photographer, some not. We hope you enjoy a look at them on our site. 

Overall, we see each stereoview photograph at Ancestorville as a beautiful, one of a kind piece of history, and with the added benefit of a family surname attached! The ancestors who owned and collected these cards lay in graves across America, and await being found. Is your family represented here? We hope so. If not yet, we invite you to "adopt" a family and do some online genealogy research. Can you visit Illinois genealogy sites and find this grave of Sarah Cartner, above? We will be happy to add the info you may find to the listing. These spirits await being found by their 21st century families and genealogical historians. Enjoy! 

 — Debra Clifford, Ancestorville

...and click here to view 1000's of antique ID'd family photos on Ancestorville.

debra clifford ancestorville    Join ~debra on facebook at Ancestorville Genealogy on the topic of lost family antique items, early photographs, genealogy surnames and family history topics. Search our site for your lost family antique material by family surname, county, town, city and state.

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