Stereoscopic Viewer

by Dr. Lori Verderame

In the typical American home of the late 1800s, a hand held device called a stereoscope, and the stereographs or stereoview cards that accompanied it, was an object as common back then as a TV set is today. The hand held device allowed a sitter to be entertained by looking through the stereoscope (or stereopticons, stereo viewer) and see a three-dimensional image of a famous place or event on a stereograph card.

What were stereographs?

Stereographs were photographs that were printed onto a piece of cardstock or cardboard. Stereographs were two nearly identical images of the same subject that were viewed through a stereoscope or stereoscopic viewer. A stereoscope was a hand held device that had two lenses positioned about 2 ½ inches apart from one another to simulate the space between the human eyes. When looking through the viewer at the two images hosted on a stereograph card, the person looking at the images got the impression that he or she was seeing the subject in 3-D.

Sir David Brewster invented the stereoscope and stereographs for use by the general public. Oliver Wendell Holmes created an early handheld stereoscopic viewer in 1859.

Stereographs featured famous sites, cities, events, and people. Collecting stereographs cards and look for strong cardboard backing and images of famous people, famous places, and historic events. These subject retain value in the marketplace. The best known company that produced stereographs was the Keystone View Company of Meadville, PA.

Values for Stereoscopes

I have appraised stereoscopic viewers detailed with mother of pearl for ladies and leather with brushed metal for gentlemen. Antique stereoscopic viewers typically sell for $100-$125 and individual cards are valued based on their subject matter and condition. Most cards are traded in large sets based on a particular subject. Several dozen stereograph cards to several hundreds of them may have been collected by middle class families in the late 19th Century just as contemporary families may have a large collection of DVDs today.

Get an online appraisal of your stereoscopes from Dr. Lori.