Today’s post is a Making Monday, all about a classic Victorian stay-at-home amusement. My Myrtle Hardcastle Mysteries series is about a 12-year-old English girl in 1893, and along the way, I’ll be sharing things that would be familiar to kids of her era.
Throughout the 19th century, people everywhere were enchanted by three-dimensional imagery from around the world. Many middle-class homes sported a stereoscope, a device for viewing three-dimensional photographs (the direct ancestor of the 20th and 21st centuries’ ViewMaster). First invented in the 1850s, the stereoscope and accompanying stereographic images, known as “views,” would enjoy enormous popularity for nearly the next century.
Thanks to this vast enthusiasm, period stereographs and viewers are still readily available–and reasonably affordable–on the antique market. Pictured below is my own viewer, a 1901 Underwood, and at the bottom of this post are several views from my collection that may be of particular interest to Myrtle fans. (I know of no period crime scene stereographs, although their existence would hardly surprise me!)
In addition to travel photos, images depicting stories were popular—sometimes you can find multiple views from a set. For example, this exquisite image comes from an 1875 French stage production of Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon:
If you don’t happen to have on hand your own Victorian stereographs or viewer, 21st century technology makes it possible for the crafty Maker to easily recreate them at home.
The Smithsonian Institution National Museum of American History offers a tutorial to build your own viewer from materials you probably have at home, like cardstock, hot glue, and old reading glasses.
The exact dimensions of your stereograph views will depend somewhat on the technical specifications of your viewer, but 19th century stereograph cards were typically a standardized size of 3.5×7″ (some in my collection vary slightly). Of course, a stereoscope viewer isn’t strictly necessary; the London Stereographic Company gives tips on “free viewing” without a device.
Once you have a viewer, you’ll need something to look at!
This terrific video from Make Magazine explains stereopsis, the science behind stereoscopy, and how to take your own stereoscopic photographs:
Astrophysicist and musician Brian May (of Queen fame) has been a lifelong stereography fan, and operates the London Stereoscopic Company, an online clearinghouse of all things stereoscopic—antique, vintage, and modern.
And here are some views from my own collection that I’ve selected for you. Right click to view and print at full size. Don’t forget, you can always make your own from your own drawings and photographs, too.
There you go–be like the Victorians, and travel the world without ever leaving your living room!