1890s Cameras & Cycling

Stereoscopes and Graphoscopes

Stereoscopes and Graphoscopes

The general principles of stereosocopy, that is showing 3 dimensions on a 2-dimensional surface, are widely believed to have been understood since antiquity:

‘In 280 A.D., Euclid was the first to recognize that depth perception is obtained when each eye simultaneously receives one of two dissimilar images of the same object. In 1584 Leonado da Vinci studied the perception of depth and, unlike most of contemporaries, produced paintings and sketches that showed a clear understanding of shading, texture and viewpoint projection. Around the year 1600, Giovanni Battista della Porta produced the first artificial 3-D drawing based on Euclid’s notions on how 3-D perception by humans works. This was followed in 1611 when Kepler’s Dioptrice was published which included a detailed description of the projection theory of human stereo vision.’ *

Other authorities dispute this, and even the claim regarding Kepler’s Dioptrice, published in 1611, that it ‘included a detailed description of the projection theory of human stereo vision’ is arguable. The first explicit and comprehensive theory of binocular vision was certainly that presented by Charles (later Sir Charles) Wheatstone to the Royal Society in 1838 at a time when the first experiments with photography by Fox Talbot and Daguerre had only just begun.



The Great Exposition at Crystal Palace (above and below) took place between 1st May and 15th October 1851.


File:Crystal Palace - interior.jpg

Six million people – a third of the entire population of Britain at the time – visited the exhibition, which showcased many scientific processes making their debut to the general public (hence the 1851 Punch cartoon below).



Oliver Wendell Holmes invented the hand-held stereoscope, and it was put into production by Joseph L. Bates. The Holmes-Bates hand-held stereoscope was in common usage by the late 1850s.


By the 1860s, stereoview cards and viewers had captured the public imagination and created a boom in the sale of novelty optical instruments. Queen Victoria’s enthusiasm for stereoscopes boosted their popularity even more.



Cabinet makers built upon this success to sell larger table-top versions (below), a style which had been patented by Becker around 1859.

The graphoscope was patented on 1st February 1864 in England by Charles John Rowsell. This apparatus enhanced the viewing of photos and text through a single large magnifying glass. They were often built with elaborate decoration in a wooden frame, and you could collapse them into a compact rectangular form for storage or transportation. In the 19th century, parlors of many French and English homes featured a table with optical toys such as stereoviewer, stereoscope or graphoscope. Later versions – stereo graphascopes – combined the single glass of the graphascope with the twin lens of the stereoscope.

By the turn of the twentieth century, their popularity had spread worldwide. The geisha picture below was most likely taken post-1900.

Information with thanks to –

* http://www.arts.rpi.edu/~ruiz/stereo_history/text/historystereog.html