Friday, May 9, 2014

Reminiscing with Stereoscopes

When I was little
my grandparents 
had an old stereoscope  
and a stack of the photo cards
that they had collected. 

It was 
"not a toy"
my sweet grandmother would tell us 
and on certain occasions
"when we were good"
(and our grubby little hands were clean)
we were allowed to sit
and look at the cards.

I LOVED looking at the cards!
It was so much fun to see
a photograph come alive
behind the magnifying lens
of the viewer.

For those of you who aren't familiar
with the stereoscope,
this magnifying viewer has two lens 
and a separator between the eyes.
Cards with two photographs slide into a
holder on an adjustable arm.
The images on the card appear
to be the same but they are not.
Each image is taken from a slightly
different angle.
The eyes see the photo and the brain
puts the two images together creating a 3-D effect.

Religious scenes of the life of Jesus.

Victorians could visit countries around the world, states from coast to coast,  scenes of romance and humor, religious stories from the Bible, and landscapes and snapshots
from every corner of the globe
without ever leaving their parlor armchair!

 These 3-D viewers were popular 
from the 1830's through the 1930's.
In 1861, Oliver Wendell Holmes designed the most
popular version of the viewer,
you can read more about that here.

I am not sure 
whatever became of my grandparents 
stereoscopic viewer
and its card decks. 

Scenes from American national parks.

When I started having children
I thought it would be fun to own
a couple stereoscopic viewers
to share the same tradition with my kids.
(I wanted them to experience the simplicity of entertainment
during the period of life before TV and Gameboys!)

Old scenes of the earlier days in Chicago.

If you are from the Midwest,
you may have been to the Wisconsin Dells.
The Dells are now known 
as a vacation spot
specializing in themed water parks,
but the Dells were originally made famous 
by images taken of 
the gorgeous sandstone cliffs 
 along the Wisconsin River
made known by stereoscopic cards.

A man named H.H. Bennett,

 was a photographer 
who specialized in landscapes,
 and he began capturing 
the gorgeous sandstone rock formations
along a seven mile stretch 
of the Wisconsin River in 1868. 

He took his images and had them  
inserted into the widely popular card decks
 that were sold in catalogs with the viewers.

Up until that time, 

the Dells were virtually unknown
but once the cards got out, tens of thousands
of visitors wanted to visit 
the beautiful glacier-made 
landscapes they had seen on the cards. 
As a result, hotels and accommodations 
started popping up and a train line 
was built to bring the
visitors to the area.

H.H. Bennett with his camera on the shore of the Wisconsin River at Sugar Bowl geological formation, WHS Image ID 8264.
Photo courtesy of the H.H. Bennett collection.

My family and I visited this area 
about 9 or 10 years ago 
and when we stopped by the museum
and realized that the booming tourist spot
was put on the map 
by stereoscopic cards 
well, that was just the best story ever!

Ever since then, 
I have been trying to get these 
Wisconsin Dells cards and have found just a few. 
Hard to come by.

Photo by H.H. Bennett

Sentimental collecting.


I found an entire boxed set of Rome and the Vatican City and the arts of the area. Gorgeous images.

Do you have a stereoscope? 

Have you been to the Dells?

Butt wait --- there's MORE. These two cards showing babies
who seem to have lost their diapers always used to CRACK my two kids up!


Salmagundi said...

I have my grandparent's stereoscope and cards, plus we have collected more cards along the way. My kids and grandkids always found them fun (when their little hands were clean!!). Sally

Karen said...

What a great introduction to these wonderful inventions of the past. I don't think any of our family owned a stereoscope. I don't think I've ever looked through one. Wouldn't it have been great to be able to receive you're grandparent's set?!
Such a fun post.

Sarah said...

Alison, enjoyed this informative post. I don't have a stereoscope, not did I know much about them. Thanks for sharing this fun interest of yours. What fun to share this tradition with your family.
Happy Mother's Day!

Vicki Daugherty said...

One set of my grandparents had a viewer and set of cards, but who knows what happened to them. And yes, I did know about the Dells but not about their cards. Great remembering, thanks. Vicki in Louisville KY

Pamela Gordon said...

My mother had one of these at home when we were young. I remember looking at the few cards she had but don't remember the scenes. These are wonderful cards you've shared today and the ones of The Dells are so neat. I wonder if that man got across that space between the two formations! He's up pretty high. Oh my. I guess humans have always been risk takers. :) We had an old viewfinder with photo wheels. I guess they were the 'modern' version of the stereoscope. Enjoy your weekend.

Connie said...

I remember that my first grade teacher had one (1949-1950). All the kids were amazed by it. I'd love to see one again.

Dee Lapin said...

Happy Mother's Day Alison!

I have not come across a stereoscope.

Elizabeth and Gary said...

Hi Alison,
I love your post! what fun information. I have never looked into a stereoscope, only seen them in the movies. What a treat it must have been for you as a child.
Have a sweet day, Elizabeth

Pura Vida said...

great memories for me too!

Shirley@Housepitality Designs said...

I have an old wood stereoscope...was always fascinated by those "pre View Masters"....I love your cards and the one with the man jumping from one rock to another is amazing!...Who would have thought that those cards were also great advertising for places like the Wisconsin Dells...glad you have such sweet memories of them!

Shenita @ Embellishments by SLR said...

Alison, what an informative post! We lived in Milwaukee for a couple of years. I never knew this about the Dells! How interesting!

Town and Country Gals said...

loved seeing the card photos you showed. one of the dealers in my old store brought one in with a set of cards it was fun looking thru it, I was sad that I didn't grab it up! Lived in Green Bay WI for 3 years but never made it to the dells.

Bill Barber said...

Just got back on your blog. Feed burner issues. We have my Aunt's stereoscope with 44 cards. Many were of the Cincinnati area where she lived. Funnily enough I just saw one on OKL. . I like to show mine with a Victorian hand or coin operated music box with several dozen metal records. I have to keep the crank put away when the grands are here. Neat site, thanks.