This past weekend, I attended a nice event at the Salem Athenaeum for Salem collector Nelson Dionne’s new book Salem in Stereo. Victorian Salem in 3D. It’s a gorgeous little book, full of Salem stereo views which one can peruse with the included prismatic viewer. We did just that, as Mr. Dionne regaled us with tales from his lifetime of collecting and plans for future projects. The book was published by HARDY HOUSE Publishing of Salem, and is available at their website.
So many stereo view cards survive, that America must have been “stereoscopic nation” in the later nineteenth century–and after. The steady improvement of viewers after the invention of the new technology in the 1830s enabled everyday Americans to build stereo view collections for the purposes of both entertainment and education. One could travel the world through the lenses of a stereoscope, and there are lots of charming “parlor stereographs” showing people doing just that.
The Holmes viewer and a stereoscopic shop, both 1870s, and a stereograph advertisement for the Underwood & Underwood Patent Extension Cabinet, 1902, all Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division.
Big events and city scenes, like those included in collections such as that of the Salem shopkeepers Guy & Brothers, definitely comprised a majority of published stereographic offerings, but consumers clearly wanted more whimsical and domestic scenes as well: weddings, domestic scenes (staged and otherwise), picnics, children and pets (just like videos today). For some reason, sleeping children and cats were particularly popular, but you can find virtually anything by accessing the Robert N. Dennis Collection of Stereoscopic Views (over 72,000 images) at either the New York Public Library Digital Gallery or the Library of Congress.
Folder for Guy & Brothers Stereo View Collection and Whipple & Smith’s view of Winter Street in 1873 above; the “light keeper’s daughter”, Charlestown, Massachusetts, and sleeping children and cats cards below, along with a lone cat on a tree stump, somewhere in the Adirondacks in 1915.