What to do with my Stereoviews?

I’ve been a collector of sorts for much of my life but I never collected historic photographic images until I started this blog: I quickly realized their power to tell stories and provide context in this, our digital age. So I started buying some Salem images, mostly stereoviews, which were produced in vast quantities in the later nineteenth century. There were about six or seven major publishers of stereoviews here in Salem at that time, but I’ve focused almost all my collecting efforts on images associated with Frank Cousins, as either photographer or publisher. I just completed my collection of his sentimental “Salem in 1876” views, encompassing nearly every corner of central Salem. Now I’ve got a (shoe) box of stereoviews and I’m not quite sure what to do with them.


Stereoviews 2

Steroview Chestnut Street Cousins

Frank Cousins published views taken both up and down Chestnut Street and all over the city, documenting “Salem in 1876”.

Stereoviews are relatively easy to acquire, especially of a city like Salem which has been selling its image, in one way or another, for quite some time. They turn up online very frequently and I always find them at the larger flea markets and paper shows. My collection is pretty focused on Cousins, but it also has a few views that I have never seen anywhere else, including a great (though completely unattributed and undated) view of Front Street from Washington Street and a rather unusual (forested!) view of the South Church that stood across Chestnut Street from my house for nearly a century. This McIntire masterpiece burned down in 1803: I’m trying to gather as many images of it so I can glean its impact from every possible perspective. My verdant view is contrasted with a more typical image of the church, from the best source for digitized stereoviews: the Robert N. Dennis Collection of Stereoscopic Views at the New York Public Library (where you can make “stereogranimators”).

Stereoview Front Street Salem

Stereoview Second Church Tilton

Stereo South Church Salem NYPL

(Stereo)view of Front Street, ?date, ?photographer); the South Church on Chestnut by Peabody & Tilton, c. 1875 and Guy & Brothers, c. 1884, Dennis Collection, New York Public Library.

Obviously I have a predilection for streetscapes but I like some (not all; some are creepy) of the more intimate, “up close and personal” stereoviews too. I’ve seen quite a few of people just standing outside their houses, being captured for posterity. A double dose of daily life. I love this image of a Salem Willows summer cottage with its residents, all ready for summer. This is not mine, unfortunately, but from another great source of stereoviews: the Center for Lowell History at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell Libraries.

Stereoview Juniper Point UMASS Lowell SP

“View at Juniper Point, Salem Neck, Mass.”, n.d., Center for Lowell History at the University of Massachusetts Lowell Libraries (the original Willows cottages were built for Lowell residents who wanted to summer on the coast).

So again, what to do with those stereoviews that I do possess? Ultimately I will leave them all to the Salem State University Library’s Archives and Special Collections, because what Salem needs is a Center for Salem History there, as the Peabody Essex Museum ceased its historical-society function long ago. But in the meantime, I’d like to find a more clever and creative way to preserve and display them. I’d like to get them out of the box! I guess I could frame them in some interesting combinations and create a gallery wall, but that’s about the extent of my creativity. Brass floating frames? Display them with a special “twinscope” at hand like this cool exhibit from just last year, Syracuse in 3-D (1860-1910)? I’m open to suggestions, because I do think there is something very engaging–both aesthetically and historically– about images in multiples. As evidence, I give you this beautiful invitation to the Pickering House’s annual garden party by Salem artist Racket Shreve, paired with Cousins’ stereoview, of course.


Stereo Pickering

Stereoview Pickering House Cousins 1876

Scene from the interactive “Syracuse in 3-D” exhibit by Colleen Woolpert (+ more here); Racket Shreve’s quatre-Pickering House invitation; Frank Cousins’ “Salem in 1876” stereoview of the Pickering House.

15 responses to “What to do with my Stereoviews?

  • Brian Bixby

    Does Salem have a historical museum that would be interested in displaying them? Or even an art gallery? These images are, after all, a form of art. For that matter, my partner has occasionally hung her art work in restaurants and other venues one doesn’t typically think of, even though one sees art hanging in them. Why not a display of several stereoviews organized on a theme that brings out their historical value as well as demonstrates why and how they work?

    • daseger

      Not really, Brian. Salem needs a collecting, interpreting, exhibiting Historical Society/Museum badly. Before it was merged into the Peabody Essex Museum, the old Essex Institute fulfilled these roles. Now there are a few organizations that are trying to do things, but none has the bandwidth needed. My model is the Concord Museum–that’s what we should have here, but we don’t. Instead, of course, we have the Witch “Museum”.

      • Brian Bixby

        And the Witch Museum is not to your purpose at all; point taken. Hmmm . . . keeping in mind I’m writing mostly in ignorance, but might this be a way to pull several of the more sympathetic organizations together, if matters of interest for each of them appear in your views? Forgive me if I’m just stating the obvious; I’m just brainstorming.

      • daseger

        I appreciate any and all brainstorming!: because there’s no historic society in Salem, there are quite a few organization trying, in various ways, to fill the void and I think it’s too confusing to try to pull them together (especially at this busy time in my life): consequently I am a bit more selfish in my quest for better ways to utilize my images…to the extent of, how can I better display them in my house? (Forget the public for now!)

  • Nelson Dionne

    For the past several years, I seem have become a one man
    Salem Historical Society. I have been collecting everything Salem for about 50 years .All things must change, sooner or later. a few years ago, I found myself with to many health problems and a massive amount of Salem history..
    The answer was to begin to “deaccess” . A fancy word which means I beat the wife calling for dumpsters History
    buff’s have no ide4a how disinterested in history the bulk of the people around us are. in any form of history..

    I had about 4,000 Salem postcards, from the 1880’sw to current, about 400 stereoviews, all manor of paper, etc.
    I also got began using my material or several books. inc. one on Salem Stereoview.

    My Salem paper collection is now a major part of Salem State University’s Archive & Special Collections. This way it is available for all to see & MOST IMportantly, be used by future generations of SSU students

    I’d love to see your collection, & have your views join the collection already there.. If yo a’re so inclined, you may want to donate the originals.. Call Susan Edwards, head archivist
    M – F , 9 to 4. Only by the gathering efforts of All WILL TODAY & YESTERDAY’s Salem history WILL BE AVAILABLE FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS A TO FOLLOW!

    I’ve had much enjoyment gathering Salem “junque”,, new & old. No the ‘ time for new blood to step up & Save today for tomorrow !

    I used one simple “ru8le” in Saving today’s trash; if the item was 50 years old would I think it was neat ?

    By large, what II gather is FREE.Don’t pass up Saving today
    All to many professionals saved NOTHING,from all of the many factories and commercial businesses that once made
    up- our city.



  • derrickjknight

    My late brother would have loved them. He had stared to make his own

  • ornesquare

    I’d like to see there be a historical society for Salem; her history is certainly deserving of it. It might be possible that the PEM would let one of it’s currently disused houses for such a spot; the Old Town Hall could be good for exhibitions and possibly the downstairs at Hamilton Hall. Who knows, maybe the East India Marine Society would be willing to help…

    • daseger

      Well, I’m with you, BUT there are already quite a few organizations claiming that status, and the coordination between all of them seems very challenging to me. It’s not just about exhibitions, it’s also about collections.

  • Alan Lord

    Hi Donna – For starters, I would replace the shoe box with a nicely done, custom box – or small cabinet – of, say, cherry, birdseye maple, or walnut, etc., etc. or even chestnut (chestnut would be a nice, appropriate touch for you, in particular). This would be placed in your parlor, along with a stereoscope, for all to enjoy. Take a look at Wikipedia’s page on stereoscopes. They have shots of several different styles of scopes that were used. Each of them have their own charm & vary in style, size, etc. & imagine that they are obtainable, with a bit of effort & money.

    I would also use acid-free index cards to separate the images for both quick reference & preservation.

    Naturally, the display box would have a brass plate with the inscription “Streets of Salem”.


    My suggestion for a new, more-appropriate museum would be for the city to “commandeer” the Walgreen’s store that sits in front of the newly-confirmed, witch-execution site. . . . . . . . lol.


  • Dan Dixey

    I’m curious to know if you have found a good way to display and share your stereoviews yet? I have struggled with the same issue for years. My collection is of Marblehead, although I do have some Salem stereoviews and glass negatives. I do an occasional presentation but only project one image when I show a card and of course lose the 3D effect. Passing them around a room with a stereoviewer isn’t practical and is not the best way to preserve the card quality. It would be nice if some software package would allow you to convert a scanned card to a red/blue image that could be viewed with the 3D glasses!

    • daseger

      Hi Dan, yes I’ve seen some of your images on various facebooks posts and they are great! Also on Histoypin–which I thought was going to take off more than it has. My stereoviews are still hanging around in boxes and baskets, I’m afraid. I would like to frame them creatively, but of course that won’t present the 3D effect. Eventually I’m just going to give them to the SSU archives.

      • Dan Dixey

        Thanks. I was also surprised that Historypin wasn’t more popular, it’s really a great idea! Good luck with your collection and thanks for sharing.

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