Forgot Password
Pentax Camera Forums Home
 

Reply
Show Printable Version Search this Thread
10-26-2022, 11:15 AM - 6 Likes   #1
Loyal Site Supporter
Loyal Site Supporter
ismaelg's Avatar

Join Date: Apr 2009
Location: Puerto Rico
Photos: Gallery
Posts: 2,603
Late 19th Century Stereoscope: Virtual reality from 125 years ago

Hello,

I will eventually x-post this into the View Master thread but I want to share this separately.

Copyrighted text from my own research

Here is a very brief, condensed and high level summary of almost 200 years of history:

Stereoscopy, the art and science of 3D visualization, is often said to be as old as photography itself. In fact, it is actually older. A few years before Daguerre announced his photographic process in the late 1830s, English scientist Sir Charles Wheatstone worked in a device with 45 degrees angled mirrors and drawings to study the depth perception of binocular vision in humans, demonstrating how each eye sees a slightly different angle of the same object and the brain combines that to create the perception of depth. Around the same period, David Brewster worked with adding lenses to a simple wooden stereoscope invented earlier for a similar effect of producing the sense of depth into drawings. Both Wheatstone and Brewster had a controversial rivalry as to who invented the "lenticular" stereoscope. To this day, the controversy is still the subject of studies by historians and experts. From what I have researched, experts agree Wheatstone did it first, but Brewster is credited with the practical application and popularization of stereoscopy as a media. This lenticular device made for a more convenient and easier process of stereoscopy. Different variations appeared but all following the same base concept: A pair of images of a subject from a slightly different angle and a device to isolate what each eye sees. Combined with the invention of photography, stereoscopy became massively popular in the mid 19th Century and quickly spreading all over the world. Early on, the device itself was referred to as "stereoscope" and the pair of images was called "a stereograph".
Around 1860, American Doctor Oliver Wendell Homes, who was also a passionate photography hobbyist, developed a simpler and more economical device that brought stereoscopy to the general public masses. He did not patent it but instead published it to the general public. This device became known as the Holmes-style stereoscope and became very popular up to the early 20th century. Different companies produced Holmes-type devices and the popularity of the industry grew tremendously with thousands of stereographs available. Throughout the years, several refinements were introduced and patented.
Brothers Bert and Elmer Underwood founded the Underwood and Underwood company in Kansas in the early 1880s. They started selling and distributing stereoscopes and stereographs. The company grew and moved to New York around 1891. They became very successful and eventually started producing their own products, becoming one of the largest stereograph publishers in the world. They also manufactured their own versions of the Holmes style stereoscope. By the dawn of the 20th century, they were printing over 25,000 stereographs per day. By the early 1920s the company had diversified to other markets and stopped the stereography business. It is estimated they had produced over 40,000 titles of stereographs.
Companies like Tru-Vue and later View Master continued to innovate in the field. Eventually View-Master dominated the entertainment aspect of the stereoscopy market throughout the 20th century along dozens of smaller players.
The popularity of stereoscopy as entertainment waned down in the late 20th and early 21st centuries but continues to be vital today in the industrial and medical fields. New technological advances like digital 3D movies and Virtual Reality are making a comeback in the entertainment industry. Today's Virtual Reality is the evolution of the concept, but it is still based on Wheatstone's principles from 1838.

My specimen:
Like millions of others, I was introduced to stereoscopy by the View Master in my childhood during the 1970s. In recent years I've been interested in the history of the topic and the evolution of the devices themselves.
This particular unit caught my attention and I ended up buying it online VERY cheap. It is an Holmes-type Underwood and Underwood stereoscope with an original Underwood and Underwood card from 1897. Very popular and common at the turn of the 20th century. The viewer is made from non magnetic lightweight metal (pewter? tin? aluminum?) and wood. Keep reading for a manufacturing date estimate below.









There is some information hidden underneath here.



The unit is in fair condition, but the card holder is unlike any other I've ever seen. I restored, or more accurately, refreshed the unit while researching this card holder. I have concluded that this is not original, but rather a replacement. Most likely a one off. The wood used in this holder is kind of similar to the base unit. I wonder if this was made with parts from the original card holder. Maybe the original holder broke or something and this was created to salvage it. Who knows? If only it could talk! Brass was hand formed to hold the card. Whoever did this, did a rather fine job as it looks quite convincing at first. I wonder if more of these holders exist, but I haven't found any other yet in my mostly online research.




Admit it, you would be disappointed without this picture A bit more disassembly was done after this pic was taken.


125 years old screws. Can you tell which one has already been restored and which one is still untouched?


Since I'm not really sure what metal this is, I'll carefully test cleanup in this area first


The end result:




I love shiny brass


Lenses are astonishingly perfect!


From a time where quality and beauty were important




Now for the manufacturing date research:

Patented June 14th 1881!!!
Now this doesn't mean it is from that date. We can only conclude it was after.

By the way, since I'm not normal I dived into the US Patent Office public web site and found over 800 patents granted that day. Went one by one and found THE one:

This patent is basically for the folding handle.

Continuing with the date research:

WARRANTED
UNDERWOOD & UNDERWOOD
MANUFACTURERS
NEW YORK
PATENT APPLIED FOR

We know they moved to New York in 1891. So this unit was made after that move. More important: "PATENT APPLIED FOR". In June 1901 they received a patent for this stereoscope. I have found units with updated engraving that says "Patented June 11 1901"
This means this was made before that date. Now we have a 10 year window: This unit was made between 1891 and 1901. I'd call it 1896 +/- 5
This unit is between 121 and 131 years old at the moment of this writing! (Oct, 2022)

And a final picture of it been escorted by 2 Great-Great-Great Grandsons:
Blue View Master Model L and purple Fisher Price Virtual View Master, one of the last variations.


By the way, the image looks GREAT! There is something very unique about a monochrome 3D image. You have to experience it!


I hope you enjoy and approve.

Thanks,
Ismael

10-26-2022, 03:58 PM - 1 Like   #2
Loyal Site Supporter
Loyal Site Supporter




Join Date: Nov 2015
Photos: Albums
Posts: 3,498
Wasn't aluminum super expensive back then?
Like "we make jewelry out of it" expensive?

Maybe not... Wikipedia says it got a lot cheaper in 1886 when a new method for making was invented...
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hall–Héroult_process
So this could be one of the earliest uses of commercial "low cost" aluminum

-Eric
10-26-2022, 05:42 PM - 1 Like   #3
Site Supporter
Site Supporter
ramseybuckeye's Avatar

Join Date: Apr 2009
Location: Hampstead, NC
Photos: Gallery
Posts: 15,905
As usual you have done excellent restoration work, and excellent historical research. I always enjoy your writings, I'll have to get back and see if I may have missed a few with having less time in the last couple of months.

Yours is very much if not identical to one I remember seeing at an Aunt and Uncle's house back in the (probably) early seventies or late sixties. I only saw it once but it was fascinating to see that after having seen only plastic Viewmasters up to that time. I had been totally unaware that technology had existed that long. I recall my Aunt and Uncle also had a lot of old 78 RPM recordings.

Keep up the great work!
10-26-2022, 06:51 PM   #4
Site Supporter
Site Supporter




Join Date: Jun 2008
Location: Idaho
Photos: Gallery
Posts: 1,949
Not only beautiful restoration but a really excellent photographic presentation of the components and construction of the stereoscope! Really great to see how one of these was manufactured and wonderful it ended up in your deserving hands.

10-26-2022, 08:28 PM   #5
Site Supporter
Site Supporter
arnold's Avatar

Join Date: Aug 2012
Location: Queensland
Photos: Gallery | Albums
Posts: 4,189
Most interesting. Are the pictures for each eye identical, or from a different angle? In the real world, each eye sees from a different angle giving a slightly different picture, but here each eye is seeing straight on. How does that give stereo vision?
10-26-2022, 09:10 PM - 1 Like   #6
Loyal Site Supporter
Loyal Site Supporter
ismaelg's Avatar

Join Date: Apr 2009
Location: Puerto Rico
Photos: Gallery
Posts: 2,603
Original Poster
Thank you all!

QuoteOriginally posted by arnold Quote
Most interesting. Are the pictures for each eye identical, or from a different angle? In the real world, each eye sees from a different angle giving a slightly different picture, but here each eye is seeing straight on. How does that give stereo vision?
Hi Arnold, both images are slightly different, taken about 2 1/2 inches apart (65mm) which is the average separation of the human eyes. The scope lenses have an angle. My understanding is that combined with the magnification, it recreates the same effect as ever so slightly crossing your eyes to converge both images, compensating for the short distance to the card.
I'm not sure if anybody did it before, but Sawyer's (View Master) experimented heavily in the 1950s with perspective and different left to right distances between the stereo shots and their effect on the final results. While shooting smaller objects like fairy tale table scale models, they used smaller distances between left and right eye views and small movements of the subject to control the perspective and the relative apparent size of the items. They also used single camera/lens setups mounted on racks not only to control the distance between left and right shots, but also to make sure both shots were taken with the same setup to avoid any variation. Of course that only works if the subject has absolutely no movement. Even for landscapes it could be a challenge so for outdoors, twin lens setups were commonly used.


*EDIT* Here is a pic of the card itself


Thanks,
Ismael
10-27-2022, 06:32 PM   #7
Site Supporter
Site Supporter
arnold's Avatar

Join Date: Aug 2012
Location: Queensland
Photos: Gallery | Albums
Posts: 4,189
QuoteOriginally posted by ismaelg Quote
Hi Arnold, both images are slightly different, taken about 2 1/2 inches apart (65mm) which is the average separation of the human eyes. The scope lenses have an angle. My understanding is that combined with the magnification, it recreates the same effect as ever so slightly crossing your eyes to converge both images, compensating for the short distance to the card.
I'm not sure if anybody did it before, but Sawyer's (View Master) experimented heavily in the 1950s with perspective and different left to right distances between the stereo shots and their effect on the final results. While shooting smaller objects like fairy tale table scale models, they used smaller distances between left and right eye views and small movements of the subject to control the perspective and the relative apparent size of the items. They also used single camera/lens setups mounted on racks not only to control the distance between left and right shots, but also to make sure both shots were taken with the same setup to avoid any variation. Of course that only works if the subject has absolutely no movement. Even for landscapes it could be a challenge so for outdoors, twin lens setups were commonly used.
Ah, so they are different pictures. I suppose with artwork, they also take photos from a position 2/12 inches apart. Amazing that a couple of inches is enough to give us depth vision. Thanks for the explanation.

10-28-2022, 05:38 AM - 1 Like   #8
Pentaxian
titrisol's Avatar

Join Date: Dec 2007
Location: In the most populated state... state of denial
Photos: Gallery | Albums
Posts: 1,576
I have a glass plate camera that does that. Verascope by Jules Richard
I got one to try and emuilate the pictures my grandfather took about 100yrs ago. He had a stereo ICA (Zeiss) Polyscop camera which I havent found at a resonable price.

My dad rescued negatives and plates from my grandma's when she was moving to a smaller house and we used to watch those through a visor similar to a viewmaster.
I digitized that collection a couple of years ago and found very interesting pictures.


Verascope
This one uses 45x107mm glass plates in a 10 plate cartridge

Last edited by titrisol; 11-08-2022 at 05:04 PM. Reason: better picture
Reply

Bookmarks
  • Submit Thread to Facebook Facebook
  • Submit Thread to Twitter Twitter
  • Submit Thread to Digg Digg
Tags - Make this thread easier to find by adding keywords to it!
camera, century, date, device, holder, patent, stereoscopy, unit, vintage
Thread Tools Search this Thread
Search this Thread:

Advanced Search


Similar Threads
Thread Thread Starter Forum Replies Last Post
Kodak No 2 Bulls Eye camera of 1896! Yes, 1896 as in 19th Century ismaelg Vintage Cameras and Equipment 24 08-23-2022 03:04 PM
17th century and 21st century Fdooch Monthly Photo Contests 25 01-12-2022 07:04 PM
Virtual Reality Vacations? brewmaster15 General Talk 7 05-13-2017 06:42 AM
Landscape Mid 19th Century Ice House Kerrowdown Post Your Photos! 10 07-30-2016 11:49 AM
19th Century Headstone-01 StevenVH Photo Critique 15 04-08-2009 03:10 PM



All times are GMT -7. The time now is 07:04 AM. | See also: NikonForums.com, CanonForums.com part of our network of photo forums!
  • Red (Default)
  • Green
  • Gray
  • Dark
  • Dark Yellow
  • Dark Blue
  • Old Red
  • Old Green
  • Old Gray
  • Dial-Up Style
Hello! It's great to see you back on the forum! Have you considered joining the community?
register
Creating a FREE ACCOUNT takes under a minute, removes ads, and lets you post! [Dismiss]
Top