The Stereoscope

THE other day at brunch my older sister told me she had a box for me in her car. She didn’t say anything about the contents of the box other than to say they were “legacy” items. I waited until I got home to open it.

Inside, carefully wrapped, were my Welsh grandfather’s naturalization papers and a wedding certificate for my maternal grandparents. At the bottom of the box were two items wrapped in newspapers (modern, not historical, unfortunately). I was delighted to find a stereoscope and slides that I can remember looking at as a child about 60 years ago (see photo above—the stereoscope, not me).

There are two sets of slides and then six loose ones. The sets focus on courtship and marriage, and the story of Christ from his birth to the ascension. The slides are dated 1901 and 1905 respectively. (One slide is of a girl fishing, which I’ve inserted in the stereoscope in the photo above.)

It was not until I viewed a slide in the stereoscope that I realized the images were 3-D and very sharp. I had forgotten what they were like.

The 3-D effect was created by giving the reader two nearly identical photographs, processed in the brain as three dimensional. (I had to do some research to learn that.) Frankly, I thought the result was sharper than the 3-D commercials we watched with 3-D glasses during this year’s Super Bowl.

If I remember correctly, even in the early 1950s the stereoscope was something of a relic. I already had a Viewmaster (spelled different ways) in which the user inserted a round disc that contained the slides. Then you pressed down on a lever on the right side to advance the slides one by one in 3-D. That was certainly a lot more efficient than the stereoscope, which you had to put down to replace the slide.

By today’s standards, my stereoscope is an antique and the Viewmasters I’ve seen on eBay are labeled “vintage.” (What does that make me?)

Thanks to Google, I learned that View-Masters are sold today by Fisher Price and come in all kinds of shapes. Amazon sells a model it labels “classic” because it looks like the one I had as a child.

For some, it may be time to put away childish things. For me, it appears it’s time to rediscover them. Everything old is new again. What fun!


  1. Honestly, I never heard of a stereoscope before your blog. The moment I saw your image though I instantly thought "that reminds me of a viewmaster." I loved my viewmaster!

    I then decided to look online to see if viewmasters were still sold, sure enough they were. You know what else, they also sell on-line versions.

  2. Did you see the stereoscope on display at the photo exhibit in the history museum downtown? It, along with the whole exhibit, is quite interesting!