TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Vintage Victorian Stereograph Cards on Rayela Art

Veiled Arab Woman Stereocard, Late 1800's

A local antique store here in Kentucky recently had a moving sale and I found a bunch of interesting stereo cards. For those of you who are not familiar with them, these cards were popular in the late 1800's and early 1900's until movies replaced them. The card has two images which, when viewed through a stereograph, becomes a 3d image.

"The Eskimo at Home" Stereogram

Conexion has a wonderful article on the history of the stereograph, from which I took the following excerpt:

"Between the 1840s and the 1920s, stereographs served as an important method of entertainment, education, and virtual travel—predecessors to contemporary forms of media such as television and movies. As Burke Long argues, “Mass-produced and relatively cheap, the integrated system of mechanical viewer and photographs became fashionable for classroom pedagogy, tourist mementos, and parlor travel to exotic places of the world” (90).

People viewed stereographs at homes, schools, and churches, gazing at images documenting almost every subject imaginable from
astronomy to zoology. According to stereograph collector and historian William Darrah, stereographs were used to teach millions of American children about geography, natural history, and a range of other subejcts (50). Many in the nineteenth century embraced photography as a medium that, unlike other arts such as painting, presented the “truth” through exact rendering of a scene.

Stereographs seemed even more real and more engaging by simulating three dimensions. Oliver Wendell Holmes called stereographs “sun sculptures” and commented, “All pictures in which perspective and light and shade are properly managed, have more or less the effect of solidity; but by this instrument that effect is so heightened as to produce an appearance of reality which cheats the senses with its seeming truth” (16)."

Hindu Fakirs, India, Antique Stereogram

I've always liked these images and look through them whenever I am in stores which carry them. Rarely do I find anything that I would seriously want to keep. But, these images interested me as they recorded ethnographic information regarding dress and lifestyle of a time gone by. I am always curious to see what kind of language was also used back then, especially regarding people from other countries or native Americans. The example below is of particular importance as it describes the Philippine villagers as insurgents:

Stereograph cards used many different types of viewers, but the most common were hand-held devices, similar to the one pictured below:

Stereoscopes and stereo cards have made a recent come-back. The photo above comes from a do-it-yourself tutorial by Dick Oakes on 3-d photography and there are plenty of other resources online.

Visit my Etsy store to see the cards and view more detailed information. I think they would look great framed!


  1. How interesting! They made wonderful pictures with great techniques back in 1900. Just saw a film about autochromes by Albert Kahn and the museum of his work. Amazing!

  2. Very interesting. Thanks for sharing this with us!

  3. Your blog is outstanding!

    Here is a photo of an old stereograph from Sandusky, Ohio:



“Sing like no one's listening, love like you've never been hurt, dance like nobody's watching, and live like it's heaven on earth.”

“Whatever you say, say it with conviction.”

(Both by the master, Mark Twain)

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