Stereoscopic Photographs

In 1838, the English scientist and inventor Sir Charles Wheatstone (1802-1875) had described the phenomena of binocular vision and designed apparatus which fused two separate drawings into a single three dimensional image. To describe this viewing instrument, Wheatstone coined the term "Stereoscope" (from the Greek words 'stereos' meaning "solid" and 'skopein' meaning "to look at") With the advent of photography, Wheatstone's reflecting stereoscope, which utilised mirrors, could be used to view a pair of almost identical photographs and give the illusion of depth.

Sir David Brewster (1781-1868), a Scottish physicist, designed a stereoscope that employed two lenses which mimicked binocular vision. Jules Duboscq (1817-1886) a Parisian optician constructed an improved stereoscope based on Brewster's design, which merged two photographs of the same subject to form a three-dimensional picture.

At the Great Exhibition of 1851, Queen Victoria was particularly impressed by Duboscq's stereoscope and the accompanying stereoscopic photographs. Queen Victoria's interest in the stereoscope signalled the start of a popular demand for stereoscope viewers and stereoscopic photographs. In 1856, Brewster reported over half a million of his stereoscopes had been sold.

A few stereoscopic talbotypes had been made for Wheatstone soon after the introduction of photography in 1839. In the early 1850s, however, most of the early stereoscopic photographs were daguerreotypes. Duboscq had displayed a set of his own stereoscopic daguerreotypes at the Great Exhibition of 1851. In 1853, Antoine Claudet patented a folding stereoscope which could view stereo daguerreotypes.

A couple of years after the Great Exhibition of 1851 stereoscopic photography arrived in Brighton. In 1853, Thomas Rowley, Optician to the Sussex and Brighton Eye Infirmary, was advertising his "superior selection of stereoscopes with Daguerreotype plates, Collodion and Photographic Pictures" which could be hired from his premises at 12 St James Street. In November 1853, Robert Farmer of the Daguerreotype Rooms, 59 North Street was offering to provide a "stereoscopic Portrait, with Stereoscope, 10s 6d, complete." Lewis Dixey, Optician and Dealer in Photographic Apparatus, announced in 1854 that he could supply "Stereoscopes & Stereoscopic subjects in Calotype, Daguerreotype & Collodion or Glass." George Ruff of 45 Queens Road, Brighton specialised in stereoscopic portraits in colour.

Stereo Cards

The reflective surface of a silvered copper plate was not ideal for stereoscopic effects and the process did not lend itself to the manufacture of large quantities of stereo pictures. With the advent of the collodion glass negative and photographic prints on albumenized paper in the mid 1850s, the mass production of stereo cards became possible.

The London Stereoscopic Company, founded in 1854 by George Swan Nottage, was a firm that specialized in the mass production of stereoscopic photographs. Nottage's company responded to the enormous demand for stereoscopes and stereo cards. By 1856, The London Stereoscopic Company had sold over 500,000 stereoscopes and had 10,000 titles in its trade list of stereo cards. Two years later, in 1858, The London Stereoscopic Company claimed to have 100,000 stereo cards in stock [ George Swan Nottage (1823-1885) had connections with Brighton. He owned property in the town and was a regular visitor to Brighton. At the time of the 1861 Census George Swan Nottage was residing at 15 Marine Parade, Brighton and when he died in April 1885, he had just returned from an Easter holiday at the seaside town.]

In 1857, The Brighton Stereoscopic Company based at 121 St James Street, near the Old Steine was selling stereoscopes from half a crown (2s 6d/121/2 p) and stereoscopic views were on sale at a shilling (1s/10 p) each.

The fashion for collecting and viewing stereoscopic photographs reached its peak in the early 1860s. In 1862 alone, The London Stereoscopic Company had sold a milliion stereoscopic views.

A wide variety of stereoscopic images could be purchased - views of faraway places, (Japan, The Andes) scenes of everyday life, anecdotal pictures, humorous tableaux scenes, 'still life' arrangements and pictures of life in town and country.In 1858, Samuel Fry, a photographic artist based at 79 Kings Road, Brighton,even produced a "Stereograph of the Moon"

Some of the stereoscopic views sold in Brighton were of purely local interest.

In March 1863, William Cornish junior of 109 Kings Road, Brighton was advertising a set of six stereoscopic photographs of a decorated railway shed. The 531 ft. long railway shed was used to house 7,000 school children who had gathered for a meal to celebrate the marriage of Edward, Prince of Wales and Princess Alexandra of Denmark. Stereoscopic views of the decorated railway shed could be purchased singly for one shilling (10 pence) or the customer could buy a complete set for 6 shillings

William Mason junior, the son of W.H.Mason, printseller and proprietor of the Repository of Arts in Brighton's Kings Road, photographed scenes featuring local craftspeople, such as basketmakers, and issued them as stereographic cards.

Stereocard of a Brighton Basketmaker by W H Mason junior (c1862)

More typically, the Brighton artist Edward Fox, who specialised in landscape photography, advertised "local views as stereoscopic slides." Familiar landmarks in Brighton, such as the Royal Chain Pier and the Royal Pavilion became popular subjects for stereo cards.Some of Edward Fox junior's stereoscopic slides featured particularly dramatic scenes. Fox's titles included " The Chain Pier During a Gale " and " Chain Pier by Moonlight".

Stereocard of the Chain Pier, Brighton c1870

CLICK HERE TO CONTINUE The Carte de Visite Format



Website last updated: 23 December, 2002


This website is dedicated to the memory of Arthur T. Gill (1915-1987), Sussex Photohistorian


Home Page, Directory of Photographic Studios, A-Z Index of Photographers, History of Photography in Brighton,
Dating Old Family Photographs, Victorian and Edwardian Brighton, Location of Brighton Studios, Glossary of Terms

Photographers' Biographies



Spartacus Educational Privacy Policy