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vintage stereoscope, a wooden device a person held to the eyes to view two pictures side-by-side for a three-dimensional effect

Seeing Double: Stereographs in the Nineteenth Century

By Regina Scott

Meg Pero, the heroine of A Distance Too Grand, Book 1 in the American Wonders Collection, is an expert photographer, specializing in stereographic views. These were two pictures, slightly offset, printed side by side on a rectangle of cardboard. You slipped them into a stereoscope and peered through the lens--wow! A three-dimensional picture!

Stereographs were hugely popular. At the peak of the craze, a sought-after stereograph card might be printed and sold more than 100,000 times!

Naturally, photographers were keen to have one of their images used. But a stereograph required careful composition. In the early years, a photographer would shoot two pictures, one slightly offset from the other. By the middle of the nineteenth century, camera makers had devised a stereographic camera-one shot, two offset pictures.

Here are a few examples:

Meg and her father before her specialized in landscapes and famous buildings, like these.

side-by-side picture of an orchard overlooking the Hudson River, with a hill on the other side

side-by-side picture of a suspension bridge with high stone towers at either side spanning a river

side-by-side picture of a city with a column-fronted statehouse high on a hill

But they might have shot pictures of people and animals as well.

side-by-side picture of a cowboy mounted on a horse and watching a herd of cattle

side-by-side picture of a dogs hitched to a dogsled in a snowy camp

Want more information on early photography and stereographs? Try A Distance Too Grand.