Stereoscope Artifact Highlight #44

This hand-held stereoscope was donated to our collection in 1949. It is made of wood and consists of an eye hood with two glass square lenses, a cardholder carrier with two wire holders on a focus adjustment slide that allowed individual adjustments for viewing distance, and a foldable wooden handle with a brass hinge.

The edge of the viewer box is lined with a thin strip of maroon velvet. The back of the stereoscope has a stamped label: The Saturnscope, James M. Davis, 21 Washington Place, N.Y., U.S.A., Sole Agent, Patented 1895-U.S.A., Canada, France, Great Britain, Germany, Austria, and Belgium.

The stereoscope is an optical device used to view photographs of the same scene taken from a slightly different angle, called stereographs. The stereographs were photographed by a stereo camera with twin lenses that would take two nearly identical images. They were mounted on cardboard and when viewed side by side through the lenses of the stereoscope, the images would appear three-dimensional.

The human eyes are set about two-and-a-half inches apart, and since the images were slightly different, each eye would also see them differently, recreating an illusion of depth. The stereographs were often sold in sets and included brief captions.

They depicted many subjects, including travel, museums, military scenes and animals. Viewing and collecting stereographs was a common activity that was used for both entertainment and educational purposes for almost a century and was most popular between the 1870s and the 1920s.

The Sacramento Bee April 15 1872

Background Image: Stereoscopic camera

Stereoscopes came in a variety of styles and designs. The Saturnscope represents the most popular version made at the end of the 19th century and sold by James M. Davis. Davis was a photographer and stereograph distributor who worked for Kilburn Brothers, Underwood & Underwood and the Keystone View Company, which by 1905 became the world's largest stereographic company with millions of negatives in its collection.

The stereoscope was donated by Grace Smith of Grass Valley.

Background Image: The National Tribune November 7, 1907.