Thursday, October 29, 2009

Stereographs, View Masters and Slides, Oh My!

Independence Hall. Digital ID: G91F373_043ZF. New York Public Library
Independence Hall, Philadelphia Pennsylvania.  1865?-1880? From the Digital Collections of The New York Public Library

Why a stereograph, you might ask?

Well, I found this blog entry on The Movable Alphabet about "Teaching Children to Look and To Study:  A Lesson on How To Use a Slide Viewer".

Very inspiring.  Not for my Dews right now, but in the future.  It's never to early to teach your little ones how to look closely at things.  But here is where I was inspired.

My first thoughts on reading this entry was a ViewMaster.  Today's version of slides and a stereograph viewer.  There are tons of vintage ViewMaster Reels available online as well as in thrift stores (agh.  I knew I should have picked up those ones I saw a few weeks ago!)  There was a time when you could get ViewMaster reels at just about every tourist attraction in the world.

My next thought was how happy I am that I still have my parent's and grandparent's slide collections and hand viewer upstairs.  Some sets are complete, some are not.  Some are of outdoor camping trips, some are of family events (my parent's wedding, even!) and some are just random, out of order shots that at this point, no one even knows who is in them, where they were taken, or why.  But still fun, nonetheless.  Now I know what to do with them!

My next thought was about the stereograph viewer.  I think my parents had one.  I'm sure they don't still.  One more thing to put on my list of things to keep my eyes open for at flea markets, in thrift shops, on freecycle, or craigslist.

But, what if I can't find one?  Is the art of the Stereograph viewer lost to my kids?  Well, a quick Google search and there are plenty of articles on How To Make a Stereograph viewer (also known as a Stereoscope.)  Ok, neat!  A fun science project for the family.

The next problem ... the Images.  Not as easy to come by, I bet.  And then my Librarian mind began to turn.  When I used to work for the New York Public Library, they were just beginning their Digital Collection (and did I go to training after training on it ...)  I will, at some point, do a whole post on the amazing contents of the Digital Collection.  You can spend days and days just browsing.  And it's all Free.  But to the point.  They have a digital Stereograph collection that is over 42,000 images strong! (I just checked)

So here's my thinking.  Don't have a stereographic viewer and plates available?  Well, that's ok.  We now know that we can make a stereographic viewer.  And now we know that we can easily, and free of charge, download and print one of literally tens of thousands of images from a library more vast than one can imagine.  The tough part is choosing one.  Now, to be fair, these images are preserved exactly as the originals are, so some of them are faint, or perhaps in poor condition.  But with 42,000 to choose from, that's not such a big deal.  I'd say that the majority are black and white, but I did see a few colours in there, too.

Here's how to find them.

  1. Go to the New York Public Library's Digital Collection: 
  2.  Two options here.  You can Search "Stereographs", or you can go to Browse, select 'S' and work your way down the list to Stereographs.  Both yield the same results.
  3. You can then narrow down your search, if you like.  Once you browse through a bit and get a feel for how they are catagorized, it becomes easier.  You can add a state name and / or subject to the search box.  For example, I searched "stereographs philadelphia independence" to find a picture of Independence Hall in Philadelphia.  I got an image from the 1860's.  How much fun it would be to compare that to a photograph of today!
  4. You can print or download the images as you like.  A warning - do a print preview first to be sure it fits on your page.  My first attempt was in portrait mode and i only got about half of it.

I would also suggest printing out a few before making your own stereograph viewer, just to be sure that the dimensions of these images are correct for the viewer.  I do not know if they are printing out "life size", or how they compare to an real viewer card.   It would be great if they fit vintage viewers.  Anyone out there have one to compare it to? Leave me a comment!

So thank you to The Moveable Alphabet for inspiring me in this direction.  This will be fun (and likely my newest obsession...)


  1. Your welcome.

    Susan Dyer
    The Moveable Alphabet

  2. I saw your comment on the Movable Alphabet. Great post. Thank you! I will have to look into all of this and will definitely be posting a link here sometime in the future.