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The “Mercury” Stereoscope is a Holmes system stereoscopic viewer for stereoscopic photographs, with a single 7 x 7 cm image, produced in 1900–1920 by Underwood & Underwood from New York (USA).
One of the simplest designs of stereoscopic viewers was the “open” viewer system, invented by Oliver Wendell Holmes in 1861. This was an extremely simple design, equipped with an eyepiece with lenses, including an appropriately curved wooden or metal sun visor. The Underwood & Underwood Company sold millions of stereoscopic photos, thanks to this very cheap production model of the viewer.

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The “Mercury” Stereoscope is a Holmes system stereoscopic viewer for stereoscopic photographs, with a single 7 x 7 cm image, produced in 1900–1920 by Underwood & Underwood from New York (USA).
One of the simplest designs of stereoscopic viewers was the “open” viewer system, invented by Oliver Wendell Holmes in 1861. This was an extremely simple design, equipped with an eyepiece with lenses, including an appropriately curved wooden or metal sun visor. The Underwood & Underwood Company sold millions of stereoscopic photos, thanks to this very cheap production model of the viewer. The viewer’s construction consists of a long slat made of wood, covered with a colourless varnish, on which the handle for stereoscopic photography moves. The slat is attached to the eyepiece with an aluminium sunshade, with edges covered with maroon velvet. On the upper surface, the floral ornamentation is engraved with the manufacturer’s logo, in the form of a globe with the surrounding inscription: “THE«MERCURY» STEREOSKOPE / TRADE MARK.” The lenses are mounted in aluminium round frames, attached to an oval wooden shield.


Elaborated by Marek Maszczak (Museum of Photography in Kraków), © all rights reserved

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How was the three-dimensional effect obtained in the 19th century?

Stereoscopic photography was the first three-dimensional photography in history. It developed after 1851. Then, it was demonstrated for the first time at the London World Exposition, where spatial photographs aroused the delight of Queen Victoria. From that time on, stereoscopic photography became the entertainment of the bourgeoisie, and it was not until the 1930s — when fascination with film and radio began — that stereoscopy was reduced to the role of a children’s toy.

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Stereoscopic photography was the first three-dimensional photography in history. It developed after 1851. Then, it was demonstrated for the first time at the London World Exposition, where spatial photographs aroused the delight of Queen Victoria. From that time on, stereoscopic photography became the entertainment of the bourgeoisie, and it was not until the 1930s — when fascination with film and radio began — that stereoscopy was reduced to the role of a children’s toy. An optical instrument is used for viewing images in stereoscopy: a stereoscope. Stereoscopic photography consists of two photographs of the same object, made from different points of view. The viewer — looking through the stereoscope — gets the impression of the spatiality and three-dimensionality of the scene being viewed. Stereoscopy is one of the imaging techniques reflecting the impression of spatial vision and the depth of the image under observation. Today, stereoscopy is a 3D technique, obtaining images by reproducing the binocular visual effect, which gives the impression of depth. They are obtained by creating anaglyph paintings. The anaglyph method has gained popularity thanks to computer processing.
Stereoscopy requires the delivery of two images seen from the perspective of both the left and right eye to the brain. For this purpose, a pair of two-dimensional images (stereo pairs) are registered, representing the object or scene from two points of view, spaced as far apart from one another as the observer’s eyes. The images differ according to the angle of view of the objects concerned.
What is the history of this technique? An Italian physicist, Giambattista Della Porta (1538–1615), wrote about creating the illusion of spatial vision in 1593. His work was forgotten; it was not until 1838 that an English physicist, Sir Charles Wheatstone, built a camera for viewing spatial images and named it a stereoscope (it was a reflective stereoscope). He ordered a few pairs of photos (talbotypes) from William H. Fox Talbot. Ten years later, David Brewster improved Wheatstone’s idea. A pair of photos was made with a camera with two lenses, and it amazed everybody with its naturalistic projection of space. The photographs were presented, as already mentioned, in 1851. In 1861, the American, Oliver Wendel Holmes, constructed a light stereoscope. He did not patent his design, which spread greatly. The development of stereoscopic photography began when — in 1871 — dry glass plates with a gelatine emulsion were invented, which were sensitive and liberated photographers from the proximity to their photographic darkrooms. In the 19th century, mass-produced copies of stereoscopic images began to enter the market. Walery Rzewuski soon applied the new technique in his photographic atelier.

See also: 
The “Mercury” Stereoscope viewer by Underwood & Underwood, Stereoscopic camera by Heinrich Ernemann A.G. Company and Duchessa Stereo — stereoscopic camera by Contessa Nettel A.G. Company.

Elaborated by Małgorzata Kanikuła (Museum of Photography in Kraków), © all rights reserved

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The third dimension of the 19th century

19th century inventors sought for a method to render three-dimensionality of space; stereoscopic photography was one of such attempts. The technique consisted in taking two photographs from two various points of view. A print included two seemingly identical pictures...

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19th century inventors sought for a method to render three-dimensionality of space; stereoscopic photography was one of such attempts. The technique consisted in taking two photographs from two various points of view. A print included two seemingly identical pictures placed side by side (although one could sometimes find subtle differences between them). One could perceive the 3D effect by looking at the photograph taken on the right-hand side with their right eye and at the photograph on the left with their left eye.
A complete spatial illusion could be enjoyed only with a special tool – stereoscopic glasses, quite like today’s 3D glasses.
In the 2nd half of the 19th century, stereoscopes became so popular that they were a typical accessory in salons and one of the most popular forms of entertainment.

Kaiserpanorama of August Fuhrmann (fotoplastikon), 1880, source: wikipedia.orgCC-BY 3.0 PL

Additionally, a way to enjoy those 3D images outside the home during daily walks was possible. Squares and parks came to host kaiserpanoramas, windows to the world for many inhabitants (they showed not only the panoramas of nearby places but also distant and exotic ones, an example of which is a document from the opening of the Suez Canal).
You can see the magic of those facilities. Each of them usually included 25 stations. The exhibition at the Oskar Schindler’s Emalia Factory under the Historical Museum of the City of Kraków showed a kaiserpanorama brought from Kraków’s Szczepański Square. A similar device with a collection of 5,000 original stereoscopic photographs is available to visitors in Warsaw (Warsaw Fotoplastikon at 51 Aleje Jerozolimskie).

The collection from Małopolska’s Virtual Museums also includes a stereoscopic photograph – the print
showing Jordan’s Park was made in Walery Rzewuski’s Kraków studio, quite famous in the late 19th century.

Elaborated by Anna Berestecka (Editorial team of Małopolska’s Virtual Museums),
Licencja Creative Commons

 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License.

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The “Mercury” Stereoscope viewer by Underwood & Underwood

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