OLD! IN 3-D!

I don’t know how you feel about it, but it’s major jargon in one of the worlds of collectibles I visit. We have been given a stereoscope and a goodly collection of stereo cards to go with it, though we will be selling them separately. I have been reproved for calling them a stereopticon and stereopticon slides. A stereopticon projected light through the slides to put the 3-D image on a wall or screen, while the thing you hold up to your nose is a stereoscope. Do we have that straight now?

For those of you without the vaguest idea what I’m talking about, our ancestors were fascinated by visual special effects even before the movies came along. One thing they learned was that taking two pictures of the same thing, from very slightly different angles, and viewing them at just the right distance through a pair of lenses, would produce a single image with a three-dimensional effect. For a while in the 19th century this became the rage, and it was a pretty poor parlor that didn’t have a viewer, handheld or table-mounted, and a variety of landscapes, architectural wonders, and anything else that would impress people in 3-D.

I have had two collections of stereocards, and they are a mixed bag. We do have the tourist wonders, and we have the inspirational and educational cards. (We have about two-thirds of a Passion Play sequence which has to be the worst-developed, most clumsily hand-colored, badly designed…sorry. Forgot for a moment I was going to try to sell those. They are charming in their crude, earnest naivete.) We have a card of a statue from the 1876 Centennial World’s Fair in Philadelphia, and we have some tourists riding mules to Nevada Falls.

But the ones that I like best are the ones with people. A group of hapless children poses in uniform as our brave boys heading off to Manila (dating the card to the Spanish-American War). There are three pictures out of a dramatic sequence where a young wife kisses her soldier husband goodbye, faints on reading he has been killed, and rushes to him as he shows up after all, with his arm in a sling. We have good old-fashioned jokes: mustard plaster humor, courting couples in the parlor, husbands thrown out of the house by irate wives (“Why, Dad, you seem put out!”) And there is a fine old picture called “A Texas Train Robber Holding Up a Train”. He is walking down a railroad track with his gun pointed at the woman ahead of him as he lifts her skirt in back… holding up her train, see? Ah, they don’t write ‘em like that no more.

These will all be at the Collector’s table, at least until they sell. You can look at them even if you insist on calling them stereopticon slides. If we’re selling jokes like some of these, we can’t be too paticular. 

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