The first Stereoscope was made in 1832 by Sir Charles Wheatstone. They were very popular during 1850s in London and other parts of Europe. The London Stereoscopic Company with a motto ‘No home without a stereoscope’ sold an estimated 500000 stereoscopes in that decade alone.
The phenomenon of stereo, based on binocular vision, was observed as early as 280BCE. The fusion by the brain of two slightly dissimilar images as seen by our eyes into a single image creates a three dimensional view of the scene.
Even though Daguerreotypes and Calotypes were used initially on stereo cards, the cheap Albumen prints from the collodion process found their way to the stereo card immediately after their discovery in 1850 and remained there until 1910s. The stereo craze was photography’s biggest 19th century fad until it waned gradually at the turn of the century.
“Stereo pictures became a sensation because they provided affordable home entertainment. Their small size made them convenient to handle, and there was a magical quality to the illusion. No matter how often one looked at them, a sense of wonderment remained as two flat images came together and offered a visual sense of depth that transcended the physical size of the picture. Stereo cards made it possible to be amused, to travel, and to expand one’s knowledge without leaving home” – Robert Hirsch wrote in ‘Seizing the Light’ (2000)