Young America. The Daguerreotypes of Southworth & Hawes. George Eastman House International Center of Photography
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THE PARLOR STEREOSCOPE

Grand Parlor and Gallery
Stereoscope, ca. 1852.
George Eastman House Collection.
[Unidentified Bride], ca. 1850.
Gift of Alden Scott Boyer.
George Eastman House.

The British scientist Charles Wheatstone established the theory of binocular vision in 1838 when he demonstrated a reflecting stereoscope. It was not until 1851 that the principle began to be popularly applied to photography in Europe. Southworth and Hawes believed that “a new era” in photography was opening and decided to lead it. Their studio advertisement of 1853 announced:

photo of Albert S. Southworth
Grand Parlor and Gallery Stereoscope Season Ticket (recto), Southworth & Hawes Manuscript Collection, Richard and Ronay Menschel Library, George Eastman House.

Messrs. Southworth & Hawes undertook, in earnest, to inventan apparatus which should be susceptible of an indefinite increase in the size of the pictures, and the number to be contained in the instrument; and vary or change the views readily at the option of the beholder. After six months’ constant labor, without allowing themselves a day of recreation, they most successfully accomplished their purpose…. They have affixed the name of “The Parlor or Gallery Stereoscope” to their new apparatus…the whole thing is compact and elegant, being a complete Picture Gallery in itself.

Their clever device was set up in their exhibition rooms, and season tickets were circulated to prominent citizens where, Southworth described, “The beholder on first seeing it is lost in wonder. A view of a street seems the street itself….In a few moments, when assured of the character of the illusion, it seems too magical….” By turning a crank, a different picture was brought into view in the device, compounding the amazing illusion. “Thus has the daguerreotype reached the topmost round of the ladder of art,” declared Southworth.

Southworth and Hawes realized the power of “virtual reality” technology and conceived of a device that could bring views of the outside world into the homes of all. In effect, they created a form of three-dimensional, high-definition, daguerreotype television.

 

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