THE RAGE FOR three dimension pictures has had its ups and downs for centuries. The Greeks speculated on binocular vision, Giovanni Battista della Porta wrote on it in 1593; but little was done about it until Sir Charles Wheat-stone invented the stereoscope in 1838. He had to use laboriously hand drawn, simple geometric figures to test and prove his theories. The task would have been simplified by photography, which is an ideal way of producing two images almost exactly alike, except for the slight difference in view point between the right eye and the left eye. As if foreordained, photography was announced to the world one year later!
In Wheatstone's stereoscope separate pictures were placed opposite mirrors set at 90 degrees in a "V" which reflected each one independently to each eye. Its chief defect was bulk.
Sir David Brewster developed a simplified viewer in 1849, which was hand held. The pair of pictures were mounted side by side, instead of at opposite sides of the machine as in the Wheatstone. They were viewed through paired prismatic lenses. It is from this type that Oliver Wendell Holmes later developed his skeletonized version.
Brewster, unable to get his box-like stereoscope manufactured
in England took it to France to the firm of Dubosq and Soleil. This apparatus and daguerreotype pictures made for it were introduced at the 1851 World's Fair in London. With the invention of the collodion process the use of the daguerreotype for three dimensional photography was quickly abandoned in Europe. In America, however, where the daguerreotype was more popular than anywhere in the world, special attention was given to stereo daguerreotypes. Southworth and Hawes, the Boston firm noted for its early daguerreotype portraits of famous people devised the most elaborate cabinet known. They introduced a magazine Wheatstone viewer for 6V2 by 8l/2 daguerreotype plates. The pairs were viewed, one with each eye, by the Wheatstone principle. By turning a crank, another set of daguerreotypes was presented to the spectator. The bulky "Grand Parlor and Gallery Stereoscope" was the size of a small piano. Although Southworth and Hawes planned them for sale, they never did so. The unique instrument is now in the George Eastman House collection. Season tickets were sold to view the changing shows exhibited at the firm's studio. The shows were well attended.
The Scientific American for 1853 published a picture of a new kind of daguerreotype case. In the accompanying article the editors proudly claimed the inventor, John H. Mascher, as their protege. "To show the benefit of having a good paper devoted to improvements in the arts, we would state that this excellent invention, but for the Scientific American, would perhaps never have been made. On pages 266, Vol. 7, we described the principle of binocular vision, and the operation of the stereoscope. This set the inventive mind ofMr. Mascher on the right track, and on page 322, same volume, we published his letter stating that from the description he had read in our columns he had produced the first solid daguerreotype pictures in Philadelphia (and we believe in the United States). Shortly after he converted the common
daguerreotype case into a stereoscope as now presented in the accompanying engraving."
The editors then added as enthusiastic a bit of free advertising as ever appeared in a journal of science. "We believe it was Prof. Wheatstone of London, who first made the discovery of the stereoscope, which was afterward greatly improved by Sir David Brewster, and by him first applied to produce binocular vision with daguerreotype pictures. But the stereoscope of Brewster is a separate instrument from the daguerreotype case, and is much larger and costs five or six dollars, while Mr. Mascher has applied that beautiful and wonderful principle of optics to the daguerreotype case itself, and here it is introduced to the readers as one of the most delightful and pleasing improvements connected with the fine arts. "In a short period, no person, we believe, will have a likeness taken by a daguerreotypist, but stereoscopically. As these cases are no larger than the old kind, who would have a flat picture to look at when the solid likeness can be thus produced. No one can have the least idea of the beauty of this invention, until he sees such pictures with his own eyes. By this improvement husbands will, when thousands of miles separate, be enabled to see their wives standing before them in breathing beauty, wives their husbands, and lovers their sweethearts."
Early New York Photographer
CURIOUSLY ENOUGH, and in spite of the great popularity of the daguerreotype in America, there seem to be no daguerreotypes of New York City. The earliest photographs of the city were made by a method that was a modification of the talbotype called the Le Gray process. This differs mainly in that the paper is waxed before sensitizing. Otherwise it is a paper negative and paper positive process.
Victor Prevost, who introduced the Le Gray method to America, was born in France in 1820, learned photography from Gustave Le Gray, painting and science from other sources. He first came to America in 1848 and his earliest paper negatives are dated 1851.
The collection of his negatives is now in the possession of the New-York Historical Society and they include pictures of buildings, churches, business houses and views about the city. There is some evidence that he intended to publish these pictures of New York but the book never materialized.
The little we know of the man and his work comes from a talk given by Mr. W. I. Scandlin in 1901. The talk was reported in the October issue of Photo Era. Why Prevost did not continue in photography is not known, certainly he was given high praise, but after 1857 he taught physics, drawing and painting in various schools, was a principal of one, and was known as a brilliant and well loved teacher.