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:
|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 invent an 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, whereupon, as 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.