What's a Stereograph?
By Janet Downing, Introduction to Public History, Spring 2018
We've told you that the George H. Moss, Jr. Collection contains many stereographs, some of which are pictured below-- so what are they?
Stereographs, recently called by the Smithsonian "the original virtual reality," are cards that consist of two nearly identical images. When looking at these two images side-by-side through a stereoscope (or other device), the viewer will see one image. According to the Library of Congress, they were “created in 1850, but were most popular between 1870 and 1920… there was a surge of them that came out in 1961 with the start of the American Civil War centennial." These stereographs often have brief captions underneath the image or on the back. They also usually include the name of the photographer and the person who produced them.
Stereographs were most commonly used by middle-class families. They were often sold at/depicted tourist’s sites, which explains why so many can be found for scenic Monmouth County (see our "Gilded Age in Monmouth County" page for more information on the lure of the shore.) George H. Moss, Jr. was a New Jersey historian, with a special focus on this county and the shore region, resulting in a very comprehensive and detailed collection of stereographs, that can now be viewed through the Monmouth University Library.
These stereographs were originally viewed on stereoscope, to give off the three-dimensional illusion. This was the purpose of these images; therefore, these scopes were a very useful tool. According to the Library of Congress, “To create a print for 3-D viewing, the images from uncut negatives had to be switched, cropped, printed, and pasted on card stock at a distance similar to the space between your eyes." When they are printed, they are no longer negatives, but rather colored prints that are typically 3.5 x 7 inches in size. In the past, people could use Handheld Stereographs, where one would place the card so that each of the two images would be on either side.
If one has a stereoscope in their home, they can print these stereographs off the internet, cut them out, then proceed to place them in the scope for viewing. Another way people can view these from home are if they have virtual reality (VR) goggles. One can take a picture of the stereograph card on their smart phone and place it in the goggles. You can see our class trying this out below. This helps convert the double image overlap and give the three-dimensional illusion. When looking at these goggles in comparison to the stereoscope, they seem to have a similar design, just the VR goggles are more updated and incorporate technology. This being said, they both have a spot to place the stereograph in front of goggles or magnifier. Both then create the illusion of one three-dimensional image rather than two two-dimensional images.
To make your own, you need a pair of classes and a machine screw. You must cut the glasses in half and then sand the rough edges. Then you must drill a hole in the glasses arm, big enough to put the screw in, and then cut off the rest it, again rounding the edges when finished. The two halves of the glasses must then be assembled by connecting them with the screw. You then can print out a card, as explained before, switching the right and left negatives when printed in color. Then hold the glasses two inches from your face and twelve inches from the card. From here, you must adjust the glasses until you see one image instead of two. If this doesn’t work at first, you can adjust how far the glasses are apart from each other by moving the screw and then try again. See details in the links below!