Vintage Unis-france Boxwood Hand-held Stereoscope By Mattey Of Paris C.1895 For Sale
Vintage Unis-France Boxwood Hand-held Stereoscope by Mattey of Paris c.1895
A late Victorian Boxwood Unis-France (Mattey) Brewster-type box stereoscopic viewer for 45 x 107 slides, impressed mark "76 Unis-France Stereoscopes Paris 3"
Vulcanised rubber lens eye-pieces. Slot to back with brass clips to hold stereo slides. Made in polished boxwood
An early model - later models included lens hoods, extending adjustable focus lenses and metal name plates
A. Mattey of Paris. was the principal French maker of stereoscopes of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries using the well known 'Unis' name for his better quality products. A. Mattey of Paris was perhaps the most innovative maker of stereo apparatus in the world. He produced various photographic items starting in the 1890's up to about the 2nd World War. Mattey purchased other competitors and had several addresses in Paris over the years. Products were sold under the "Star" brand and "Unis France" brand and they were sold by retailers throughout Europe.
In excellent condition overall except glass plate missing from rear frame slot
Front 14cm x 7cm, 105mm deep
Stereoscopes. At what many consider the first World's Fair, the 1851 Crystal Palace Exhibition, Queen Victoria expressed delight with a new "machine," the stereoscope. This medium had its first heyday in the U.S. in the 1860s and 70s when the statesman Oliver Wendell Holmes created (and deliberately did not patent) a streamlined, much more economical viewer than had been available before. America's fascination with stereographs quickly outweighed that of Europe's, perhaps in part because it fulfilled a middle-class desire for self-improvement and cosmopolitanism and possessed many of the benefits the "Grand Tour" offered at a much more affordable price.
Claims that there was a stereoscope in every parlour in America came as early as the 1860s, but in their second wave of popularity in the 1880s-1910s, the availability of stereographs could be quantified: Underwood & Underwood, one of the three major stereographic companies in this period, produced over 25,000 images per day, and an estimated 300 million stereographs were issued between 1854 to 1920. Selling at six for a dollar, most stereographs captured the interest of middle class consumers, but a few companies catered to the working class, providing similar views at 3 cents a piece or 85 cents per 100. Found in drugstores, distributed through mail-order catalogues, given away as premiums by cereal and tea companies, and canvassed cross-country by college students (including a young Carl Sandburg), it is no wonder that many scholars consider the stereoscope as the first mass photographic medium prior to cinema or television.
Coinciding with the popularity of this new technology was an increasing interest in visiting, and viewing, factories, especially in the early years of the 20th century. In 1900, for example, the Heinz Company hosted 20,000 visitors at its plant in Pittsburgh. Sometimes companies themselves sold sets of "company tours" (most notably Sears), but primarily major stereographic publishers did so, to satisfy consumers' fascination with the "combination of complexity and order they found in plants and mills". After 1905, Underwood & Underwood started packaging these tours in imitation book bindings, calling them the Underwood Travel System, reinforcing their connection with "edutainment" suitable for the whole family. Other stereographic companies followed suit.
Around the turn of the century, the stereoscope began to move, along with education in general, from the parlour to the public school. Underwood & Underwood and the other company with the widest distribution of the period, the Keystone View Company, actively marketed sets of 600 or more views to schools for instructional purposes. This shift also accompanied a desire for more experiential education, promoted by educators such as John Dewey, which the stereoscope—while clearly a representative form of knowledge—claimed to offer. Mass-market companies also recommended the stereoscope as a tool to convey the basic tenets of “economic geography,” a way of organising and understanding the world through its labour systems.
Along with the educational sets, the immensely popular “Tours of the World” and “Underwood Travel System” as well as individually-sold cards worked to give Americans homogenised ways of seeing labour in America and in foreign lands.
"The first effect of looking at a good photograph through the stereoscope is a surprise such as no painting ever produced. The mind feels its way into the very depths of the picture. The scraggy branches of a tree in the foreground run out at us as if they would scratch our eyes out. The elbow of a figure stands forth so as to make us almost uncomfortable". (The Stereoscope and the Stereograph, 1859)
The stereoscope's distinctiveness was not always so apparent, so photographers enhanced the three-dimensional quality by using techniques such as long lines of perspective or circular borders (like a wreath, for example), around portraits. Methods of creating three-dimensional reality also resembled the composition of the "natural history museum's habitat group with its sculpted foreground, less detailed posterior foreground, and painted background. In fact, curator advice articles and stereoscopic photographer trade magazines contained similar tips on the use of at least three planes of vision". The consciously constructed cultural Environment of the diorama appeared in even greater relief with the three-dimensional stereographic image.
Text, printed on the back of the cards, often accompanied stereographic sets, which oriented individuals within the scene geographically and culturally and thus mediated the ways in which they saw the image. The stereoscope's presence in the parlour and the schoolroom domesticated and authenticated it further, and comments by renowned scholars included with the sets added to its authority. Underwood & Underwood and Keystone View Company commonly inscribed text on the back of the cards or provided companion booklets, which gave additional context for the images. Geographical placement along with cultural commentary encouraged viewers to come to specific conclusions, to come away from the viewing experience with a common understanding of what they had seen.
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