Digest>Archives> January 2002

Collecting Nautical Antiques

Stereo Views

By Jim Claflin


You can see an enlarged version of this picture by clicking here.
>> Click to enlarge <<
c.1880 stereoview taken by J. Freeman of ...

Stereographs, commonly called stereo views, have long been a favorite subject of mine and were the first lighthouse images that I began collecting in the 1980’s. William C. Darrah in his book The World of Stereographs, notes that “A stereograph is simply a double photographic or printed image, paired in such a manner that when viewed with a stereoscope, they appear as three-dimensional or solid images.” These views were first produced commercially in the 1850’s and remained popular into the 1930’s. Millions of views were published in their eighty year history and thousands of local and worldwide photographers sought to produce views. Scenes were extremely diverse- from Indians to wars and disasters, lighthouses and life-saving scenes to ships and railroads, public buildings and much more.

You can see an enlarged version of this picture by clicking here.
>> Click to enlarge <<
Reverse of a G. H. Nickerson 1870's Cape Cod view ...

The art of stereography was perfected in the 1850’s and 60’s, when the ambrotype flourished as a replacement for the earlier daguerreotype photographic image. In 1859, physician Oliver Wendell Holmes perfected the hand stereoscope that we remember today and the impetus for thousands of evenings of entertainment began. Stereographs provided an inexhaustible source of views and information on far away places and on the lives of other peoples, and brought these scenes into the parlors of thousands of Victorian families.

You can see an enlarged version of this picture by clicking here.
>> Click to enlarge <<
Recently produced replica shows the style of ...

By the mid 1850’s companies were springing up around the globe to produce sets of images, as well as local photographers who began marketing sets of local images to tourists. As the photographic processes became more manageable, even hobbyists began to make their own views in their home darkrooms. In the 1850’s, for an investment of about $50, an individual could obtain ten lessons from an accomplished photographer, a camera and the materials to produce a few dozen views. And with experience, many of these individuals became accomplished photographers.

You can see an enlarged version of this picture by clicking here.
>> Click to enlarge <<
Nice early Lighthouse Service cap shows well a ...

One impressive quality of many of these early views is the clarity and detail that they contain. Due in part to the larger format of these early cameras along with the longer exposure times, a remarkable amount of detail could be captured. Five steps were involved in the manufacture of card stereographs: (1) making positive prints from original negative, including washing and drying; (2) trimming the prints to fit; (3) pasting the prints on the card; (4) drying under light pressure; (5) applying labels and imprints. The entire operation could take up to three days.

Though a few views were dated, most were not and sometimes can present quite a challenge to the collector trying to identify and date his scenes. Using historical records of photographers, card type and color, size, photo type, imprinting, and more can all offer clues to identification. Much of this information and much more on the subject can be found in Darrah, William C., The World of Stereographs. Gettysburg, Pa. 1977. Next time we will consider a number of these clues in the identification process.

In response to my column on Lighthouse Service insignia, Ron from San Pedro, Ca. sent me a copy of the Lighthouse Service Regulations for Uniforms, 1912 from the Office of the Coast Guard Historian, which contains a hand written note on the subject of cap insignia. For Quartermasters and Machinists on lighthouse tenders the regulations state that the cap insignia is to be “...a gold embroidered wreath 1 1/4” high..., inclosing a silver-embroidered lighthouse 3/4” high....” Written in pen is the notation: “...or at the option of the employee metal ornaments in the form of pins may be worn.” In image #3 I have pictured a reproduction which may approximate the design envisioned. Although we have not yet seen any actual authentic insignia nor any photographs of such insignia in use, this does indeed open up the possibility. Thanks again Ron.

Jeff Shook of Michigan sent us a photo of a wonderful Lighthouse Service keeper’s hat that he recently acquired. The hat has a beautifully embroidered wreath and lighthouse insignia, with the wide mohair band. Chin strap is attached by two Lighthouse Service buttons as was the practice. This is a beautiful example of a c.1900 version of the cap ornament.

Please continue to send in your questions on the subject or a photograph of an object that you need help dating or identifying. We will include the answer to a selected inquiry as a regular feature each month in our column.

Jim Claflin is a recognized authority on antiques of the U.S. Lighthouse Service, Life-Saving Service, Revenue Cutter Service and early Coast Guard. In addition to authoring and publishing a number of books on the subject, Jim is the owner of Kenrick A Claflin & Son Nautical Antiques. In business since 1956, he has specialized in antiques of this specialty since the early 1990's. He may be contacted by writing to him at 30 Hudson Street, Northborough, MA 01532, or by calling 508-393-9814. Contact him by email: jclaflin@lighthouseantiques.net or visit his web site at www.lighthouseantiques.net

This story appeared in the January 2002 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

All contents copyright © 1995-2024 by Lighthouse Digest®, Inc. No story, photograph, or any other item on this website may be reprinted or reproduced without the express permission of Lighthouse Digest. For contact information, click here.

to Lighthouse Digest

USLHS Marker Fund

Lighthouse History
Research Institute

Shop Online

Subscribe   Contact Us   About Us   Copyright Foghorn Publishing, 1994- 2024   Lighthouse Facts     Lighthouse History