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Stereoviews, also known as stereographs, were novelty images that became popular in 1860 through the early 1920s. Consisting of two images side by side, either on glass or pasted onto a sturdy card, stereoviews were meant to be observed through a special viewer, called a stereoscope, that created the effect of a three dimensional image.
The stereoscope was invented in 1833, predating the photograph. Inexpensive stereoviews images were first drawings, and sometimes reproduced by lithography. After the development of photography, daguerreotypes, tintypes, and ambrotypes were all used in stereoscopes. As improvements in paper and cameras developed throughout the 19th century, higher quality images were those printed from the negative on silver gelatin paper.
Stereographs were typically not meant as a high art form, or as a serious documentary vehicle, but were mostly for the purpose of entertainment. Stereoscopes and a collection of images would be passed around at social gatherings. Popular images of famous people and places were produced as tourist keepsakes, though some well-respected photographers had their images printed as stereographs. Stereoviews are often seen as an advancement towards the development of the motion picture.
One of the most popular categories of images used in stereoscopes was railroad imagery, as this type of transportation developed extensively in the 19th century, especially with the development of the transcontinental railroad from Sacramento to Utah
Carleton Watkins was one of the most prolific producers of images of the American West. His images were published widely as stereoviews, and their popularity introduced the population of the Eastern states to the vast wonders of Yosemite valley
The most prolific producer of stereoviews in the United States was the Keystone View Company in Pennsylvania, and in the United Kingdom, the London Stereoscope Company