<< YCBA Home Yale Center for British Art Yale Center for British Art << YCBA Home

YCBA Collections Search

Brewster stereoscope.
Great Britain, late 19th century.
Physical Description:
1 lenticular stereoscope : wood, glass, and ivory ; 16 x 19 x 10 cm. + 5 stereoscopic photographs
Rare Books and Manuscripts
TS513 .B74 1850 Flat
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund
Accessible by request in the Study Room [Request]
Note: As a COVID-19 precaution, the Study Room is closed until further notice.

Copyright Status:
Copyright Information
Three-Dimensional Artifacts
In 1849, Sir David Brewster, the Scottish scientist and expert on optics, devised a version of the stereoscope that improved upon the earlier invention of Sir Charles Wheatstone, in which binocular pictures were made to combine by means of mirrors, producing a three-dimensional effect. Brewster's innovation was the use of prisms for uniting the stereoscopic images; his stereoscope was considerably smaller and lighter than Wheatstone's, and the lenticular stereoscope may fairly be said to be his invention. The first working model of Brewster's stereoscope was produced by the Parisian opticians François Soleil and Jules Duboscq. This device was subsequently displayed, with considerable success, at the Great Exhibition in London in 1851, where it impressed none other than Queen Victoria. It quickly became a great commercial success; nearly half a million devices were sold by 1856 (see Kemp). The stereoscope was used in conjunction with stereoscopic photographs--double pictures of a single scene taken from two slightly different perspectives, to produce the effect of three dimensionality. The development of the collodion process (for photography) in the 1850s helped popularize the production of stereoscopic images.
Brewster stereoscope, by an unidentified manufacturer (probably British), from the late 19th century. The body of the stereoscope is made of wood. The narrow end of the device is pierced by two adjacent prismatic lenses, though which the stereoscopic images are viewed. The opposite end bears a pane of opaque glass, just before which is a narrow slot in which to slide the image to be viewed. The top of the box features a hinged wooden door (with small ivory handle), the inside of which bears a mirror. This small door could be opened as needed to point reflected light from the mirror onto non-transparent views.
The stereoscope is accompanied by five stereoscopic glass slides, probably of varied provenance. The slides depict: Dilston Castle; a stream "near Dilston Mill"; two unidentified men sitting in a stone doorway; Abbotsford House (home of Sir Walter Scott); and a portion of the sculpture gallery at Chatsworth House. The latter may be the work of Samuel E. Poulton, who is noted (in The Photographic News of Feb. 25, 1859) as a maker of stereoscopic views of Chatsworth.
Restricted fragile material. Use requires permission of the Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts.
Kemp, M. Science of art, p. 216
Stafford, B.M. Devices of wonder, p. 97, etc.
Subject Terms:
Abbotsford (Scotland)
Chatsworth (England)
Dilston Castle (Dilston, England)
Optical instruments.
Optical instruments.
Stereoscopic photographs.
Poulton, Samuel E., 1819-1898.
If you have information about this object that may be of assistance please contact us.