Folmer & Schwing Triple Lens Stereo Graphic

Graflex Triple Lens Stereo

A big ungainly camera, with a sprawling name to match. According to Folmer & Schwing's 1902 catalog "The Triple Lens Stereo Graphic is a high grade stereoscopic camera with an accurately matched focusing lens working in perfect unison with the exposing lenses and enabling the operator to compose and focus his subject upon the ground glass precisely as it is thrown upon the plate or film by the lower lenses." Wow, take a moment to catch your breath and then we'll move on. Discontinued when Kodak took over Folmer & Schwing in 1906 (or perhaps even earlier), the Triple Lens Graphic would no doubt have completely faded away were it not for an iconic Keystone stereo card.

Keystone Stereo Card

Perched high above 5th Ave., New York, our intrepid photographer with his proper suit and hard soled shoes is presumably risking life and limb to capture a stereo image with his Triple Lens Graphic. As may be seen in a detail shot, the TLG is a BIG camera.

Careful study of the photo illustrates differences in construction between the stereo card camera, and the example presented here, thus we know at least two Triple Lens Graphics were produced. As we will see farther on down the page, there is photographic evidence of a third example. Thus we know at least three were produced. In reality, the camera may well have been produced in the hundreds (dozens?), but very few survive.

Triple Lens Stereo Graphic

In regular use, the viewfinder hood would be extended back to a comfortable viewing distance. The hood is mounted on a set of lazy tongs - an unusual feature not often seen on cameras. While there is no need to open the door over the viewing lens, to gain access to the lens controls, one would need to open the door over the lenses. The camera came to me with scans from a couple stereo photos of a Triple Lens in use. These were found in a Taxiphote purchased by a friend of a former owner. Talk about coincidence! On that camera, the door was hinged at the top. Mine is hinged at the bottom, which makes more sense considering the top opening door would have to rely on a stiff hinge or a prop to remain open in the field. The camera also included a standard ground glass to allow critical composition and focusing on the film plain.

Graflex Graphic Stereo

Triple Lens Stereo

Folmer & Schwing

Triple Lens Stereo Graphic

Graflex Lazy Tongs

Bausch Lomb Stereo Shutter

And what of our lonely camera, what tales does it have to tell. One day while perusing Ebay, the former owner clicked the innocuous title "German two lens stereo camera." He was greeted by an auction with little iformation and a set of photos which would not properly load. Going back a couple days later, the photos loaded revealing an incredibly rare pre-Kodak, Folmer & Schwing Triple Lens Stereo Graphic. "With trembling fingers," he clicked the "Buy It Now."

There was some risk involved. The camera was located in Ukraine. According to the family, it had belonged to a noted Russian photographer named Vladimir Ivanov. If anyone can shed any light on this person, I would be deeply grateful. The transaction was completed, and the camera eventually arrived in the US. What have these lenses seen? If purchased new in Russia from Folmer & Schwing, could it have photographed royalty? Did it see the Russian revolution, or merely find its way to the former land of the Czars in latter years? Somewhere in Ukraine today, there may be a collection of stereo images taken with this camera. It came to the the States with a crudely made lens board and mono lens. Perhaps it served out its working career with the original stereo lenses in a drawer and shooting humble portraits in a local studio. We'll likely never know.

The Triple Lens Graphic is a highlight of the Ignomini collection. George Eastman House does not have one. The Famous Spira collection did not posses an example. This particular camera is in 5 x 8 format. It mounts a pair of Series IIb Bausch & Lomb-Zeiss Tessar lenses, in a Bausch & Lomb stereo shutter. A patent date on the lenses of Feb. 24, 1903 suggests the camera could date from late 1903-'04. I can find no serial number anywhere on the camera. The camera also includes a Folmer & Schwing focal plain shutter at the back. Originally there was a viewing hood which slotted into the upper viewing lens hood. This piece may be clearly seen in the catalog and Keystone stereo card photo.



Folmer & Schwing Catalog