2D Cameras

Stereo Cameras

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Old Stereo Photos

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Stereo Cameras Explained

Repair or Restore?

Paul Wing's Stereoscopes The First One Hundred Years is the bible of early 20th century stereo viewers. With the standardization of picture formats, came a plethora of viewing devices. These ranged from simple hand helds to furniture quality wood viewing cabinets. The latter class of cabinet style viewers are of particular interest to me. Each is an expression of its engineer's mechanical prowess and aesthetic sense. Not surprisingly, they varied in price and quality as well. If I could only use one, it would be a Taxiphote.

Richard Stereo-Classeur Taxiphote

Richard Stereo-Classeur 45 x 107

Taxiphote label

If it looks like a Taxiphote, quacks like a Taxiphote and changes slides like a Taxiphote, it must be a Taxiphote...unless its a Stereo-Classeur. I have never seen any catalogs or literature introducing the Taxiphote, but apparently early examples were simply labeled Stereo-Classeur, which loosely translated means stereo filing cabinet, or something to that effect. At what point in production Richard began labeling his mechanical triumph a Taxiphote is unknown to this author. Early examples of any product are always interesting. Construction details are often not yet settled. Of note is that while cabinet construction and labeling evolved over time, the basic mechanical layout remained virtually unchanged throughout the life of the product; a testament to its inherently sound design. The above picture of the maker's label is crooked because that is how it's mounted on the cabinet.

Le Taxiphote

Le Taxiphote 45 x 107

Manufactured by Jules Richard, the Taxiphote was probably the most common stereo transparency viewing cabinet. There were myriad variations on this basic theme. The mechanism is highly reliable. Units were offered with focusing lenses, or focusing and interocular adjustment features. Virtually every example I have seen has been in workable condition. There were simpler mechanical systems, and cabinets built to higher standards of finish, but no other viewer could better the Taxiphote's overall combination of function and features. The base holds three drawers, each with space for four bakelite slide trays holding 25 images per tray. Somewhere between serial numbers 7,500 and 9,000 (based on the handfull of viewers I have seen) the lens panel changed from wood to metal. The later version is commonly referred to as the 1909 model, but I do not know if this is an accurate date. Richard never called it that in their catalogs, and the catalog artwork itself did not change until much later, although it's not surprising to see a delay in getting catalog art updated.

Slide Storage

Taxiphote Simple Model

Le Taxiphote Model Simplifique 45 x 107

To ensure Richard did not lose less affluent customers to the competition, they developed a range of simplified models. As with the regular Taxiphotes, there were several variations on the theme, although none of them incorporated slide storage. The least expensive dispensed with features like inter ocular adjustment. This example could be considered to be a more highly featured simplified model. The working mechanism too was simple, but effective. The regular model's operating lever was replaced by a crank and much simplified indexing system. One could argue this was the best operating mechanism of all.

Mechanism | Projector

Taxiphote Optical Model

Le Taxiphote Optical Model 45 x 107

If the Taxiphote had a drawback it was the relatively low magnification of its long focal length lenses. Dimensions of the 25 slide tray dictated a less than optimum slide viewing position within the cabinet. The Optical Model was designed to address this shortcoming. A large pair of movable filed lenses were located between the slide and the viewing lenses. The resulting view was enlarged, although at the cost of introducing considerable distortion. A lever on the lower left was employed to move the field lenses down into the viewing position. The Optical Model offered standard or magnified viewing, but there was still room for improvement. At 17,500, this particular example is the highest serial numbered unit in my collection. I wonder how many they actualy made? As time goes on I have become inclined to believe that all the various Taxiphote models fell into one linear serial numbering scheme.

Le Taxiphote Model Mechanique

Le Taxiphote Model Mechanique 45 x 107

Sporting a completely redesigned mechanism and short focal length lenses, the Mechanical Model was intended to address the original Taxiphote's minor optical deficiencies. The mechanism, now driven by a crank instead of an operating lever, achieved the seemingly miraculous combination of greater complexity and smoother operation. Rather than merely lifting slides vertically out of the trays, they were now lifted out of the tray and transported to the front of the cabinet. It took two full turns of the crank to change slides. Not surprisingly, the Model Mechanique sold for considerably more than the standard or Optical Model. The lifting handle near the top of the cabinet is the result of a former owner's trip to the hardware store. Contrast this cabinet, now with two sets of handles, to the early Stereo-Classeur above which has none. With a base full of slides, the original cabinet was a bitch to pick up and move.

Internal View 1 | Internal View 2

Le Taxiphote 6x13

Le Taxiphote 6x13

At a glance, its easy to miss the fact this is a medium format viewer. The cabinet's external dimension are only slightly grea ter than the more common 45x107 device. The larger format offered a slight improvement in the viewing experience, but its easy to see why the more compact 45x107 cameras proved so popular. 6x13 viewers are quite uncommon. The Taxiphote mechanism scaled up extremely well, and of the 6x13 viewers in my collection, is far and away the smoothest to use.

Mechanism | Slide Collection

Taxiphote 8.5 x 17

Le Taxiphote Model No. 2 8.5 x 17

English Size Taxiphote

When it comes to stereo, its fair to say larger is better, at least in terms of viewing experience. The Taxiphote mechanism scaled up nicely without losing its sweet operational characteristics, but the resulting cabinet is something of a behemoth. I don't know if different format Taxiphotes had different serial number ranges, or they were all numbered in sequence as built. If the latter is true, the wood lens boards on this 8.5 x 17 cm example were installed long after the 45 x 107 mm format machines had switched to an all metal mount. Perhaps too few machines of this size were built to warrant tooling up for a change.

Storage Cabinet | Size Comparison

E. Cuny, Lille 45 x 107

If anyone can tell me about this stereoscope, please contact me. In the interim, I shall make stuff up. This is the wooden wonder of stereoscopes. As one might expect, the case is wood, but so too are the slide trays, and the frame on which the moving metal bits of the mechanism are mounted. Removal of the mechanism would require dismantling the whole thing piece by piece. Although the unique rotary jack screw concept works respectably well, the wooden slide trays are a liability. The wood pieces are too finely made, and are for the most part, due to warpage and shrinkage, largely unusable today. Another aspect of the piece is the seller's claim of c.1890-'00 construction. It cannot have existed before the Verascope in 1893, but could it have hit the market so closely on the heels of the Taxiphote, or even before? I'm guessing it came along later. Although the proportions are similar to a 6 x 13 Taxiphote, the Cuny is substantially smaller. And the lens board looks like my kitchen table, but that's another story.

E. Cuny Lille Stereoscope

Gaumont Stereodrome 45 x 107

Finished to a high standard, the Stereodrome is clearly intended to live in the parlor or library of a wealthy enthusiast. Although somewhat less practical than the Taxiphote, its mechanism is simple and extremely robust. I have never seen a storage cabinet specifically for this viewer, however another collector has described seeing a cabinet which held both the viewer and slide trays. There was even a mechanism to raise and lower the viewer from storage to viewing position. I sure would like to see that. This example is in the common 45 x 107mm format. I set out to buy the 8.5 x 17 version below, but upon arriving at the dealer he had this one sitting along side. Bastard must have seen me coming, there was no way I could leave this little jewel of a viewer behind.

Slide Tray | Internal View

Gaumont Stereodrome 45 x 107

Gaumont Stereodrome 6 x 13

The middle brother of the set. Whereas my other two Stereodromes have seen little use, this cabinet mounted example appears to have been well exercised. The rear mirror door was removed and an oversized light unit adapted. The viewer is screwed down on a shelf which slides on the top of the cabinet in u-shaped brass channels. Each of three cabinet drawers holds ten trays, for a total of 30. The bottom cupboard could be used for any purpose. Although well constructed, with dovetail joints and nicely fitted partitions for the trays, there are no identifying marks on the cabinet. I cannot say where or when the cabinet was built.

Slide Storage Cabinet | Anaglyph Projector Conversion

Gaumont Stereodrome 8.5 x 17

Like the big Taxiphote, this Stereodrome is much larger than its 45 x 107 and 6 x 13 siblings. Operation is still quite good, but the heavy tray of slides makes quite a clunk as it advances. I don't know if production figures exist, but whereas I have a Taxiphote with a serial number in the 19k range, all of these Stereodromes are serial numbered under two thousand.

Slide Tray

Gaumont Stereodrome 8.5x17

Mattey Stereothéque 45 x 107

Mattey sold a variety of stereo equipment under numerous brand labels, the most common of which was Unis. This pre WWI cabinet uses an unusual rotary lifting mechanism. Frankly, it wasn't very effective and later machines used revised and simplified direct acting systems. Whereas most other viewers were constructed from solid hardwoods like mahogany, oak or walnut, the Mattey is veneered with a nicely figured wood. I'm not good enough with woods to say exactly what it is. I have no trays for this viewer, but I suspect a Taxiphote tray can be slightly modified to work. Even with a clean and lube I'm not sure this mechanism works well enough to care about using. If you want the most usable viewer today, buy a Taxiphote.

Update: I have been taken to the woodshed over my disparaging remarks about Mattey viewers. While everything said on this site should be taken with a grain of salt, I shall have to admit to an institutional bias toward Taxiphotes. It's like growing up in a Chevy household and switching to Ford. If for no other reason than a lack of hands-on experience, it always seems as though other side got it wrong. The Stereothéque is a fine viewer. It just seems weird to guy steeped in Taxiphote tradition.

Mattey Stereotheque 45x107

Mattey Stereothéque deluxe model 45 x 107

I've already been upbraided for impugning the integrity of the Mattey rotary slide mechanism, so I shall avoid pointing out it is once again necessary to apply TLC to the mechanism if you want the thing to work. This is a later vintage example than the one above. It carries a Unis-France label, and is veneered with a lovely figured cedar. There are also mounting points an illumination unit, though none was included with the viewer.

Mattey Stereotheque 45x107

Mattey Stereothéque 6 x 13

While beautiful to behold, the rotary mechanism leaves much to be desired. This example is in good working condition, although oddly both the base plate and the cast frame which held the works have been replaced. The serial number was cut out of the original base plate and glued down on the new one. The only thing I can imagine is the casting which held the mechanical components had deteriorated to the point of being unusable, and could not be separated from the original base plate. The lamp housing is built up from brass and has been screwed and soldered together. It has a set of numbers stamped in it (17.3.23) which could be a date or serial number. I believe this style Mattey predates WWI, but the lamp could have been added at any time.

Back View w/Lamp

Mattery Stereo Viewer

E. Guerin & De Lens Stereo-Classeur Leroy 6 x 13

Leroy Stereo

Wing didn't have much to say about this viewer, and as the seller said in the auction, Wing probably never saw one. So, is it the mythical unicorn rainbow viewer? Well, that depends. It is compact, and cleverly designed. As often seen with late 19th century firearms, the major metal components are all stamped with the last two digits of the viewer's serial number. I have not seen this done on another viewer. The removable lens mount/focusing assembly is constructed from very lightweight components. However, it works effectively. Focusing is accomplished by a pair of scissor action arms. The most remarkable aspect of the Leroy is its use of rubber tipped fingers to grip the slides by the edges - just as one would use their human fingers to squeeze in from the edges. There is an upper and lower finger on each side. The fingers are mounted on spring loaded pivots. The fingers rely on a caming surface to move them in or out, to alternately grip or release a slide. As the upper set of gripping fingers rise, they are pressed in over the top edge of the tray, and squeeze the outside edges of the protruding slide. When the slide rises above the top of the tray, the lower fingers pivot in and add their grip as well. There is no support from below. The system relies on the grippiness of the rubber, and hair springs pressing the fingers in against the slide edges. Today, the finger tip rubbers are worn to a nub and petrified. As is, they are not conducive to reliable operation. The mechanism wants a thorough cleaning. I hate to replace the ancient rubber tips, and would only pull the mechanism out of its fragile wood housing to repair a broken part, so I have one slide gently displayed. The unicorn viewer will live on in retirement.

Leroy Stereo Classeur 6x13
Ica Multiplast
Ica Multiplast 45 x 107

The German company Ica, who were absorbed by Zeiss in 1926, clearly had the Taxiphote in mind when designing their Multiplast. The basic layout and function of controls is substantially similar. However, the slide tray advance mechanism has comparatively poor leverage, and the machine is less smooth in operation. For additional image magnification, like in the Taxiphote Optical Model, Ica employed a set of field lenses. Once again, Richard's implementation of this feature was carried out in a more elegant fashion. Both viewers suffered similar optical problems. Ica perhaps wisely chose to use Richard's dimensions for slide trays. Although the Ica tray was screwed together from cast parts, vs. the Taxiphote's molded bakolite, it was of the same dimensions and layout. Therefore, common Taxiphote trays could be used in the less common Multiplast.

Ica Multiplast (Zeiss Ikon)

Ica Multiplast (Zeiss Ikon) 45 x 107

There is scant English language information available on the Multiplasts. Observation suggests this is a later model than the one above. It's mechanism has been redesigned and improved. According to a machi ne translation from a fantastic German web site, stereoskopie.com, this model appeared about 1920 and bridged the gap to Ica's absorption into Zeiss Icon. The mechanism's cast base plate carries the Ica star logo, but all the magazines included with this viewer are labeled Zeiss Ikon. To further confuse the issue, I have seen an English language catalog dated 1925 which clearly displays the earlier cabinet, although it is possible the illustration was simply out of date.

Slide Tray

Ica Stereospekt 45 x 107

I always assumed, based solely on the appearance of the fan fold plate holders, that the Stereospekt must be another clunky viewer design. Although it took a few minutes to figure out how it works, much to my surprise it works extremely well. However, the design is not without its drawbacks. For one, there is no means to back up. Once you advance past a slide it will be necessary to open the cabinet and restack the views if you want to back up. The other issue for me with this device is the plate holders. They are heavy and hold relatively few slides for their bulk. Quibbles aside, the Stereospekt was a unique and interesting viewer design.

Ica Stereospekt

Ica Stereospekt

Ernemann 45 x 107

Here is the smallest and most delicate of the tray type viewers. The Germans have always had a flair for over-engineering, and this viewer is no exception. The top lid is split, with a mirror in the front section to reflect light onto prints. The doors on the storage base are spring loaded. The latches which clamp the base to the viewer have a hinged flap with a hole in it. The holes line up over pins on the viewer, then there is a latch on each flap to lock it in place over the pins. The slide trays are beautifully assembled, with finger jointed wood panels. Slide guides in the trays are machined from billet, and slides rest on two leather strips glued into the base. The one weakness of the design is the slide lifting fingers run in grooves machined into the wood body of the viewer. This does not promote smooth operation. Unlike its larger brethren, slide lifting and tray advancement are two separate operations.

Ernemann Dresden

Le Polyphote 6 x 13

As with some other "me too" cabinet viewers, the Polyphote suffers from a poorly designed advance mechanism. Although simple in concept, it relies on poorly chosen gearing and leverage. Not wanting to force the issue and break parts, I've abandoned any effort to operate the viewer. Although there are only a couple examples on the web, this is the only one I've seen with no maker's label. with the exception of the non functioning advance mechanism, the viewer is in new condition. Slide trays are in the Taxiphote style, but heavy. An interesting feature is the plate numbering scheme. Numbers are printed in mirror writing on the side of the tray. These are then viewed by means of a fold out mirror mounted over a hole in the side of the cabinet. The cabinet is both reasonably attractive, and it came with two trays, one of which is stored in the back of the cabinet. Each tray had a set of slides. One group was water damaged trash. Fortunately, the subject matter of these slides was trash too. The other set, however, consisting of 45 x 107 format slides in 6 x 13 metal masks, are a wonderful group documenting an expedition to recover damaged tanks. In this case, the tanks are Renault FTs, and appear to be located somewhere in Africa, perhaps Morocco.

More About This Viewer

Le Polyphote Stereo Viewer

Unis-France Educa

Unis-France Educa

As the name implies, this unusual French viewer was most likely intended for educational purposes. 13 x 18 cm glass plates have 12 stereo pairs each. Plates are fed into a wooden holder which then slides up and down past the viewing lenses. The lens board slides to left or right of center to view each individual pair. The storage cabinet holds 42 plates. Although Wing states there were probably only 42 plates produced, each plate has a serial number. Of the plates with this viewer, serial numbers run up into the two hundreds. Plates below serial 100 concentrate on zoo animals and human, animal and dinosaur skeletal structures. Plates over 200 are scenic. I have no plates in the 100 range. I spoke with another Educa owner who's plates were numbered 1-42, so perhaps mine are a mixed set assembled by a later collector/dealer wishing to fill the base storage compartment. The images themselves are generally well exposed and shot with more consideration of depth than many other commercial views. UPDATE: in the last few years I have seen enough different Educa plates to feel comfortable in saying there were far more than 42 different plates produced.

Educa Plate

Planox Stereoscope Magnetique 6 x 13

A less expensive entry in the field was this Planox Magnetique viewer. Construction quality, fit and finish were below that of the Taxiphote. However, the Planox incorporated an ingenious plate changing mechanism. Unlike most other cabinet viewers, which rely on pushing slides up from below, the Planox uses magnets to lift the slides. Each slide had to be fitted with a thin metal strip known as a barrette. With each down stroke of the plate changing lever, a simple ratchet advanced the carriage and swept the previous slide away from the magnets. The base cabinet holds six trays of 20 slides each.

Internal Mechanism | Storage Cabinet Open

Planox Stereoscope Magnetique

Unis-France Metascope Universel 6 x 13

Sold under the Unis label, the Metascope replaced Mattey's earlier Stereothéque. A unique feature of the Metascope is its ability to view either 45 x 107, or 6 x 13 format slides. I believe it requires only the appropriate size trays, and insertion or removal of an included metal mask behind the lenses. This mechanism was a drastic simplification of the earlier machines. Having said that, in many ways it is actually superior in operation. Later versions incorporated built in slide storage. This one sits atop a separate two drawer storage cabinet.

Internal View | Slide Storage | Slide Tray

Unis-France Metascope Metamagasin

Alex Beckers Revolving Stereoscope 8.5 x 17

A trained Daguerreian, Beckers worked as a photographer for many years before turning his interest toward invention. He hit upon a winner with the revolving stereoscope and ultimately dropped his photography gallery to concentrate on stereoscopes. Pretty much all viewers with a revolving belt are referred to as Beckers style, if not actually one of his own products. Beckers viewers could be had in any form from simple table top models, to high end furniture quality floor models. This floor standing viewer incorporates a removable "sweetheart" style second lens panel for viewing stereo cards back to back. Doors on the top were opend to reflect light down onto cards. The belt holds 144 glass, or 288 printed views. Ultimately, the belt system has some severe limitations. Views have to be evenly spaced around the belt, and there is no means to positively locate each view behind the lenses. Between inexpensive hand held viewers, and the growth of smaller glass formats with their more modern view changing mechanisms, the popularity of revolving stereoscopes quickly faded in the new century.


Beckers Stereoscope

Unlabeled Revolving Stereoscope 8.5 x 17

Along with the slide changing mechanisms, there were any number of rotary viewers for both cards and slides. This style of viewer relied on wire frames linked together in a continuous loop. Although quite popular in the nineteenth century, they just don't work as well as a mechanical changer. Images are not held in precise alignment behind the lenses, and loading the cabinet can be a challenge. If you load slides in sequence, the belt starts slipping. You have to load from opposite ends of the belt to keep it balanced. This particular viewer has a plate for a maker's ID mounted on the front, but it is blank. There no identifying marks anywhere on the viewer. My best guess would be late nineteenth century French. Any additional information on date and manufacturer would be appreciated.

Mattey Cabinet Stereoscope

Mattey Cabinet Revovling Stereoscope 8.5 x 17

Mattey StereoscopeLike the viewer above, this is a continuous belt type viewer. I like to think of them as the 8-track of stereo cabinets. Once something better came along, this style quickly disappeared. Their one lasting advantage was the ability to hold both transparencies and printed stereo cards. This viewer also featured removable view carriages. Rather than having to perform the tedious work of changing views one at a time, one could have multiple sets of photos in their own carriage and swap them out very quickly.

Ives Kromskop

Ives' Kromskop

Strictly speaking, the Kromskop does not belong in this group, but I have nowhere else to put it. With the advent of the Autochrome process around 1907, it became possible to widely produce color images . Prior to that, Ives Chromograph system may be considered the first viable (if not very practical) solution. Made in Great Britain and marketed under the Kromskop moniker, this viewer combines three black and white images, viewed through red, green and blue filters, then merged to create a full color composite. The technology only had about a ten year window of opportunity. While this example lacks its viewing hood and diffuser, its still a unique and desirable bit of technology.

Additional Views and Explanation

Smith, Beck & Beck

James Smith was a well known maker of microscopes and other optical instruments. With his partners, Richard and James Beck, the firm also produced a popular boxed stereoscope which was sold from its inception around 1860 into the 1890s. Examples built before Smith's retirement in 1865 are labeled Smith, Beck & Beck. Thereafter they were l abeled R&J Beck. The viewer base doubled as a box. By flipping the viewer over, its base plate becomes a lid for the box. Two style of storage cabinet were available as well - a vertical cabinet like the example here, or a much less common double wide cabinet.

Smith, Beck & Beck Stereoscope

Smith Beck & Beck

There is a silly discussion of repair vs. restoration here.
There is an even sillier set of photos and descriptions of the internal workings of these beasts here.


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