The Stereoscope: One of Lincoln’s Entertainments?

Stereoscope with card

Stereoscope with card

Most of us probably remember the Viewmaster, which was a toy that allowed the viewer to see scenes of varoius types from a round card that was inserted into it. As a kid, I had cards featuring Disneyland and other places in the world. It was always a lot of fun!
A much earlier version of the Viewmaster was called a “stereoscope.”  These were typically wooden devices that allowed the viewer to see a 3 D picture from a card that that placed in the card slot (see abouve picture).  The stereoscope was “all the rage” in it’s day, especially in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Actually, a version of the stereoscope developed by none other than Oliver Wendell Holmes, called the “Holmes Stereo Viewer” was  the most popular. By the late 1930’s, however, it’s use had declined as the popularity of motion pictures increased.
Today, one can find antique stereoscopes and stereocards just about anywhere-they don’t seem to be hard to find. I personally own two stereoscopes and several cards. Both of my stereoscopes are dated “1910.”  Every once in a while I take one out and try to imagine what someone a hundred years ago must have thought as he or she looked at the card in 3 D. Wow!
I have a few stereocards of Abraham Lincoln and related topics. Typically, the back of a card gives a short history pertaining to the picture on it’s front. Other than phtographs of Lincoln, I also have one of the Lincoln birthplace cabin and one featuring three assassinated presidents. It is possible that Mr. Lincoln, himself, could have viewed a drawing (or picture?) through a stereoscope. It had been invented in 1838. Being the inventor that he was, I think he would have been fascinated by the simple device. Does anyone recall seeing one, perhaps, at Lincoln’s home in Springfield? Let me know.
The “assassination” stereocard I own is interesting. It features Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley on the front. There are two angel-like little girls kneeling down before their images in prayerful repose. Each picture of the presidents displays their dates of assassination. A quote on the card states: “To live in the hearts we leave behind, is not to die.” I also love the written material on the back of the card which I will quote in it’s entirety. Enjoy!:
“The South is avenged!’ cried Lincoln’s assassin, as he fled from the theatre. It was the insanity of vengeance; for the South had no such friend as Lincoln, who was himself of Southern birth. Jefferson Davis declared that next to Lee’s surrender at Appomatix, the day of Lincoln’s murder was the blackest day in the calender of the South. “Why?” asks Henry Walterson; and he replies: “Because Mr. Davis had come to a knowledge of the magnanimity of Mr. Lincoln’s heart and the generosity of his intentions.”
President Garfield fell a victim of the execrabie spoils system, murdered by a disappointed office-seeker.
The assassin of President McKinley had neither personal nor partisan reason or pretense for his Judas-like wickedness, only black infamy of anarchy. President Roosevelt fiftly wrote in his first message to Congress:
‘Anarchy is a crime against the whole human race; and all mankind should band against it. It should be made an offence against the law of nations, like piracy and that form of manstealing known as the slave-trade. It should be so declared by treaties among all civilized powers.’
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4 Responses to “The Stereoscope: One of Lincoln’s Entertainments?”

  1. Stephanie says:

    I visited Abraham Lincoln’s home in Springfield just recently and yes he purchased a 3D stereoscope for his children before he ever purchased a stove for his wife

  2. Kevin Lindsey says:

    I also have an antique stereoscope, they are awesome! I have collected several cards, but dont have any Lincoln pictures. I do include one from the Soldiers home in Marion, IN that my ancestor lived at!

  3. B. Nash says:

    Chris: I always love your input! I agree-Lincoln would be amazed!

  4. You have an antique stereoscope? That must be awesome – to be able to view those stereoscopic images of Lincoln the way he might have. A lot of images of Lincoln and the Civil War were produced as stereocards.

    It’s interesting how right now we’re getting around to “3D” TV, movies, and games using special glasses that work in a similar manner to this. I think Lincoln would find it very interesting how this technology has existed for over a century and a half!

    I love the quote you posted from the back of the assassination stereocard, too. Nice piece of history there.

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