19th Century Stereoviews Transform Hudson Valley Scenes Into 3D Photography

Double vision: A New Paltz man deals in antique photography



A contemporary photo of Poughkeepsie’s Main Street

Photograph by Frank Roberts

It’s hard to imagine 3-D images from the 1800s. Yet stereoviews — two identical photos placed side by side to make the image appear in 3-D when seen through a special viewer — were the most popular form of photography from the 1860s through the 1920s.

Now obsolete, surviving stereoview photos often end up in the hands of dealers like New Paltz’s Jeffrey Kraus, who became interested in the field in the late ’60s. His father once owned a bookstore, and the volumes he obtained were often paired with corresponding photos — which were ignored until Kraus rediscovered them and began hawking them at flea markets. He remembers “meeting collectors who asked why I was selling them cheaply. I said, ‘Why? Are they worth anything?’ ”

Turns out stereoviews can be very valuable. Kraus — who built his inventory up to 8,000 stereoviews and other forms of antique photography — has collected $6,000 for a single image. But some stereoviews are quite affordable. “People think these are only in museums,” he says. “They don’t realize they can own an original Civil War photograph for $75.” According to Kraus, stereoviews made after the 1880s are worth less because they were mass-produced by that point.

Kraus’s customers are usually private collectors searching for specific image categories, like Native Americans or the West. He also gets requests from filmmakers and museums. He sold an image to Miramax Films for the Gangs of New York DVD; the Metropolitan Museum of Art wanted some for a Civil War exhibit; the Library of Congress frequently contacts him, too.

Kraus — the executive director of Hudson Valley Community Services, an organization that promotes health, particularly for those suffering from HIV/AIDS — also has a personal collection of close to 5,000 antique photos of Hudson Valley scenes and aviation (among other topics). He confesses he loves stereoviews because they bring bygone worlds to life. “When you put it in a viewer, you can look in someone’s eyes and wonder what they did after that moment,” he says. “It’s a look at another time.”

For more stereoview photographs, view the gallery of images below or visit www.antiquephotographics.com.

 

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