Homes Stereopticon at the Sikes Historic Farmstead
Stereoscopes are an old invention that allows the viewer to perceive a photographic image as 3-D. To achieve this effect two photos are taken with the same focal point, but from different angles. When viewed through two prismatic lenses, adjusted for individual vision requirements, it becomes a single 3-D picture.
The first stereoscopes date to around 1838 and there were many models available. However, the popularity of stereoscopes skyrocketed in 1861 when Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894) invented the hand stereopticon. It was a simplified stereoscope which could be made cheaply. He intentionally did not patent it, making the wooden Holmes Stereopticon a cultural sensation. Manufacturers hired photographers to snap stereoscopic images across Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas. Also popular were images of normal daily life and curiosities. By 1862 it was estimated that over one million stereoscopic image cards were available.
Because Victorian-era travel was too expensive for anyone but the wealthy, the stereoscope/stereopticon provided virtual voyaging for the emerging middle class. It was common for families and friends to gather in parlors and share thoughts on the various scenes. Obtaining a new stereoscopic card was often a special event.
The two Holmes Stereopticons at Sikes Farmstead are simple wooden models. Dozens of Victorian era stereoscopic cards are in the collection. Please remember to ask the friendly docent to point them out during your next visit and feel free to tour the world as the Sikes family may have done 150 years ago.