They’re really beautiful devices, these old and once wildly popular stereopticons. Wood, and metal, and yet not heavy at all. And as simple as the technology appears, the effect really works, creating a view with a depth that surprises me every time.
This one belonged to my great aunts, Miss Ann (Anna Marie) Rutgers (1895-1964) and Miss Gertrude Rutgers (1891-1985). They lived in a wonderful brick house, built by my grandfather Stephen (1893-1970), in the Redford section of Detroit. There was an arbor of concord grapes in the back yard, and I can still picture them making preserves – peeling back the purple-black skins, the sweet-tart pale green fruit inside, the knotty and plentiful seeds, the steaming heat in their kitchen, and row upon row of sparkling clean glass jars waiting to be filled with the gorgeous gem-like results of their work.
The double-image cards are beautiful, too, and became colorful as the century turned. They trumpet the wonders of nature, simply or with an ‘uplifting’ message, share the news of the day, allow travel to far-flung places, and tell stories … crazy, wonderful stories that I can only imagine with just the few pieces in hand.
I have only a small collection, saved from Auntie Gertrude’s basement after she moved into an apartment in the 1970s. Though there’s no date on the stereopticon, the Rutgers sisters were just kids when these cards were published, and they must have been a family treasure to have been saved for so many years.
Text by Catherine Rutgers © 2016