The first images used for stereoviews were artist-drawn depictions of scenes and people, such as the images shown here. When viewed through the stereoviewer, the images became three dimensional.
This Charles Bierstadt stereo card was probably produced in the late 1860's as a copy of an earlier lithograph. While not the oldest card in the collection, it does serve as an example of what the stereoviews would have looked like before photography was in use. The drawing itself is signed by Bierstadt on the right image, bottom left corner.
From the 1850's to the 1880's photographs were developed using wet collodion plate glass negatives. The photographer had to fully complete the process of developing the images onto treated paper in about twenty minutes, before the plate dried. Photographers carried all their necessary equipment with them, including the means to create the darkness required to develop the negatives to positive images. The majority of images could only be taken outdoors, where there was sufficient light.
This image of Union Hall may be one of the earliest in the collection; handwritten on the back is J.Brown, 1854. The color of the card stock used and the shape of the images are often used to date the stereoviews. Lighter colored backgrounds and square mounted images and cardstock were used until about the mid 1870's when rounded edges and bolder colored cards became the norm.
Given the parameters within which photographers had to work, they often repeatedly used locations that may have provided optimal conditions. This particular area of the Union Hall grounds appears to be a favorite for photographing groups- several other similar images taken in the same spot are in the Joki Collection.
Note the hand coloring of the image to the far left
The lengthy time needed to adaquately expose the plates in order to achieve an image often resulted in blurry subjects and "ghosts" in the finished photographs. The technology of the day could not time capture movement and so subjects were required to be very still and not smile, lest the smile turn to a grimace while they were trying to hold it. People (and other animated objects) who were walking or moving during the exposure showed up as ghosts in the final print, like the woman and child walking past the Grand Union the day these images were taken.
With the advent of the Industrial Revolution following the Civil War, the ability to obtain photographic images of people and places grew in technique and popularity. As the demand for the images increased and marketing strategies were developed, "Photographic Artists" began expanding their repertoires - images of exotic places became very popular. Saratoga Springs had become a tourist mecca for "nouveau riche" industrialists and their families. The ability to capture their Holiday on something as portable as a stereoscopic photograph and then to view it in three dimensions was considered astounding. And we all still love a good souvenir.