STEREO WORLD

Volume 33, Number 5, Mar/Apr 2008,
p.4-10, 13, 28

 

London Stereoscopic Company Reborn!

by
Brian May
&
Elena Vidal

 

Click image for larger
[NB: Paragraphs * and ** not in print version.]

We are happy to announce the launch of a new website entirely dedicated to Victorian stereo images, created by Brian May and Elena Vidal.  The site, at www.LondonStereo.com, aims to be an enjoyable resource and research tool, centred on the output of the 1850s London Stereoscopic Company (LSC), and, in particular, the work of T. R. Williams.

*[Many readers of Stereo World will be familiar with the name "London Stereoscopic Company"; here is a brief résumé of the company’s history.] 

 

A Brief History of The London Stereoscopic Company

Some time in 1854, at 313 Oxford Street, the "London Stereoscope Company" (note: 'stereoscope') was born, and by 1856, under the leadership of Managing Partner George Swan Nottage, the company had changed its name to "The London Stereoscopic Company", and was also operating from premises at 54 Cheapside.  Their business was selling stereo views and viewers to the public, and they were leaders in a boom – a craze - which swept England, Europe, and eventually the United States too, of stereo photographs of every conceivable subject.  These images, viewed by means of a stereoscope, presented scenes in life-like three dimensions; in a world which had never experienced television, the movies, or the Internet, this was understandably a revelation.  Business grew rapidly.  On 13th October 1856, The London Stereoscopic Company (LSC) advertised, in The Times, among other things, "… 10,000 lovely Waterfalls, Lakes, Glaciers of the most exquisite and sublime character"!  By 1858 they claimed to have 100,000 views available. 



 

Fig. 1

"Return from Shooting" - by T. R. Williams, from the "First Series". This card shows two blindstamps; at lower left, the T. R. Williams logo - "T.R.W. PHOTO", and at top left, a relatively rare early LSC elliptical blindstamp.  It's not easy to read from the front of the card, but a scan of the back of the card (cunningly laterally reversed) clearly shows that it says, not the "London Stereoscopic Company", but the original 1854 title - "LONDON STEREOSCOPE COMPANY - 313 OXFORD STREET".  
Brian May collection
 

 


 

Fig. 1a

London Stereoscope Company blindstamp.  

 


 

Fig. 2

"Cock and Fox" by T. R. Williams, from his "First Series".  By way of comparison, here is another T. R. Williams view, beautifully hand-tinted, from the same series, and presumably published a little later.  This one bears a "London Stereoscopic Company" blindstamp, with a 'stretched octagonal' outline, and the address of the  another LSC branch in the 1850s, 54 Cheapside.  This card has no identification relating to its photographer. 
Brian May collection
 

 

 

 

 

Much of the operation of the LSC in its early years is still shrouded in mystery, and its relationship with the pioneering photographers whose work it published remains unclear, but among their first publications was the work of T. R. Williams: the "First Series", his "Crystal Palace" (1854) series, and his most famous work, "Scenes In Our Village", all photographed in the early 1850s.  It is noteworthy that in the advertisements, the name of T. R. Williams never appeared.

 


 

Fig. 3

"A Chat at the Gate" by T. R. Williams, from the "Scenes in Our Village" series. 
Brian May collection
 

 

Fine English landscapes, by Sedgfield, Grundy, Poulton and others featured strongly in the LSC catalogue in this period, (again, without any credits) along with editions of French glass stereo slides, mainly landscapes, and, following T. R. Williams’ example, some fine 'sentimentals'.  Today's collections of stereo cards from the middle to late 1850s, by photographers such as James Elliott, Alfred Silvester, Mark Anthony, Charles Goodman, and many others, always contain examples bearing the familiar blindstamps of the LSC.  In May 1859 the LSC assumed the name it was to retain for years to come: "The London Stereoscopic and Photographic Company", reflecting the wider range of products that the company was now embracing.  During this prosperous period, a new outlet was opened at 110 Regent Street, later occupying 108 and 106 too.

 


 

Fig. 4

"The Pilot House and Shakespeare's Cliff, Dover" by William Russell Sedgfield.  This very stereoscopic, and quintessentially English view, featuring the 'White Cliffs of Dover', bears the same LSC blindstamp, but this time the stamp has been applied on top of a previous imprint, that of its author, the fine English photographer William Russell Sedgfield.  The photographer's stamp is pretty much obliterated, and it would be interesting to know if this was deliberate. 
Sue Foxford collection
 

 

 

 

 


 

Fig. 5

"Doveholes, Dovedale" by William Russell Sedgfield. This card shows another LSC blindstamp design; elliptical, and very similar to the "Stereoscope" stamp.   This view is known to be by Sedgfield, but there is no identification on the card except the seller, the LSC, illustrating how hard it can be to identify individual photographers' work, at this distance in time. 
Sue Foxford collection
 

 

 

In the 1860s, one of the LSC’s notable publications of stereo cards was a long series, photographed by William England, depicting the interior of the 1862 International Exhibition, in what is now Exhibition Road, South Kensington.  The Company, in fact, had the exclusive rights to photograph the Exhibition.  But the full range of subjects offered was enormous, and landscapes, 'sentimentals' and portraits of famous people were all very popular.

 

 


 

Fig. 6

Various identifying marks of the LSC.  

 

When the stereo card craze faded during the late 1860s, the company appears to have continued to do a healthy business, catering for the newer (and, for us, much less interesting) fashion for Cartes de Visite.  The company subsequently diversified into many areas, including catering for the spread of the art of photography to the general public – the LSC sold materials and photography lessons for amateurs, and rented the use of studios to them.  They also ran extensive printing works at New Southgate, supplying prints of all kinds for the trade, and for their amateur customers.  Getty Images, who much later bought much of the surviving archives of the LSC, say,

"At its peak, LSC was one of the largest and most diverse businesses, with a global network of offices and staff photographers, selling and licensing images, cameras, equipment, papers and plates."

It is a little-known fact that the LSC also became involved in the recorded music business!  In May 1878, the London Stereoscopic Company "gains full rights in Edison Phonograph and any future developments."  They evidently sold tin foil phonographs until 1891, at which point there was a dispute with Edison Phonograph over the LSC’s rights to sell a new machine, and the relationship ended in a damaging court case, in which the LSC eventually lost their rights to retail phonographs. 

 


 

Fig. 7

The London Stereoscopic Company premises at 108, Regent Street, 1898. 
City of Westminster Archives
 

 

 

In the late 1880s and 1890s the company appears to be still active, producing photographs, portraits, equipment, etc., and in May 1898 they “opened extra warehouse space and a new darkroom in Glasshouse Street.”  Yet it seems that at some point in the continued life of the LSC, it fell on leaner times, and we have not seen any evidence to indicate that the company was able to benefit from the second great stereoscopic boom, at the turn of the century, dominated by Keystone, and Underwood and Underwood.  In 1913, the company name was changed back to “The London Stereoscopic Company”, but the company was finally dissolved in 1922.   Much later, in the 1970s, the deeds of the LSC were bought in partnership by Jonathan Steele, one of the earliest serious collectors and researchers of this material, and himself the writer of some important articles on LSC publications in "The Photographic Collector" at that time.  But again, by the 1980s, The London Stereoscopic Company had vanished from public view.

 

London Stereoscopic Company in the Present Day

Brian May and Elena Vidal have brought the LSC to life once more in the 21st century, and hope that one day the Company will publish stereo cards once more.  In the meantime, the immediate aim of the new company is to build a London Stereoscopic Company website, soon to be 'live' at www.LondonStereo.com, as a resource of information for all those interested in this area. 

Though it is hoped that the site will expand to include many 1850s photographers and groups of stereo images, first priority in 2008 is the work of Thomas Richard Williams, photographer of great renown, whose work was among the first to be published by the original London Stereoscopic Company from 1856.  There is some reason to suppose that the relationship between the LSC and TRW was not always a happy one, and if the original LSC behaved at times with less than proper respect and consideration, the new owners hope to make amends in the 21st Century!  The other aim of the new website is to promote interest in classic stereography in general, making its magic available to a wider audience.  

Within the T. R. Williams domain on the new site, there are three thumbnail image galleries, corresponding to his three major series of stereo cards and daguerreotypes - the "First Series", "Scenes in Our Village", and views in “"The Crystal Palace, Sydenham".  These galleries are a visual index, a quick resource for identifying almost any T. R. Williams view.  As time goes on, information will be added for each of these views individually, and clicking on a thumbnail will access scans of the images and explanatory text.  This is the first time such a resource has been published, and certainly the first attempt, ever, to document the entire series of TRW’s most famous oeuvre, "Scenes in Our Village" (SIOV).

This site represents, particularly in the case of "Scenes in Our Village", the result of 30 years of study.  It also intends to provide links to other sites and organisations relating to Stereo Photography, as well as offering information on the care and conservation of stereoscopic material, and hints on how to view in 3-D, for new converts.

May and Vidal are hoping for feedback, to improve the resource, and will be providing a channel on the site for this to happen. 

The London Stereoscopic Company is proud, through Stereo World, to share a preview of the long-awaited complete recognition gallery of "Scenes in Our Village".

 



This gallery includes all currently known stereo cards in the "Scenes in Our Village" series, by T. R. Williams.  Where the captions are in CAPITALS, they are the exact title given by TRW himself as it appears on the back of the card.  We have adhered to the original, sometimes unusual, but never careless, spelling of the originals (eg “To-Day”, “Potatoe”…), and the punctuation, too, is preserved, including TRW’s meticulous use of a full stop at the end of every title line.  Any title or addition in lower case text, in the list or the gallery, is our own (LSC 2008) invention, added to assist identification.  This gallery will appear in a similar form on the new LSC website, but there, clicking on a thumbnail image, or a title in the view list, will access the relevant 'detail page', showing the whole stereo card life-size, its back, an enlarged 'half', the appropriate verse, and, where available, information on various aspects of the view.  An alternative perspective on the SIOV series is provided in the extended list of titles below. 

 

SCENES IN OUR VILLAGE

Titles List

01a -  THE CHURCH.  (Winter)
01b -  THE CHURCH.  (Summer)
01c -  THE CHURCH.  (with wheelbarrow)
02a -  THE SQUIRE’S HOUSE.  (front drive)
02b -  THE SQUIRE’S HOUSE.  (with Squire)
02c -  THE SQUIRE’S HOUSE.  (with scythe)
03 -  THE FISH POND.
04 -  THE PARK BRIDGE.  or  04a - MY SUMMER HAUNT.  (Bridge)
04b  -  MY SUMMER HAUNT.  (leaf collecting)
04c -  (The Bridge – close view)
05 -  THE CHURCH SEEN THROUGH THE TREES
05 -  THE CHURCH SEEN THROUGH THE TREES.  ("Mr. Simmons")
06 -  THE ROAD THROUGH OUR VILLAGE.
07a -  THE DAME AND HER SPINNING WHEEL.  (empty doorway)
07b -  THE DAME AND HER SPINNING WHEEL.  (lady in doorway)
08 -  JOHN SIMS AT HIS PIGSTYE.  (normal)
08a -  JOHN SIMS AT HIS PIGSTYE.  (with lady)
09 -  MARIA CARSON’S WASHING-DAY.
10 -  A GOSSIP BY THE WAY.
11 -  THE BLACKSMITH’S SHOP.  (original)
11a -  THE BLACKSMITH’S SHOP.  (Grundy 920)
11a -  THE BLACKSMITH’S SHOP.  (Grundy 940)
12 -  OLD GILES’S GRIND-STONE.
13 -  THE COTTAGE.
14 -  TURNING BARLEY.
15 -  REAPING.
16 -  REAPERS AT DINNER IN THE FIELD
17 -  LOADING THE WHEAT CART.
18 -  RICK MAKING.
19 -  GOING TO SCHOOL.
20 -  THE LAST LOAD - GLEANERS WAITING AT THE GATE.
20a -  (Gleaners and children ?)
21 -  GLEANERS RETIRING.
22 -  DICK CARTER’S POTATOE HARVEST.
23 -  LAZY JOE BENNETT'S HUT.
24 -  TAKING CORN INTO THE GRANARY.
25a -  THE STRAW YARD.  (with tree)
25a -  THE STRAW YARD.  (no tree)
26 -  LOADING THE DUNG CART.
27 -  STACKING THE LAST RICK.
28 -  A REST BY THE WAY.
29 -  DAME EDMUNDS’ TALKATIVE DAUGHTER.
30 -  OLD DANCY ENJOYING HIS PIPE.
31 -  A CHAT AT THE GATE.
32 -  THE RUINED COW-SHED.
33 -  LANE LEADING TO THE FARM.
34 -  THE FIRST WARM DAY IN SPRING.
35 -  THE OLD STORY AT THE PUMP.
36 -  MARTHA & DANIEL AT THE CHURN.
36a -  MARTHA & DANIEL AT THE CHURN.  (lady stoops)
37 -  LITTLE MARY AND HER MAGPIE.
38 -  THE RECTORY.
39 -  THE VILLAGE SCHOOLMISTRESS.
40 -  A VIEW OF OUR STREET.
41 -  THE TURNPIKE TO THE HAMLET.
42 -  BREAD AND CHEESE IN THE BARN.
43 -  A COTTAGE ON THE BANKS OF THE RIVER.
44 -  A VIEW OF THE BRIDGE.
45 -  THE WEIR.  or  THE WEAR.
46 -  THE WEAR – ANOTHER VIEW.
47 -  THE FERRY.
48 -  UNDER THE WILLOWS.
49 -  ANGLING IN THE STREAM.
49a -  (Tadpole Bridge)
50 -  WHERE I CATCH THE MOST FISH.
51 -  “DONE FOR TO-DAY.”  or  ANGLERS DONE FOR THE DAY.
52 -   THE CART SHED – QUITE TIRED.
53 -   THE REMAINS OF THE OLD HALL.
54 -  "TUMMUS" STANDING FOR HIS PICTURE.
55 -  THE DOCTOR’S ONE COW DAIRY.
55a -  THE DOCTOR’S ONE COW DAIRY.  (with broom)
56 -  LITTLE POLLY GONE FAST ASLEEP.
57 -  EARLY MORNING – DRAWING WATER FROM THE WELL.
58 -  THE BACK VIEW OF NEAL’S COTTAGE.
59 -  MRS. GILES AT HER PUMP.
60? -  EVENING, THE WOODMAN'S LAST LOAD.
61? -  (The Lodge)
62?
-  (A Forest Walk)

 

**[There is evidently a lot to be said about the variants included in this list, about the people in the pictures, about Grundy(!), and about the locations and techniques used.  Even more power is vested in these pictures when the verses, included on the back of every card, are taken into consideration.]

 

We will be addressing all these issues on the LondonStereo.com website in the coming months, and eventually in more detail in our book, now in preparation.  What we hope is that now, for the first time in 150 years, the magic of this entire magnificent series of 3-D rustic views, the first of their kind, will be enjoyed by a wide new audience!

Brian May and Elena Vidal.

 

SOURCES: 

Russell Norton, Stereo World Magazine, Volume 16, Number 2, 1989
The Getty Images Website  -  www.gettyimages.com
PhotoLondon website - David Webb, Bob Pullen - http://82.109.94.204/photolondon/default.asp
Michael Pritchard
"The Edison Phonograph – The British Connection" by Frank Andrews.  City of London Phonograph and Gramophone Society, Rugby, 1986
The City of Westminster Archives
"The Times", 1856

 

For contributions of images used in the SIOV gallery, we gratefully acknowledge the collections of:

Gwyn Nicholls
Russell Norton - www.stereoview.com
Ken and Jenny Jacobson
Kenneth E. L. Brown
Graham Wood
Brian May

Article first published in Stereo World magazine March-April 2008 Volume 33, Number 5.

---

Article reproduced by kind permission of the authors and Stereo World.

STEREO WORLD ARTICLES BY SAME AUTHORS:
- London Stereoscopic Company Reborn - Vol 33, no 5, Mar/Apr 2008
- New Discoveries, New Mysteries! - Vol 31, no 4, Jan/Feb 2006
- "Our Village found At last! - Vol 30, no 1, Apr 2004

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