Liberty Street Economics

« | Main | »

May 29, 2015

Historical Echoes: Move Over Oculus Rift and Google Cardboard, Let’s Pay Homage to the — Stereoscopic Viewer!

Within the New York Public Library Digital Collections is the Robert N. Dennis Collection of Stereoscopic Views. Stereoscopic photographs were viewed with a stereoscopic viewer or stereoscope. According to the “About” tab of the NYPL page for the collection, “During the period between the 1850s and the 1910s, stereos were a mainstay of home entertainment, perhaps second only to reading as a personal leisure activity.” They also functioned as a way for people to travel vicariously, or as an aid to the study of history and other cultures. You know you’ve found an image meant to be seen with a stereoscopic viewer when it is double, with the images slightly askew from one another. The kinds of images that were particularly suitable as subjects for stereoscopic photography were those involving objects at varying distances from the viewer (for example, landscapes and cityscapes). (This is only one form of stereoscopy, which incorporates other technologies.)

The images are interesting, even if not viewed in 3D, but for those of you who feel you really want to have a mind-altering experience, you’ll need a way to view them stereoscopically. This means you need to either find—or make—a viewer.

You can probably find a stereoscopic viewer on eBay. Or you can make your own—several internet sites teach you how to do just that. But if you’re really feeling impatient (and impulsive!), you could, for example, grab some binoculars and smash them against a door jamb so that the lenses fall out! Or, perhaps a more reasonable approach might be to simply take two empty toilet paper rolls (or rolled paper, taped) and look through them. Get your right eye settled, so that the right paper roll is centered on the picture on the right while your left eye is closed; then do the same for the left. Focus your eyes forward until the image is both focused and in 3D. You can train yourself to create the 3D effect without the paper rolls, by simply focusing your eyes (similar to what you need to do with an autostereogram.) When it works, it can really work well. For example, you won’t experience the true nausea you should for this image unless you view it stereoscopically.

Naturally, some lovely old bank buildings turn up in some of these city views. Many are from the Robert N. Dennis Collection mentioned above:

Five Cent Bank and Republican Block   Springfield, Massachusetts, 1865-1885.  It works well stereoscopically because of the trees in the foreground.

National Revere Bank   Boston, Massachusetts, 1872.

Bank safes being guarded (after the San Francisco earthquake) San Francisco, California, 1906.

Union Dime Savings Bank   New York City, 1860-70.

German Savings Bank   New York City, 1860-70.

Erie County Savings Bank   Buffalo, New York, 1865-1905. Is this a bank?  It looks like a mansion. It may have been a temporary residence, as this page about a different building suggests.

Citizens National Bank   Indianapolis, Indiana. We assume the bank is the building marked with the little “x” to the left of the Wholesale Drug House (sound suspicious?); a handwritten note says “Merrill Fields’ Bank.”

McLaughlin & Ryland’s Bank   San Jose, California, 1868-85. It may be the same entity as the San Jose Safe Deposit Bank of Savings.

Bank of San Diego   San Diego, California, late 1800s. Same bank, different view. Looks like it’s almost the only building for miles

And here’s an entire page of stereo cards of bank buildings in San Francisco from the late 1800s.

Of course, now there’s a technology race to come up with the most convincing virtual reality possible (necessitating the use of some kind of 3D imaging), so that we can all leave reality whenever we want to, for as long as possible!


The views expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York or the Federal Reserve System. Any errors or omissions are the responsibility of the author.

Amy Farber is a research librarian in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Research and Statistics Group.

About the Blog

Liberty Street Economics features insight and analysis from New York Fed economists working at the intersection of research and policy. Launched in 2011, the blog takes its name from the Bank’s headquarters at 33 Liberty Street in Manhattan’s Financial District.

The editors are Michael Fleming, Andrew Haughwout, Thomas Klitgaard, and Asani Sarkar, all economists in the Bank’s Research Group.

Liberty Street Economics does not publish new posts during the blackout periods surrounding Federal Open Market Committee meetings.

The views expressed are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the position of the New York Fed or the Federal Reserve System.

Economic Research Tracker

Image of NYFED Economic Research Tracker Icon Liberty Street Economics is available on the iPhone® and iPad® and can be customized by economic research topic or economist.

Economic Inequality

image of inequality icons for the Economic Inequality: A Research Series

This ongoing Liberty Street Economics series analyzes disparities in economic and policy outcomes by race, gender, age, region, income, and other factors.

Most Read this Year

Comment Guidelines


We encourage your comments and queries on our posts and will publish them (below the post) subject to the following guidelines:

Please be brief: Comments are limited to 1,500 characters.

Please be aware: Comments submitted shortly before or during the FOMC blackout may not be published until after the blackout.

Please be relevant: Comments are moderated and will not appear until they have been reviewed to ensure that they are substantive and clearly related to the topic of the post.

Please be respectful: We reserve the right not to post any comment, and will not post comments that are abusive, harassing, obscene, or commercial in nature. No notice will be given regarding whether a submission will or will
not be posted.‎

Comments with links: Please do not include any links in your comment, even if you feel the links will contribute to the discussion. Comments with links will not be posted.

Send Us Feedback

Disclosure Policy

The LSE editors ask authors submitting a post to the blog to confirm that they have no conflicts of interest as defined by the American Economic Association in its Disclosure Policy. If an author has sources of financial support or other interests that could be perceived as influencing the research presented in the post, we disclose that fact in a statement prepared by the author and appended to the author information at the end of the post. If the author has no such interests to disclose, no statement is provided. Note, however, that we do indicate in all cases if a data vendor or other party has a right to review a post.