Stereoviews of the French Second Empire, ca. 1855-1870

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From 1848-1870 the French government was headed by Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, first as President of the Republic and then as the Emperor Napoleon III. To the astonishment of many (and to the dismay of some) he succeeded in reestablishing the political system of his uncle, the first Napoleon. During this period, known as the Second Empire, there were many changes in France and in French society. Some of these, particularly the more concrete examples, are documented in the stereoviews produced during that time. The rebuilding of Paris is one of the major projects mirrored in these images.

About stereo views

Stereoscopy is a technique for creating the illusion of depth by presenting two images (usually photographs) to the eyes, each one taken from a slightly different perspective (often about the same distance apart as human eyes). The resulting images, when viewed through a stereoscope, appear three-dimensional. Stereoscopy was invented by Sir Charles Wheatstone in 1840 as a scientific tool to examine human perception. The development of photography using negatives, which could produce numerous prints of the original, enabled early photographers to create stereoviews from photographs. By the middle of the 1850s the stereoview was established as a popular way of seeing famous sights. Since photography was still a complex affair many tourists purchased stereoviews as souvenirs of their travels. Throughout the remainder of the 19th century, and well into the 20th, tens of millions of stereoviews were created and sold all over Europe and America.

Tissue views: Tissues were created by printing the photographic images on very thin paper. This was then backed with another thin piece of paper which could be tinted in colors (by hand). When viewed with a strong light source behind the view the colors came through. Some tissue views were pricked or pierced to create the effect of lighted candles or lamps, lights in buildings, the moon, etc.