The Jordan/Ference Collection had its genesis in the mid-1990s. Bob Boyd and Doug Jordan were independently collecting WWI-related stereoviews and ended up bidding against each other on the newly-created site eBay. Unhappy with this situation, they made contact (in those days eBay let you know who you were bidding against!) and came up with a new strategy. As Bob was primarily interested in the research aspects, he would scan his purchases and sell them along to Doug. In turn, Doug would refrain from bidding on ‘Bob's’ lots and instead bid on others that Bob hadn't found or bid on. They then shared image scans and any information they could find regarding the manufacturers and set contents, resulting in the image library and lists on this site. Bob left the project to pursue other interests. After the acquisition of a particularly interesting - and difficult - set of badly damaged amateur views was added to the collection, I signed on as Lead Research Archivist, and with Doug’s passing on 15 January 2020, became curator of the Collection. My wife, Stacey Doyle Ference, a trained archivist employed by the New York Public Library, assists me in cataloguing and designing finding aids.
Shortly after discovering and joining The Western Front Association last year, I was approached by David Tattersfield about the possibility of bringing some of the Collection over to the WFA website. This was exciting for two reasons. For one, since the inception of the greatwarin3d.org website, the Collection has existed as a public good; researchers and authors are free to use our scans without the charges associated with those from museums and universities. All we ask for non-commercial use is proper crediting. The prospect of sharing the largest publicly available collection of Great War stereography in the world with thousands of people in an attractive searchable gallery immediately appealed to me. Secondarily, an upcoming ‘Add Information’ feature which will debut on Stereoscope in the next few months will help me organize some of the difficult unnumbered-and-uncatalogued stereoviews, helping to complete what was supposed to be my dear friend Doug’s next major project. I’ve been working with Steve Cornock on finalizing the ‘scope’ of the project (pun intended), and should mention that the Collection owes debts of gratitude to fellow First World War stereoscopic researchers Paul Bond, Ralph Reilly, and André Ruiter for their work with us.
A Few Notes on Stereography
Stereography, at its most basic, is the portrayal of a three-dimensional scene on two-dimensional media. Almost all stereography uses side-by-side pairs, designed to be viewed with a stereoscope.
Above: Brewster-type stereoscope, 1870
For many people, myself included, a stereoscope is not strictly necessary. The free-viewing method of Parallel Viewing allows one to see the image in 3D without the use of any device. Parallel viewing can be most easily explained as relaxing the eyes until the left eye is pointing directly at the left-side image, the right eye at the right-side image. If you’ve ever successfully seen one of the ‘Magic Eye’ hidden pictures that were popular at shopping malls and in children’s books in the 1990s, you’ve actually done parallel viewing. For an even more immersive experience, a stereoscope is necessary. While slightly cheaper scopes exist, as well as significantly more expensive ones, I highly recommend the Berezin Pocket3Dvu; the relatively inexpensive device allows proper stereopsis (merging of images) on screens ranging from a phone to a 65” television, and will also allow viewers to enjoy printed stereoviews and reproductions (such as those in my 3-part article series for Stand To! beginning in April 2021).
All of Great War stereography is divided into three parts. Commercial paper card views, which make up the bulk of the initial launch of Stereoscope, were the most commonly produced form of stereography amongst Anglophone countries. They are still the most widely collected views in the Anglophone market, largely due to their widespread availability and the lack of translational needs for most manufacturers. Commercial glass slide views were much more prominent in Continental Europe, and are still generally discovered at auction sites, estate sales, boot sales, et cetera on the Continent. Amateur Great War Stereography, my personal area of expertise, is exactly what it sounds like – unique, one-off images taken by officers, civilians, surgeons, and others, and never intended for public consumption. Let’s take a brief look at each of these categories, which will be appearing in stages on the WFA website!
Commercial Paper Card Stereography
While the most prominent form of stereography in Anglophone combatant nations, the limitations of bulky large-format cameras means that most commercial paper card stereography falls into various categories which exclude that which might be of most interest in Great War studies – actual images of combat. For a brief explanation of the limitations of the format, see ‘Stereography in the Great War, Part I: Paper Card Manufacturers’ in the April 2021 issue of Stand To! Generally, paper card stereography was done in the fashion of Victorian stereography, utilizing standard 3.5x7” mounts. At least one manufacturer used small-format cards of the sort that some of you might remember from early 1960s Weetabix VistaScreen colour lithographic stereoviews found in every box for a few years.
It would be nigh-on-impossible to list every major and minor manufacturer and their defining characteristics; some manufacturers don’t even yet appear on the Collection website, and may never make an appearance in Stereoscope. Therefore, I’m going to add manufacturers as they are added to the site; for further information, visit the Research Notes section of the Collection website or drop me an email.
Underwood & Underwood were the progenitors of the second stereoscopic renaissance in Anglophone countries.
Above: The images are marked with the creator's name - in this case Underwood and Underwood.
Focused primarily on travel stereography by 1914, they had two (or possibly three) active stereographers ‘over there’ at the outbreak of the war, and by 1915 were already producing legitimate scenes of the conflict – though generally behind the lines or after the battle. U&U stereoviews are divided into two groups. The New York office released what are generally referred to as the ‘American Underwoods’ under the European War imprint. The London office released what are generally referred to as the ‘British Underwoods’ under the War of the Nations imprint. Keystone View Company acquired all Underwood negatives in 1920-21; generally, the actual Underwood prints are preferable.
Above: An example from the Underwood & Underwood set 'Grannie in action - Waiting the signal to fire' being the caption here.
Keystone View Company was the primary American competitor with U&U, and was founded by an ambitious former salesman from the latter company.
B. Lloyd Singley bought up competitors’ negatives full-stop, often with no intention of printing them – he just wanted competitors off the market. KVC wasn’t able to get a stereographer over to the Continent until late 1918; earlier sets tend to include a lot of images purchased from the stereographers of other combatant nations. However, the bulk of KVC’s early output was simply laughable. Every image in the 1915 set they released to compete with the brothers Underwood was taken prior to 1914 – images included range from the Russo-Japanese War to the Boxer Rebellion; from the Second Boer War to the Mexican Incursion. The cards were simply re-captioned and presented as views from the ongoing ‘European War’. Once the United States joined the war, KVC’s tone turned dramatically jingoistic; post-war sets are on majority American subjects, and the optional books with the 300 and 400 card sets followed the narrative that the United States came in and singlehandedly decided the war.
Above: An example from the 'Keystone' set - US Battleship Kentucky being the subject
While their virtual monopoly makes them the most commonly collected cards within the stereoscopic community, they are of little value in terms of studying the war (outside of analysing contemporaneous shifts in American viewpoints through tracking change).
Realistic Travels was an imprint of another former U&U salesman, H. D. Girdwood, often lovingly referred to as ‘the P. T. Barnum of Great War stereography’.
Girdwood loved India, and most of his pre-war works (1903-1912) were of this colony. Among his many exploits which have been largely lost to history, he obtained a grant from the Indian Office to become the first official British war cinematographer. Using this as an opportunity to create hundreds of stereoviews, he was banned from the BEF after catching Haig’s ire for sneaking up to the front one too many times. He obtained the Crown Copyright for his images for a brief period by getting HRH Henry, Prince of Wales, to snap the shutter on his camera. During tours of America, he bragged about being ‘honorary mayor of Bombay’, although there is absolutely no evidence of this. Regardless, in terms of paper card stereoviews, he created by far the most comprehensive and interesting group of over 1,000 views – and never sold out to KVC. Of course, many of his views were staged, as were those of all Anglophone paper card manufacturers. But unlike U&U and KVC, Girdwood covered all aspects of the British Empire’s war effort, including everything from South Africa and the Middle East to the naval raid at Zeebrugge. Somehow – perhaps through his friend (and enabler) Sir James Willcocks – he obtained Sir Charles Snodgrass Ryan’s Gallipoli negatives, considered essential documents within Great War stereography.
Above: Captioned 'Our reserves awaiting orders to move up to their new positions on the sloes of Cape Helles' - this is one of the examples of images from the Gallipoli campaign from the 'Realistic Travels' set.
George Nightingale & Company was a small, little-known publisher based out of Weston-Super-Mare, Somerset. There is almost no information available on the company, excepting for the fact that it was staffed by veterans of the Great War, and that all views were taken after Armistice. It is widely believed that George Nightingale founded the company specifically to provide employment to veterans. Despite the complete lack of wartime imagery, Nightingale produced compelling images of ruins, battlefields, rebuilding, and remembrances. It has always astounded me that so little research has been done into this company, which only produced 200 views, but whose output is quite technically proficient and often moving.
Above: An example from the George Nightingale & Company set. The sign says 'This place was Hooge'
Warren E. Troutman was a latecomer in American stereography, and likely did not produce a single unique image.
Rather, his company acquired stereoviews from other sources, primarily French. Only one set of 300 images was released, under the title ‘World War’, although smaller subsets are also known to have been printed. While generally of relatively poor quality, Troutman was notable for being one of very few American companies that did not sell out to KVC, and a good number of images have never been traced back to their source.
Above: An example from the Warren E. Troutman set. 'Famous French Renault tanks going through Vaux'
Neue Photographische Gesellschaft (NPG) was the primary paper card manufacturer for the German and Austrohungarian forces. The importance of NPG’s documentation of the Central Powers during the war cannot be understated.
Above: An example from the NPG set.
While it is unknown exactly how many views were created, it is estimated that there were approximately 600 printed, covering a very wide range of subjects. 400 German-language cards and 100 Hungarian-language cards (with all but 17 overlapping) are considered the core of NPG’s output.
Above: Another NPG example with a caption in Hungarian
About a quarter of their output was devoted to the Dual Monarchy; Austro-Hungarians were always depicted in a positive light, despite the fact that by 1916 they were largely viewed as a burden. The cards are of universally fine quality, printed on single sheets of thick glossy stock rather than mounted. The extremely rare Hungarian set is being included in the initial Stereoscope launch, with brand-new English-language translations by Benjamin L. Peal.
Paris-Stéréo was the only French manufacturer to print primarily on paper stock, as opposed to making glass slides. Bob Boyd’s research notes from 2007 open with perhaps the best summation of Paris-Stéréo: ‘[n]othing is known about this company beyond what can be inferred from its product’. Like most French manufacturers, Paris-Stéréo’s records were destroyed by the Third Reich. Overall production stood at around 400 unique stereoviews, 237 of them dating to the early days of the war (1914-early 1915). They are of very good technical quality, and cover a wide range of topics, although surprisingly no views of Verdun are included.
Above: An example from the Paris-Stéréo set.
Commercial Glass Slides
While paper card stereography had an uninterrupted history from the Victorian era through to the ‘Stereographic Dark Age’ of the 1930s and 40s, an 1890 patent by prolific French inventor Jules Richard changed the course of stereography for the better on the Continent. Richard had come up with a new way of viewing 3D images on 2D surfaces – in my opinion, a far superior method to paper card stereography. Instead of using two large-format glass negatives and printing to paper, Richard’s cameras, printing devices, and stereoscopes all revolved around a simple concept – a single pane of glass to capture both images as a negative, and a second pane of glass to print the image onto. This process created a diapositive; effectively a glass plate transparency akin to using reversal (slide) film in a later 35mm camera.
There are a variety of stereoscopes which allow one to view glass diapositives; table top scopes allow one to load up a 3D slide show of 20 or 25 views. Handheld scopes, however, perhaps best demonstrate the qualities that make glass stereography so much more enjoyable. Backlit with frosted glass, the scope can be pointed at a dim, diffused light source (like a cloudy sky) to bring out detail in the light areas of the view. Aimed at a point light source (like the sun, or a bare bulb) one can see detail even in the shadows – such is the joy of a high-silver emulsion on a transparent substrate.
In general, commercial glass stereography is extremely realistic – because the views are actual battlefield views. Corpses are corpses, not BEF soldiers spending a day posing as corpses in immaculate uniforms (for that, see Realistic Travels). Almost entirely of French and Belgian origin, identification on the slides can be tricky. The first batch of French commercial glass slides will go live on Stereoscope in July, but here’s an idea of what to expect:
Brentano’s is the name given to a group of thousands of slides that were sold by various vendors, in various languages, under various imprints. The most notable purveyor of these slides was the Brentano’s Bookstore in Paris – hence the entirely arbitrary name which has been used in the stereoscopic community since the 1990s. The views were taken by various officers and soldiers who’d snuck cameras out to the front; quite a few of them are rather gruesome, and the titles are often erroneous (there is one slide from Verdun that, in various impressions, claims to be from Fort Douaumont, Fort Souville, and Fort Vaux). These were intended for the public, and often bear sensationalistic captions. Some have no captions at all. Needless to say, it is going to be quite a challenge to catalogue them.
Amateur Great War Stereography
My particular area of specialization, amateur stereography of the First World War, is what led me to be appointed lead research archivist of the Collection which I now curate. In the estimation of the previous curator, Doug Jordan, several hundred thousand amateur stereoviews were created during (and after) the Great War. It would be miraculous if 5% of these were still in existence and viable – and in most cases, when a partial set is found, it is provably partial. That is to say, a seller might be offering 7 slides which depict various locations in France; from the distance between them and from the numbering of the slides, it can be inferred that there were likely 50 or more in the original collection. This is frustrating, but the value of these artefacts cannot be overstated.
Amateur views often focus on subjects that had no commercial value and thus were not printed en masse. British soldier billeting in a small French town, a German officer posing hilariously with his ceremonial sword, surgical procedures at the American Ambulance Hospital in Neuilly – these are only a few of the subjects covered in the 5,000+ amateur views in the Jordan/Ference Collection. Most are still unprocessed – while amateur paper views are easy enough, glass views have to be carefully cleaned, scanned in a very specific manner, and in the case of negatives, manually developed and transposed. Then begins the exciting part – identifying places, dates, artillery, and very occasionally, people. There is one set already available on Stereoscope, with plenty more to come:
French Photojournalist 1914 is the arbitrary name I’ve given to a medium-sized set of stereoviews all clearly taken with the same camera around the same time. The views are mostly behind the line at the Marne, and clearly were intended for sale (hence my conclusion that they were taken by a photojournalist). They were captioned by someone other than the photographer – hence the fact that the slide which reads “Acy – L’église” is actually of the Église Sainte-Genevieve in Barcy, about 15 miles from Acy. My suspicion is that, before publication, the stereographer was conscripted or joined up, and perished in the war; it’s hard to fathom why these never made it to Brentano’s, LSU, Editions-S.T.L., or another manufacturer had he (gender assumed by virtue of lack of evidence of any female stereographers in the field) lived until 1919.
We at the Jordan/Ference Collection are very excited by this collaboration. I hope that you are too! Stereoscope is going to be an evolving project which will soon be interactive. Check back frequently for new images, more information, and additional features!