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Prints and Photographs Division



Graphic Journalism and Illustration
Photojournalism Collections
Documentary Surveys
Advertising and Propaganda
Pictures: Business and Art
Professional Photographers
Commercial Photographs of Native Americans
Detroit Publishing Company
Panoramic Photographs
arrow graphicStereographs/Card Photos
Individually Cataloged Photographs
Fine Prints
Popular Graphic Arts
Design Collections
Organizations' Records
Personal Papers



Stereographs/Card Photos
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Getting Her Hair Banged. Whiting View Company. 1900. Prints and Photographs Division.

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| bibliographic record

Stereographs and card photographs, which proliferated from the 1860s through the 1910s, represent a drive toward visual novelty.


Stereographs consist of a pair of images, usually photographs, which are placed side by side. When looked at through a special viewer, they appear to be a single three-dimensional image. These were used as parlor entertainment and as educational tools starting in the 1850s.

see caption below

Getting His Hair Banged. Whiting View Company. 1900. Prints and Photographs Division.

full caption
| bibliographic record

The division's collection of Stereographs (52,000 items in the organized collections, primarily 1870s-1940s) was acquired largely by copyright deposit. Publishers frequently issued stereographs in sets or series, some of which presaged the development of the early motion picture in telling stories with simple plots and few words. The images also document rural and urban scenes and present humorous and sentimental vignettes.

Given their content and varied uses in the home and classroom, the stereographs invite investigation of recreational habits, educational practices, and popular commentary on manners and customs in the decades surrounding the turn of the twentieth century. A number of stereographs, for instance, comment humorously on courtship, marriage, and domestic life. Images that record industrial scenes, agricultural activities, and recreational life provide a view of women's presence (or absence) in these settings.

Stereographs were also used for portraiture. The division's collections include stereographic portraits of Clara Barton at work at her desk; pensive views of poet and journalist Ella Wheeler Wilcox; what appear to be memorial portraits of temperance leader Frances E. Willard, published two years after her death; and a portrait of Native American “Adeline, Princess of Seattle,” published in 1896, reputedly her hundredth year (all in STEREO BIOG FILE).

Searching the Collection

Many images for which copy negatives or transparencies exist can be searched in the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog. The collection does not have its own listing in the online catalog, but stereographs can be retrieved using the term stereographs. Digitized images generally accompany the records.

To look for images for which no online record exists, onsite researchers can:

  • search the reading room files established for stereographs:
    • Subjects
    • U.S. Geographical
    • Foreign Geographical
    • Biographical
    • Presidential
  • search the Divisional Card Catalog and the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog for stereographs described as a group (LOT); most stereograph LOTs are housed in the reading room and can be accessed directly once the appropriate LOT number has been identified.

Card Photographs

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Mrs. Fiske, “Tess of the D'Ubervilles.” Napoleon Sarony. 1897. Prints and Photographs Division.
bibliographic record

Other types of card-mounted photographs proliferated as keepsakes beginning in the 1850s. Cartes-de-visite and cabinet cards were two small-format card photographs used to reproduce individual and family studio photographs, as well as portraits of celebrities. The larger “imperial” cards were more often used to present theatrical portraits of actresses in costume.

The division does not have a card photograph collection as such, but such images are sprinkled throughout the holdings, particularly in personal and family collections (see Personal Papers section).

Searching the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog and the Divisional Card Catalog under the appropriate format terms (e.g., Imperial card photographs, Cartes de visite) will retrieve an array of examples.

Go to the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog (PPOC)

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