3D is all the rage.With the movie “Avatar” now in theaters, the long list of 3D movies and the unveiling of the ﬁrst 3D television at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, one can only wonder when and where all this three dimensional imaging started.
It’s far from being new, according to Cedaredge resident and craftsman extraordinaire Don Clayton.
According to Don, in 1838 British physicist and inventor Sir Charles Wheatstone invented an optical device for viewing three-dimensional drawings. Wheatstone called it a “stereoscope,” taking as its origin the Greek words “stereos,’ meaning “solid,” and “skopein,” meaning “to see.”
However, stereoscopes were not popular until 1851 when Sir David Brewster demonstrated a model at the Great Exhibition at London’s Crystal Palace. Brewster’s demonstration caught the eye of Queen Victoria, who was visiting the exhibition. He presented the Queen with a viewer and a collection of “stereoviews,” (two photographs of the same subject mounted side by side on a card that, when viewed through a stereoscope, are perceived as a single three-dimensional image). It wasn’t long before every middle-class home in England had one.
In 1886, at the request of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Joseph Bates built a stereo viewer that would accommodate specially designed cards that were less expensive and easier to use than the older style stereoscopes. Known as the “Holmes Viewer,” Holmes stereoscopes were used to teach airmen the skills of analyzing stereographs during World War Two.
By 1879, almost every home had a stereoscope and a collection of viewing cards, often numbering into the hundreds. By then, most photographers carried stereo, as well as regular photographic equipment, photographing images of people in far away lands and scenes of exotic places for the rapidly expanding stereoscope market.
Estimates suggest that there were over 5 million stereoviews photographed in the United States alone.
By the turn of the century photographers had photographed, for stereo viewing, many world-famous events including the Colombian Exposition, the Spanish-American War and the Alaskan Gold Rush. With the help of stereoviews, 3D images of famous, and even infamous people, were brought into people’s homes the world over. However, with the advent of radio, movies and television, the stereoscope faded in popularity to a point of being almost nonexistent.
Don credits K-Mart for keeping three dimensional imaging alive, but added that the steresoscopes of that by-gone era and the ones he makes today should not be confused with the plastic “K-Mart Special” children’s “View-Master,” (a modern, plastic version of the stereoscope which allows children to view cartoons, fairy tales and other subjects imprinted on a transparent disc).
Don explained that an authentic stereoscope is “a unique, precision-made instrument made to give a person many hours of viewing pleasure.”
He included the word “nostalgic,” in his description of the stereoscope.
While working as a prototype engineer for Dixon Electronics in Grand Junction, Don developed a stereoscope for the Dixon’s Gift Division.
He also designed and built all the jigs and tooling needed to build it. When the Gift Division was closed, he bought the rights, all the inventory, jigs and ﬁxtures from Dixon and began building stereoscopes on his own
That was 27 years ago, notes his wife, Shirley. Today, a long time resident of Cedaredge, Don’s handcrafted stereoscopes have gone through several major changes to become the beautiful handcrafted, functional centerpiece that he wholesales worldwide.
“Originally,” said Don, “the hood of the stereoscopes were made of metal, then plastic, but now they are made of antique leather.”
The lenses have also gone through an evolution of sorts, and now, with the antique leather, the wider hoods and lense’s rectangular wedge shape, children and eyeglass wearers are able to enjoy Don’s stereoscopes.
Don explained that when he started building his stereoscopes, “the lenses were round and spaced so that children could not look through them and see the image. Adults who wore glasses had to take off their glasses in order to view the image. Now, with the soft leather hoods, a person does not have to remove their glasses to view the images, and with the wedge shaped, rectangular lenses, even small children, can view the images.”
Under the name of Claymore Company, Don has sold his stereoscopes to such prestigious companies as SONY (250 as table centerpieces for a banquet celebrating the release of their I-Max 3D ﬁlm, “Across the Sea of Time”), Minneapolis-Honeywell, Polk Radio, and the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. Clayton said museums and gift shops are his major sources for his business.
Shirley said it took the whole family, Don, herself, their three daughters (Regina, Linda and Dianna) and their grandchildren to assemble the stereoscopes that SONY needed for their banquet. Don turned down an order from TOYO Glass Co. for 10,000 sterescopes. He smiled, “I have no intention in going into mass production — that would sacriﬁce quality for quantity, and besides, I sell all that I can make now.”
In 1908, Sears & Roebucks sold stereoscopes, with a set of 50 stereoviews, for 85 cents. But those days are gone. Don’s stereoscopes retail between $120-$150, including a set of 12 stereoviews. Also included are instructions for assembly (yes, you have to put them together yourself), and instructions for photographing your own stereoviews.
Don noted that while new stereoscopes, sold in high-end gift shops and on the Internet, mirror the earlier classic styling, most of them are built to look at, rather than through, and lack the quality of workmanship and materials. By way of contrast, Don’s stereoscopes are authentic replicas of an earlier, more rugged mid-century construction and craftsmanship, and are carefully handcrafted from select walnut and antique leather.
The Claytons moved to Cedaredge in 1971. Their three daughters are all graduates of Cedaredge High School. Now, at the age of 75, Don is looking forward to retirement, knowing full well that his stereoscopes will provide a good supplemental income for his retirement.
“I don’t make junk,” he laughed.
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