Gramma E’s Stereopticon

Reader Contribution by Renee-Lucie Benoit
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The stereopticon and how the postcard is inserted

An example of a postcard

How to look through the viewfinder

Long before we had television and all the electronic-based instruments we now have, people had to entertain themselves somehow. Can you imagine that? Some learned musical instruments. Some learned to sing. Some sang and played well. Some didn’t but they sang and played anyway. Many people played games outdoors. Croquet and badminton comes to mind. Baseball and football as well. Lots of people played cards, dominoes and checkers.

I think we could all learn something from these simpler times. By engaging in sports and home-based, self-propelled entertainment we learn sportsmanship, generosity and the satisfaction of accomplishment. Our brains and bodies are healthier. Our fingers more adept. One example of what I call “self-propelled” entertainment is the “stereopticon.” My Gramma E. had one and we kids played with it constantly.

We kids thought that the stereopticon was very cool and somewhat magical. It had a handle and a viewfinder and then about a hundred different little postcard sized images that were double. Each side was the same and when we inserted the postcard in the holder and held the view finder up to our eyes, lo and behold, we saw the image in 3 dimension. How cool was that? This held our attention for hours. Some of the images had a description on the back that went into great detail with information about the image so you learned something in the process. Some had a titles in four different languages. Some were obviously old family photos. For example, one image proclaims “Brother John’s First Christmas.” Some asserted “Around the World: Without Leaving Your Home — Just Like Being There!”

When we were done looking at each image we were told to go outside and play. We’d go over to the next door neighbor and pick and eat blackberries from her patch, swing on the porch swing or play hopscotch on the sidewalk. No one ever announced that they were bored. We didn’t know what that term meant. It just didn’t occur to us. I really miss those days and now that I am old I try to make an effort to still live that way. I think that life was a lot more healthy than the one we’ve gotten used to.