The Mystery ‘Stereoview Card’

A photograph from the Henley Royal Regatta, but from which year, and which are the crews? [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

Many years ago, as a young boy growing up in Sweden, I received a View-Master as a present from my parents. With it came some reels, those cardboard disks with small photographs in black&white or colour which, viewed through the View-Master (also called stereoscope), tricked your brain and gave the illusion of depth in an image. On Wikipedia I read: ‘Most stereoscopic methods present two offset images separately to the left and right eye of the viewer. These two-dimensional images are then combined in the brain to give the perception of 3D depth. This technique is distinguished from 3D displays that display an image in three full dimensions, allowing the observer to increase information about the 3-dimensional objects being displayed by head and eye movements.’

I came to think about my old View-Master the other day, when I received an old stereoscopic photograph, these side-by-side photographs with two perspectives of the same photograph which will give you binocular vision.

A ‘stereoview card’ viewer from the rowing exhibit ‘Let Her Run’ at the Rowing Hall of Fame in Mystic.
The photograph was from the Henley Royal Regatta showing an eights race (see on top). Unfortunately, it is impossible to see any markings on the oarsmen’s jerseys or oar blades, so I am not sure which crews are racing. The photograph was published in New York and gives a copyright year of 1896, and says: ‘International Regatta at Henley on the Thames, England’ [sic]. I contacted my fellow rowing historians Peter Mallory, Greg Denieffe and Tim Koch to ask if they dared to give a qualified guess which year and which eights might be racing in the photograph. They and I compared photographs from the regatta in Henley from 1895, 1896 and 1897. Tim made some close-ups of some photographs which clearly showed the difference of the tents, so it is not from 1896 or 1897, nor is it from 1899 when the Henley Stewards had decided to put booms on the course, so it might be from 1895.

There is quite a distance between the boats, so at first I thought that it was the ‘international’ race between Cornell and Trinity Hall which met in the semi-final of the Grand, and left poor Cornell a ‘time zone’ behind the Cambridge boat after the Americans fell to pieces half way – but it is not. Two of ‘the Hall’ men had white hats on, and no one is wearing a hat in the winning crew in the picture above. The simple solution, of course, can be that the American company which published the ‘stereoview card’ picked a random photograph of two English crews from Henley and just called it ‘international’.

It is still a mystery…

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