Antique Stereoptican with Travel Slides

Stereoptican. Patented in 1897. No brand name.   This is a very up-to-date model. The slide can be moved to focus the picture and the handle folds up for easy storage. My husband’s father remembers playing with this at his great-grandmother’s house when he was a boy.

For those of you who haven’t had the fortune to look through a steroptican, they were a first in technology. A heavy cardboard slide containing a double photo was inserted into the slots on the left. The photos had been taken at slightly different angles by a camera with two lenses placed 2 1/2 inches apart, about the distance between your eyes. You looked through the silver viewfinder and voila! A 3-D picture.

Invented in England, this gadget was popularized in the U.S. by Oliver Wendal Holmes of all people, who designed a hand-held model in the mid 1850’s.

The slides were often of scenery for the arm-chair traveler. This one is labeled “Storm mists press down on the mountain walls above beautiful Loen Lake, the Nordfjord, Norway.”

In addition to scenery, domestic scenes were popular – mothers with babies, fathers feeding chickens. The one below is labeled “Dutch Courtship.” You can see the double slide which created the 3-D effect. I wonder what my husband’s father made of the picture.

Not all the slides I have are from my husband’s family. My mother also collected them; I believe the Norwegian ones are from her because of my American Field Service sister.

It’s fascinating to think of how people entertained themselves in the past and to try out some of their toys. But don’t try to take away my movies, internet or the chance to write this blog. Otherwise, what would I do on Wednesday and Sunday nights?!

Antique Toaster

Flip flop toaster by Sunbeam. This came with a rather frayed cord. The toast is placed between the two metal grids, one side toasted, then you flip it over for the second side. Typical purchase for my mother who was a lover of odd-ball antiques. She would go for an antique humidifier over a fancy chair any day.

She took pictures in the same way. Whereas my daddy took carefully framed and planned pictures, Mother took pictures of everything. The leaves on an unfamiliar tree, the front of a bus, an unusual traffic sign. When we got home from a trip, she would have hundreds of pictures. Of course, as she said, the English pictures were mostly green fields or sheep. The Greek pictures were piles of stone and olive groves. But looking at her photos the country would emerge.

With Daddy’s pictures you remembered a specific moment: When he dropped the stone into the pond. When you posed for the umpteenth time on a fence with mountains in the background and your stomach was growling. (Those fence pictures always seemed to take place early in the morning before breakfast.)

When Daddy died, Mother took over as family photographer.  At first she found the camera daunting and the shadow of Daddy’s perfection hung over her. I remember her taking this picture of me and two friends in Germany. She adjusted the lens and stepped a couple feet to the left. The sun went under a cloud. We waited. She refocused and squinted into the view finder. She asked us to move closer together. She refocused. Finally my friend’s husband said, “Did anyone ever die waiting for you to take their picture?”

Washing Ewer and Bowl

Antique pottery bowl and ewer used for washing. These are not a set. One belonged to my mother’s maternal and the other to her paternal grandmother. They are delicate, so it’s easy to understand that a set might not survive.

In houses without plumbing, most houses at the time these were made, water was kept ready in the pitcher for morning wash-ups in the bedroom. The piece of furniture the bowl sat on was called a commode. It had a rack for a towel, sometimes a mirror, and a chamber pot was kept in the cabinet. I’m eternally grateful to have been born well after a commode was necessary!

My mother’s two grandmothers were very different. The one was stout and looks in pictures as if she likes to cook – she often wears an apron. The other was very thin. Mother said when they visited her father’s family, she was sometimes chosen to sleep with her grandmother. The bed was high and difficult for a young girl to climb into. Mother would cling to the edge, hoping not to fall out, but worried she’d roll over in the night and squash her grandmother.

BTW, the flowers, sadly, are fake.

Ceramic Bowl / Guest Post

Our First Guest Post, from the family of Cat Lazaroff.
This bowl was made by my great-great-grandmother, Jeannette Garr Washburn Kelsey, more than 100 years ago. Jeannette was, according to my grandmother, quite a hellraiser, traveling the world, trying the latest fads. She was also obsessed with our family’s link to the Scottish clan Sinclair, through James Sinclair, the black-sheep son of the Earl of Caithness. James left Scotland to fight in the American Revolutionary War, then worked merchant ships that traveled to Spain, South America, all round the Atlantic.

I’d heard this story from my grandmother and in 1996 went to my first Scottish festival, in Fergus, Ontario. In the Sinclair booth I scanned the genealogy chart for a name from the stories: William, the 10th Earl of Caithness. Couldn’t find him. Was my memory faulty? Still crouched in front of the framed chart, I pulled out my cell phone and called Grandmommy.

“He married a Kelsey? Nope, no Kelseys listed.” When I snapped the phone shut, the kilted man in charge of the booth came forward. “Did I hear you say you’re descended from the Kelseys?”

Somehow I’d managed to come to the one Scottish festival in the world where someone had heard our story. Rory Sinclair not only knew of the disinherited Sinclair son, he’d actually tracked down a copy of Jeannette’s 1904 vanity-published account.

Thanks to that encounter, my Grandmommy and I both have photocopies of A Diverted Inheritance, an odd mix of fictionalized true-love story and supportive research, including letters between Jeannette and various members of Clan Sinclair.

After my grandfather died, I helped Grandmommy move to a much smaller apartment. Among the items that didn’t make the move was this bowl. It’s chipped, imperfect, not exactly beautiful. But inside it nestles a note, written on the back of one of Grandmommy’s business cards, in her own brisk hand:

The bowl is the only one of Jeannette’s ceramics to survive, as far as I know. I’ll keep it safe, and someday maybe I’ll give it – along with my photocopy of Jeannette’s book, and the story of James Sinclair – to another generation.

Cat now lives in Maryland and is a writer.

Antique Bell

1878 Saignelegier bell. Research turned up this: Bevin Bros. Mfg. Co. of East Hampton, Connecticut USA, has made these bells for many decades. According to their brochure:

“These Swiss cow and sheep bell reproductions are hand cast from mold patterns found in the Bevin Bros. factory almost 100 years ago. Each bell is cast from bronze in the pattern of the famous 1878 Saignelegier bell, which, legend tells, comes form the town of the same name.”

Don’t know if this an original or a reproduction. I do know it’s LOUD. It lived in the basement and we kids were forbidden to ring it unless outside. I thought it had something to do with Daddy’s navy experience, but no, it’s for cows…

Our best bell story centers around a crystal bell my parents received as a wedding gift. (What is it with weddings that call forth bells. My husband and I got one too. To call the servants? The kids?) Somewhere along the years, the clapper broke off. No matter. Daddy kept it in the bathroom and used it for a glass when he brushed his teeth!

Glass Mobile

Hand-blown glass mobile. Strung on fishing line and hung from a clear plastic disk. The glass pieces vary from two to four inches

My sister and I found the it while walking in NYC’s Village where I lived for a time. An art weekend, the streets spilled with paintings hung on fences, sculpture, and piles of crafts. The mobile cost more than we could afford but we bought it anyway, knowing our parents would love it. My father, a wonderful architect, designed our mid-century modern house, very spare and wonderful. The mobile fit right in and was hung in the living room for all to see what great taste my parents’ daughters had. (Or so I felt then…)

One Christmas it almost bit the dust. Mother always made the house festive and as part of her decorations, she tied little red bows to each glass. She was cutting off the bows when she snipped the fishing line. Luckily she caught the glass before it fell. Our fisherman Daddy had the line handy and restrung it good as new.

When my parents died and the house was sold, the mobile didn’t convey. It now hangs in my living room where it continues to be treasured. By the way, my house is 1937 colonial but it looks right at home.