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3D technology is touted as a modern invention, but it’s far from it. Making a two-dimensional image look like it has depth is nothing new. In fact, people have been fascinated with 3D-seeming images for a century and a half thanks to stereoscopes, which use two images to create a 3D one. You might remember them as View-Masters, the toys that came with a wheel of images.

The first stereoscope was invented in 1838, but they really blew up in 1851, when David Brewster used lenses to unite the double images. He was crucial in developing the lenticular stereoscope, and thousands of stereoscope images were made. Queen Victoria herself was a fan, and if the queen liked it, everyone liked it.

The lenticular stereoscope shows two images at once, one image in front of each eye.

The lenticular stereoscope shows two images at once, one image in front of each eye.
Each image is taken from a slightly different angle, so when they are viewed at the same time, the viewer’s brain “stitches” the images together, forming a 3D effect.

Since you’re looking at a screen, though, we have to show them to you in .gif form.

Since you're looking at a screen, though, we have to show them to you in .gif form.

What you’re seeing are the two images in rapid alternation, which gives you that same illusion of depth.

The images you see here were taken in the 1850s in Japan, which had just been opened up from a self-imposed isolation period. This was also the time when people in England, the U.S., and Europe were fascinated with all things Eastern and were hungry to know more about the “exotic” cultures (although they weren’t always very respectful about it). Therefore, images of far-off lands were wildly popular, with stereoscopes and stereoscope images sold under the slogan “See the world from your parlour!”

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