A Brewster-Pattern Pedestal Dioramic Stereoscope,
by G. Lowden, Dundee, signed to oval ivory plaque on top ‘PATENT DIORAMIC STEREOSCOPE, MADE BY G. LOWDEN, OPTICIAN, DUNDEE’ and impressed with the number ’20’, walnut & satin wood veneered case with hinged top, solid wood rear for opaque views only, hinged top, push pull focus to front lens panel, viewing lenses in turned horn collars to front panel, raised on a fluted mahogany pedestal, height adjustment via a wooden screw above turned base, height 34cm
A rare opportunity to acquire one of the earliest known (serial No.20) lenticular stereoscopes by George Lowden, the instrument maker responsible for producing Dr. David Brewster’s first ever stereoscope.
The lenticular (use of lenses to get a 3D effect) stereoscope was invented by Dr. David Brewster and proved over time to be his best selling invention. Brewster first took his original design of a lenticular stereoscope to a local instrument maker in Dundee, George Lowden. Lowden started making Scientific instruments at the age of 24(1). In 1849 Lowden made several of Brewster’s lenticular stereoscopes which in turn were given away by Brewster to the nobility of England to promote the new discovery of stereo photography (2). Unfortunately, they were given a rather lukewarm reception and as a result were not a successful commercial venture.
In Lowden’s autobiography(3) Lowden recounts the development of the stereoscope and how he came to fall out with Brewster:
‘Fortunately for me at the end of 1849 I got acquainted with that nobelman so well and favourably known to all Dundonians, George Lord Kinnard, and through him was introduced to many of the servants who were entertained by his lordship at Rossie Priory. Amongst these was sir David Brewster, who at this period (1849) invented his stereoscope, and I got the making of the first one and sending the copies of it to many scientific men all over Europe. Later on I also improved on them and made a great number for many years afterwards. The fault of Brewster’s stereoscope was that the lens’ were to small, being in fact, only two halved of a spectacle glass. This did not suit every eye and in experimenting I discovered that larger lenses were and advantage. I pointed this out to Brewster but he was wedded to his opinion, and as I feared the idea might be taken up by another, I took out a patent for my improvement – which experience has amply justified – but my action was, unfortunately, resented by Brewster, and gave rise to considerable friction, for which I did not consider I was to blame, seeing that I had pointed out the improvement and he had refused it’
Following the disagreement Brewster in 1850, unable to convince another English company to manufacture his stereoscope, visited the French firm of Duboscq et Soliel in Paris, a company that specialised in optical instrument manufacture. Here Brewster showed Duboscq an example of Lowden’s stereoscope. Duboscq produced a model that was exhibited by Brewster at the 1851 great exhibition in London. It attracted the attention of Queen Victoria who was very impressed with the effect it gave. Brewster then presented theQueen with an example of Duboscq’s stereoscope with some accompanying stereo photographs. Queen Victoria’s interest sparked huge demand for the stereoscope and in 1856 Brewster reported sales of over half a million stereoscopes.
The principle of Brewster’s lenticular stereoscope has survived until present day being essentially the same as the optical system used on the very latest Virtual reality headsets.
According to Dr A. D Morrison Low & J. R. R. Christie in their book Martyr of Science, Sir David Brewster, ‘No original Lowden stereoscope has ever been traced, although microscopes (INV RSM TY 1980.238 and A56557 in the Welcome Museum) and telescopes and a camera are known to have been retailed by Lowden’.
Since Morison Low’s & Christie’s book, published in 1984, one other Lowden stereoscope has come to light. This stereoscope is held at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. It was purchased by the museum in 1999 with New Zealand Lottery Grant Board Funds( Registration Number GH007816). Its condition and serial number are unknown.
1. H. Millar,James Bowman Lindsay and other pioneers of invention ( Edinburgh 19250 , p86, Lowden is assessed and an instrument maker by Clarke.
2. D Brewster, Binocular vision & the stereoscope, North British Review, 1856, 176.
3. D. Morrison-Low & J. R. R. Christie, Martyr Of Science: Sir David Brewster 1781-1868. P62
Provenance: Form the Maurice Gillet collection.