T. J. Nevin’s big tabletop stereograph viewer

THE TABLE TOP STEREOGRAPH VIEWER at Nevin’s studio
STUDIO PORTRAITS clients posing with the viewer

Thomas Nevin standing next to stereoviewer

Thomas J. Nevin, self-portrait with table top stereograph viewer, ca. 1875
Copyright © KLW NFC imprint & Private Collection 2007

Although this image is faint – it is a scan of a print pasted into the scrapbook of his son George Ernest Nevin (1880-1957) which is held by Thomas and Elizabeth Nevin’s descendants in the Shelverton family – it shows clearly enough that George’s father, photographer Thomas J. Nevin, was rather fond of his big box table top stereograph viewer. It provided clientele with a ready amusement, a novel experience of 3D. The Victorian fascination with this “advanced” photography is quite understandable. Viewing a static stereograph, three images can be seen, not just one: the central image appears in deep perspective, with the image split into halves on either side. A double lens stereograph viewer of this size could hold a large number of stereograph cards; turning the wooden handle changed the card being viewed, providing a motion picture effect. In Nevin’s self-portrait – not a selfie in the strict sense, of course, taken probably by his younger brother Jack Nevin – a frame holder on top is propped up. In the two portraits below, the holder is flat. An earlier portrait of Thomas Nevin, taken ca. 1868, shows him wearing white gloves, posing with a smaller portable stereoscopic viewer, similar in size to a stereoscope camera.

Woman with red ribbon and bustle
From the Liam Peters Collection, this photograph of an unidentified woman with her hand resting on a book placed on top of Thomas Nevin’s big box table top stereograph viewer is undoubtedly a fine pose and capture of both the client and the City Photographic Establishment studio decor, including the distinctive table, carpet and painted backsheet.

[Above]: Full length cdv on plain mount
Subject: A young pregnant (?) woman [unidentified] wearing a head band (tinted red), and a dark dress with frilled bodice, bustle and hem, her hand resting on a book atop the big box stereoscopic viewer and table with the griffin-shaped legs. Her gaze is directed beyond the camera, slightly off-centre.
Verso bears Nevin’s most common commercial studio stamp “T. Nevin late A. Bock, City Photographic Establishment 140 Elizabeth Street Hobart Town” etc etc and dates to ca. 1871-1874.
Copyright © The Liam Peters Collection 2010. All rights reserved.

In every carte-de-visite photograph featuring this apparatus taken by Thomas J. Nevin at his Elizabeth St. Hobart studio, it sits on the very distinctive occasional table with griffin-shaped legs pictured in many of his family portraits and portraits of private clients. The two photographs (below) in which each man has assumed an almost identical pose, may have been commissioned by members of the Hobart City Council; or by Colonial government officials; or by members of the Loyal United Brothers’ Lodge, of which Thomas Nevin was a committee member, anniversary ball organiser, advertiser soliciting specialist services to members, as well as their official photographer.

Young man with dreamy eyes
This unidentified young man with dreamy eyes rested his hand lightly on the wooden handle for the capture. The verso carries T.J. Nevin’s government contractor stamp with the Royal colonial warrant insignia. The hand-tinting in this instance was not the work of Thomas Nevin or his assistants; it was coloured by subsequent owners and shares provenance with similarly daubed cartes sourced from Northern Tasmania.

Nevin's carte of young man with stereo viewerVerso of young man with stereo viewer

Subject: young man with T. J. Nevin’s big box table top stereograph viewer
Photographer: Thomas J. Nevin (1842-1923)
Location and date: 140 Elizabeth St. Hobart, Tasmania, ca. 1874
Details: man’s bow tie is tinted violet, drape is tinted burgundy, poor condition.
Verso: T.J. Nevin’s government contractor stamp incorporating the Royal insignia.
Copyright © The Private Collection of John and Robyn McCullagh 2006 -2009. ARR.

The young man pictured here may have been a camera worker, one of Nevin’s studio assistants working with both Samuel Clifford and Thomas Nevin who produced between them a thousand or more scenic stereographs during the late 1860s and early 1870s. They also produced views of Hobart buildings on government tender. Several of their stereographs held at the Narryna Heritage Museum, Battery Point, Hobart depict an exterior view of Government House in Campbell St.; the Queens Orphan School at New Town; and the Hobart Gaol viewed from Bathurst St. Hobart.

Narryna stereosNarryna stereos

Hand held stereograph viewer and stereographs by Clifford and Nevin at Narryna Museum, Battery Point, Hobart.
Photos copyright © KLW NFC Imprint & Private Collection 2007

The visitor from Brisbane 1870
This older man’s pose is very similar to the young man’s pose next to the stereograph viewer. However, there is a subtle difference: in the photograph of the young man, the wooden handle is under his right hand. In this photograph of the older man, the wooden handle is on the other side of the apparatus, and underneath this older man’s right hand is a big white knob. The white knob, rather than the handle, appears to be under Nevin’s hand too in his self-portrait standing next to the apparatus.

The bright red and blue tinting on the apron and medal ribbon in this photograph may signify more than a desire for heightened refrangibility, a depth of field effect which red and blue produced in 1860s stereography: it may signify the wearer to be a former soldier affiliated with a British Regiment, and/or member of one of several Provident and Benevolent organisations affiliated to English Freemasons (rather than Scottish or Irish) who became established in Hobart from the 1840s. Although the apron is not tasselled or embroidered with motifs, as some are, the gold medal this member wears is very imposing and may testify to his seniority and long service. He may have been Mr. Wright from Brisbane, visiting the Loyal United Brothers’ Lodge in 1870 for their anniversary celebrations. See this article for more details.

Subject: A Loyal United Lodge member in ceremonial apron with a gold medal on lapel, perhaps Mr. Wright visiting from Brisbane, 1870 for the Lodge anniversary
posed with hand resting on Nevin’s table top stereograph viewer
Photographer: Thomas J. Nevin, 140 Elizabeth St; Hobart
Details: hand tinted carte-de-visite placed inside an album leaf frame
Copyright © The Lucy Batchelor Collection 2009 (scans courtesy of the Bishop family)

This carte-de-visite remains in its original album belonging to Lucy Batchelor, still framed within the decorative cut-out borders of a cardboard album page, exactly as it was positioned there 150 years ago.

Updated October 2020

RELATED POSTS main weblog