Clients posing with Thomas J. Nevin’s big box tabletop stereoscopic viewer


Self-portrait with the big box tabletop stereo viewer
Thomas J. Nevin posed for this portrait standing next to his big box tabletop stereo viewer in the late 1860s or early 1870s, the years when he produced salt paper stereographs in sufficient numbers, often in collaboration with his close friend, prolific stereographer Samuel Clifford, to have warranted investment on Nevin’s part in a larger apparatus. It complemented his smaller hand-held stereo viewer and camera which featured in his earliest self-portrait taken ca. 1868 (below).

Thomas J. Nevin, self-portrait with table top stereograph viewer, 1870s
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 collection – it shows clearly enough that George’s father, photographer Thomas J. Nevin, was rather fond of his big box tabletop 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 all four portraits below, the holder is flat. This 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.

Self-portrait of photographer Thomas James Nevin ca. 1865-8 holding a stereoscopic viewer and wearing white gloves.
Taken at his studio, The City Photographic Establishment, 140 Elizabeth St. Hobart Town. Watermarked.
Copyright © KLW NFC Private Collection 2009 ARR.

Women clients with Nevin’s big box stereo viewer
When this young woman presented herself at Thomas J. Nevin’s studio, 140 Elizabeth St. Hobart Town (Tasmania) in the early 1870s for her portrait, he posed her standing next to his big box tabletop stereoscopic viewer, her right side to camera. For good measure, he placed the vase in the shape of a hand holding a cornucopia on top of the stereo viewer – an ornament which appears in some of his other portraits of women – and lightly tinted the flowers on printing the photograph, probably in the hope of brightening the scene otherwise made sombre by this young woman’s deflected, melancholy gaze.

Subject: woman standing in light coloured dress with ruffles and braid, her left hand resting on Nevin’s big box table stereoscopic viewer
Photographer: Thomas J. Nevin ca. 1870-1875
Location: City Photographic Establishment, 140 Elizabeth St. Hobart, Tasmania, stamped verso T. Nevin late A. Bock
Provenance: scan courtesy Leski Auctions (Victoria) 2020
Notes per Leski: Lot 671: TASMANIA: A leather-bound album containing an extensive range of Tasmanian cartes-de-visite. Photographers noted include Anson Brothers, H.H. Baily, C. Cherry, Duval & Co., T. Nevin, C. Wherrett & Co., Wherrett & McGuffie, Alfred Winter, W. Burrows. June 13, 2020 Armadale, Australia

Behind her, to her left, a glimpse is given of a painted backdrop sheet, another of Nevin’s stock decor items, with half a French door thrown in instead of the usual drape to parallel the full-height of the mount. The diamond-patterned summer tapis on which she stands appears in many of these full-length portraits, including one taken of Thomas Nevin himself with his bride Elizabeth Rachel Day in their wedding clothes, July 1871.

For this portrait, Nevin moved his table with the apparatus across the studio to photograph this young woman gazing to his left, in contrast to the young woman (above) who posed gazing past his right  shoulder. The apparatus was also turned to show the white handle at front, the binocular lens facing the client. More detail of another of Nevin’s backsheets is visible here, this one with a Roman column and arch stretching to the top of the mount.

Subject: a young pregnant (?) woman [unidentified] wearing a head band (tinted red) and 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 to the viewer’s left.
Photographer: Thomas J. Nevin ca. 1872
Location: City Photographic Establishment, 140 Elizabeth St. Hobart, Tasmania
Details: full-length carte-de-visite on plain mount; verso bears T. J. Nevin’s most common commercial studio stamp
Provenance: scan courtesy The Liam Peters Collection 2010. All rights reserved.

The same backsheet featured in this portrait of a young man with a full beard. The client here stood between the vista framed by the column and arch displayed on the backsheet to his left, the table almost concealed by the drape to his right which possibly covered the tabletop stereo viewer.

Unidentified bearded man in top hat, well-worn coat, and umbrella under left arm
Photo taken by Thomas J. Nevin ca. 1870
Verso bears his most common commercial stamp
Copyright © KLW NFC Imprint & Private Collection 2016

Male clients with tabletop box stereo viewer
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 officials of the Colonial Government, given the versos of both photographs carry Thomas Nevin’s government contractor stamp bearing the Royal Arms insignia.

The first, the photograph of a “Brother” or Lodge member is held in the Lucy Batchelor Private Collection. The subject may have been visiting Lodge member Mr. H. E. Wright from Brisbane who attended the Lodge’s anniversary in 1870. Thomas Nevin produced a photograph of the Odd Fellow’s building, formerly known as Del Sarte’s Rooms where Lodge meetings were held, taken at their opening in 1871 which received much praise in the press. In addition to his role as the official photographer of the Loyal United Brothers’ Lodge, Nevin was their anniversary ball organiser and press officer when medical services were solicited for members.

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. An article published in the Hobart Mercury, 18 May 1870, identified a visitor who wore a medal at the Lodge’s 1870 anniversary as Mr. Wright from Brisbane. In the usual brilliant way local journalists of the day on these occasions captured and reported just about every line of every speech and every juncture where listeners reacted with laughter or cheering, the source of humour in this speech made fun of the men as living up to their peculiarity as odd fellows for the women present. Those secret tenets practiced by these all-male Lodges, the Chairman assured the ladies, amounted to little more than distributing the greatest benevolence wherever it was needed.


ODD FELLOWS’ ANNIVERSARY. The eleventh anniversary of the Loyal Tasmania’s Hope Lodge, of the Manchester Unity, Independent Order of Odd Fellows, was celebrated last evening by a tea and concert, at the Alliance Rooms. The tea, which was satisfactorily got up, having been disposed of, it was proposed by P. G. M. Mitchell, and seconded by P. P. G. M. Noah, that Mr. Davies, M.H.A., do take the chair, which was passed unanimously. The Chair-man was supported by the Provincial and other Officers of the Order, who wore their insignia. Mr. Davies wore the insignia of the G.M. of the A. 1.0.0. F. There was present a visiting officer of the M.U. from Queensland, P. P. G. M., H. E. Wright, who wore a handsome gold medal, presented to him by members of the Order in Brisbane, in acknowledgment of his services in introducing Odd Fellowship into Queensland, where there are two districts, Brisbane and Rockhampton, numbering five hundred members, who had been enrolled since Mr. Wright went to that colony in 1863. The Chairman opened the business by an address in which he said he felt highly flattered and honoured by being called upon to preside, as although a member of another Order of Odd Fellows, he had not the honour of belonging to the Manchester Unity, therefore he felt it to be the greater honour to have been selected to preside at an institution of so much importance as the Manchester Unity in this colony. Though he had not the pleasure of being a member of that Order he well under-stood the tenets, constitution, and working of it. Having jocularly referred to the American Order of Rebecca which was officered and presided over by ladies, who carried out the principles of Odd Fellows, the same as the brethren of this Order, and all kindred Societies, and also spoken of Adam as an Odd Fellow, especially until he succeeded, according to Scripture, in obtaining a better half, he said he felt disposed, for the benefit of the ladies present to divulge the secret of Odd Fellowship, provided they would not talk about it till they got outside that Hall. (A laugh.) Having appealed to the officers around him whether he should do so, he proceeded to say the peculiarity of Odd Fellowship was to do what good they could, (cheers) that was the essence of Odd Fellowship, and if the brethren quarrelled at all, it was to see which should do the most good (a laugh) that was the secret, and the ladies might divulge it as much as they liked outside ; it was to succour the widow and orphan, relieve the sick and distressed, and to be guilty of all sorts of benevolent actions. (Laughter and cheers.) …

Source: ODD FELLOWS’ ANNIVERSARY. (1870, May 18). The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), p. 2.

No clue has emerged as to the possible identity of this young man with dreamy eyes who posed with the apparatus to the left of the frame (below). He may have been a colonial government employee, another contractor perhaps whose account was paid from Nevin’s commission. Instead of a painted backsheet, a drape and part of the slipper chair with its cover half removed balanced the composition. This carte was heavily tinted after purchase by the client or subsequent owners, and shows much handling and exposure to light and grime. Its provenance was a family in northern Tasmania prior to its present owner.

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.

Verso: 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 Arms insignia.
Copyright © The Private Collection of John and Robyn McCullagh 2006 -2009. ARR.

A tabletop “sweetheart” stereoscopic viewer appeared in this edition of BBC’s Antique Road Show broadcast free-to-air on ABC TV (Australia) March 19th, 2015.

Hilary Kay explains the workings of the tabletop “sweetheart” stereo viewer
Video at YouTube:

The workings of the sweetheart stereo viewer featured in this epsiode of the PBS American Antiques Road Show, 15 July 2013

Brian May revives 3D: BBC Reel (21 December 2018)


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