The historian and botanist William C. Darrah (1909-1989) penned the standard works on card photography, the seminal The World of Stereographs and the ground-breaking Cartes de Visite in Nineteenth-Century Photography. Both volumes delve into the world of the card photograph, one of the great phenomenons of the nineteenth-century. Darrah was a great benefactor to all photography historians who owe much to his forty years of meticulous research of a subject considered by many to be obscure. He brought not only reliable facts and figures to a murky and little researched area, but also revealed the far-reaching social implications of the ubiquitous card photograph. His works draw attention to the transition photographers made from artists working in the painterly tradition to businessmen and merchants. For his work on the stereograph, the National Stereoscopic Society's highest award was named in his honor.
...the standard reference...it remains the place where one starts...
---T. K. Treadwell, Past-President, National Stereoscopic Association
The World of Stereographs is the definitive work on stereographs. Darrah used his long experience as a collector to draw conclusions about the stereo photograph and the stereo photographer. He saw the stereographic view as an essential part of the nineteenth-century experience and as a window on history. He reminds us that much of common artistic, cultural, geographical and ethnographic facts we now take for granted as "educated" citizens were learned through the stereograph. It provided the average person and middle-class family a means to see the world's great places and visit with the varied peoples of the world in a way similar to the Internet today. Stereographs were used in the classroom as television and and the internet are today to bring the world into the classroom. Through the stereograph and carte de visite child new the faces of the presidents, famous authors and poets and other important figures.
Like the photography historian Taft, he wanted to recognize the stereo photographer as participating in an extraordinary social process that changed the way the world's many peoples perceived the world around them. The stereograph opened up the world of art, architecture and science to entire populations of ordinary citizens. The stereophotographer traveled the world in search of views of suitable interest.
World of Stereographs is the most complete study of the stereograph card and nineteenth-century stereo photography to date. It is a comprehensive work, any image by a photographer "not listed by Darrah" being quite a find for the collector. It contains an extensive list of stereo photographers.
The photographer and his business is explained in detail. From the beginning, stereophotography was concerned with selling photographs. The photographic negative became a commodity, being bought, sold, resold, multiplied, copied legitimately and even pirated. The trade list of a stereographer ranged from a few dozen to many thousands of titles. The total number of views produced in the United States exceeds five million. The manufacture of stereographs involved five steps, making positive prints from the negative, trimming the image, pasting to the commercial supplied card, drying, and the final (and significant to historians) touch of applying labels and imprints. Often the photographer was a publisher in the true sense of the word, namely, to bring to the public. Views were sold in the studio or by agents at other locations, such as opticians, art-shops and the post-office (for example, the Card-in-clock mechanical display). Many photographers engaged in extensive mail-order business, promoting the idea that a photograph was more informative than "a bushel of letters."
The stereograph is considered from four points of view: historical, geographic, , photographer. An alphabetical list arranged by state of the names and locations of 3500 North American stereo photographers is included as reference. In addition, a world-wide register of 4200 photographers cited in this volume giving the countries and approximate dates of activity. Three hundred illustrations accompany the text (some stereographs reproduced in color in the original 1977 volume are rendered in black and white in this reprint for economy).