Imagine finding a treasure trove which you didn't even know existed - yet there they were stacked on the library table, a dozen high quality images of the 1906 Santa Rosa earthquake, all photographed in 3D.

Those who follow me on Facebook @OldSantaRosa know I've been recently upgrading images related to the disaster. Sometimes I take my portable scanner to the Sonoma County Library Annex and rescan some of the collection's glossy 8x10 prints at a high resolution, followed by using a Photoshop-like application to slightly enhance brightness/contrast levels as necessary. But some photos are still too dark, too low-res, or have other problems that make it hard to coax out a workable image; that was the case of a few photographs which were the only known pictures taken on the actual day of the earthquake. All of them shared an unusual feature - an arched top, which is sometimes found on stereograph cards. Did this mean there was a photographer in Santa Rosa taking 3D pictures while the crisis was underway?

In the decades around the turn of the last century, probably every middle class home had a stereoscope with an assortment of cards; passing the viewer around was a popular divertissement to while away the hours and to entertain guests in the parlor. The number of stereo views available was seemingly endless - Civil War battlegrounds, world fairs, picturesque scenery, historic events (including the aftermath of natural disasters), exotic places and whatnot. There were also racist views glorifying Antebellum slavery and porn.

Rarely, however, are 3D family snapshots found - the stereoscopes and cards might have been ubiquitous, but stereo cameras were not. They could cost 10x more than a very good quality regular camera (the equivalent to about $1,500 today), used twice as much film, were bulky and each shot needed to be composed with care. While Kodak made low-end stereo cameras  for amateur use they were limited to fixed focus and shutter speeds and did not sell very well.

When I asked Sonoma County Archivist Katherine Rinehart if the library had any information about those arched top images, she said they were copied from stereoscopic cards - which were in the library's collection. Would I like to see the originals?

Be still me quaking jibbers, I could not believe what I found. Not only are the cards in near-mint condition after 110+ years, but the images have none of the problems found in the copies which required enhancement. The photos are bright, in focus and could have been taken yesterday. And because we can now see both parts of the stereo pairs, new details appear - including additional people - at the far sides of the images. 

The rest of this article can be read at the website. Because of recurring problems with the Blogger platform, I am no longer wasting my time formatting and posting complete articles here. I will continue to create stubs for the sake of continuity, but will be publishing full articles only at

- Jeff Elliott


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