Besides being a sought after application of the newest innovations in photography, stereoscope slides, sometimes called stereographs, became collector items in their own right. These slides were a way of viewing a world far away in classrooms, a means of retaining a memory of a trip, or aspiring to get there. These popular diversions coincided with an age gripped with an increasingly rapid pace of life. Train tracks crisscrossed the world. Gone was the era when one slowly traveled via riverboat or horseback (if one could afford it). Mostly, people walked, or in the United States, hopped on a wagon train. A quick pace for a human to walk is just four miles per hour. The crossing from sea to shining sea - if avoiding death along the way - took about six months.
In 1871, Grand Central Terminal (everyone calls it Station, but I assure you, it is technically Terminal) opened, bringing all of Vanderbilt’s train empire to the very heart of New York, or at least a quick carriage ride away from the mansions gracing the burgeoning Upper East Side. And where did the ladies who lunch go to escape? They took the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad to Troy and then a livery cab a few miles north from there. Since 1872... Saratoga. What happened at Saratoga? Society played and gambled and then they took the waters to recuperate.
Saratoga, New York was just a short ride up the Hudson River to escape muck of the city to the fresh air of the country. One would dine well, take the good waters and air, and entertain oneself at the casino or the horse track. This stereoscope card from 1882 features the dining hall, then the largest in the world (and one of two!), complete with wait staff. Saratoga today still bottles the water in heavy blue bottles.
They may have had the idea to bottle the water for health purposes and sale from France. The first bottled water, Châteldon, has been bottled continuously since 1650. With less than a million bottles produced annually, it still has a similar audience that it did centuries ago. As it was recommended for the excesses of the life at the Court by the doctor to The Sun King, Louis XIV, at Versailles. Even with the tarnished reputation of its collaborator owner, Pierre Laval, during World War II, the waters are still quite desired. At €14 a bottle in top restaurants, they do not need a website...
Just twenty miles to the North - the source of that nefarious collaboration - Vichy. Vichy has been a source of hot water since Roman times. It continued to hold its reputation as a curative for the elite of the ancien régime. For a tourist, other local attractions besides the ruins and the baths were the volcanic landscape that produced the health-inducing waters. Here is a stereoscope slide of Vichy in the idyll between wars on French soil (1870-1914).
Vichy - La Pièce D'eau des Cygnes
To the East of Paris, near the border to Germany is another center of waters in France. In the Lower Moselle valley, the terrain is so steep that vineyards cannot thrive. The shale soil that so vexes the vintner, however, is perfect for the mineralization of water. The original spa town there was Contrexéville. Here is a stereograph slide of Le Casino in our collection:
Originally, this hard water (Calcium and Magnesium) was prescribed as a tonic for the urinary system and was also marketed as good for the liver. The source at Contrexéville is owned by Nestlé and today, it is marketed as a way for women, together, to lose weight: "la contrexpérience." Please watch that ad. I do wonder what the Phantom would say.
Better known outside of France is Vittel, right next door. Known today as the water of both the London and Paris marathons, it owes its lion share of the French water market (and there are about 200…) due to great marketing from Nestlé which purchased La Grande Source in 1992. In fact, Vittel exists as a spa town because of the founder’s visit to Contrexéville, Louis Bouloumié bought The Fontaine de Gérémoy in 1854, started bottling at the source and by 1856, Vittel was a destination. By 1860, the train line was extended to nearby Épinal, making Vittel even more accessible to Parisian who needed to escape the stress of the city.
The source of this blog? A decades-long obsession with the merits of various waters and this ultimate primary resource of over 300 stereoscope slides in our collection. We have photographed every one, researched many, and in the coming weeks will be posting each one on the website.
To have this vast quantity of slides with such a variety of subject matter is a goldmine for those interested in history, like us. History is often simply defined as change over time, but to clarify, the American Historical Association added four more c’s: causality, context, complexity, and contingency. This is just a blog post, but I hope we touched on the "five c’s" with a little trip to take the waters - in 19th century 3D.
Join us as we go across the pond. How is this for the speed of travel? Not quite the Concorde, but our flight with WOW Airlines is 2762 miles from Baltimore to Reykjavik and after a short layover in one of the world's best small airports, we will continue to Roissy-Charles de Gaulle. CDG has its own reputation... After 1396 more miles and a total of only ten hours (plus a short four-hour drive and three hours of being in an airport before a flight, we will be in Paris. Grand Tour IV. We will find a few more stereoscope slides to add to the collection, surely. Follow us on Instagram and Facebook for updates on our trip - and some photos of stereoscope slides in situ.