Monday, January 4, 2010

skeleton leaves & stereoscopes

After my recent post on doppelgängers, in which I included an image
of a stereoview card of Lincoln, my sweet artist friend, Suki, was
kind enough to surprise me with one of my very own! The vintage
stereoview card she sent, pictured below, (click to enlarge) shows a
lacy funerary arrangement of skeleton leaves, in memory of
Abraham Lincoln.

After the death of Queen Victoria's beloved Prince Albert, in 1861,
funeral art became quite an elaborate fashion. Skeleton leaves,
those from which the pulpy part has been removed by chemical
means, and the fibrous part alone remaining, have been an element
of artistic design for years. They're also known as "phantom
flowers", a perfect ingredient to a frilly Victorian death memorial.

I'm sure you've seen these wonderful bits of vintage ephemera, the
stereoview cards, with dual images side by side. They were slipped
in the rear tray of a stereoscope and viewed through an eyepiece,
creating the illusion of depth, similar to the perspectives that both
eyes naturally receive in binocular vision, or 3-D. The stereoscope
was an early version of my beloved little red plastic Viewmaster.
Oh, the hours of complete bliss, clicking away to the magical land of
Sleeping Beauty, and visiting far off places like the Grand Canyon.

Thank you so much, Suki. You know how nutty I am, not only for
Lincoln, but for wonderful vintage ephemera, as well. If you're not
familiar with this talented, red beret clad little lady, pop over to her
artsy blog, Paint, Poems and Ponderings and say hello. Tell her
Willow sent you.
photos: skeleton leaves click [here] for source
stereoscope and viewmaster from google images


  1. Enjoyed this post!

    Oh yes, I spent many hours viewing the world through the red plastic Viewmaster!

    Stop by my blog if you have a moment. I posted a fun little song by Randy and the Rainbows (!) and you can see some Kennedy images.

    PS I can't believe I am FIRST to comment! Usually I come in around 296!! Heh! Take care.

    Take care.

  2. Willow, I LOVED this post. For one thing, I LOVE Abe Lincoln. He is my favorite president. :)

    And how interesting to learn of stereoviews. I never realized how far back they went. Ugh. Loved the history here as well.

    :) Hugs!

  3. Always interesting. The idea of phantom flowers and skeleton leaves is inspiring to me. Do you know that Abe Lincoln is blogging?

  4. Tina, yes, Abe Lincoln, the blogger, is a distant cousin of President Lincoln. Cool, huh?

  5. Stuff we remember from our childhood. Thanks for bringing these back.

  6. Very interesting. I will have to look into this more. I remember the stereoviews. My grandmother had one.
    I had forgotten all about it. I am going to check out your friends blog.

  7. Wow...that is really awesome. I do not think I am acquainted with Suki but will pop over for a moment to visit and say hello!

  8. How gorgeous that first image is!

    And oh! the Viewmaster memories. Mine was dark brown (late forties) and we had the Disney stuff and lots of travel stuff and maybe even, if I'm remembering right, some Bible stuff. This was before TV and the Viewmaster was Hot Stuff!

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane. (Do you suppose there was Viewmaster porn?)

  9. Wow. This post clicked on many levels. I own a stereoscope -- to use only one of its names -- and several stereoview "slides." I grew up with a black Bakelite Viewmaster. And, like Lizzie, I'm a big fan of Abe Lincoln. (He was even a character in a comic book treatment I sent to an artist ages ago.)

  10. Hey, Vicki, I'm sure of it. And I bet the stereoview porn is highly collectable!

  11. Oh how I loved my viewmaster, black not stylish red for me. It was all so real to me and amazing I only had a few film cylinders but I was so happy

  12. Back in the early Sixties, the public library in Concord, NH had a couple of stereopticons and several shoeboxes of slides. I would sit at a table for hours (at least that's how I remember it!) looking at them. 3D material has held a fascination for me ever since, although nothing I've viewed has met the standards of the Franklin County Public Library!

  13. Willow, I swear to you...we had the same set of Viewmaster disks...or did we call them reels or wheels? I can't remember!
    My kind of post!

  14. I know this is kind of macabre, but have you seen the Bodies Revealed exhibit? The did to bodies what was done with those leaves. The figured out a way to dissolve all the tissue leaving only the circulatory system. It was then injected with a synthetic substance to fill it out. They call it Red Man and it looks like a webbed suit. It is totally amazing.

  15. Ronda, the Bodies exhibit was here in town and I actually really wanted to go see it, but never made it. I bet it was amazing.

  16. Aren't those things cool? We called the antique viewer a "stereopticon" though. Regional? Hmmm. Interesting about the skeleton leaves also. Thanks.

  17. Stereoviews--now i know what they are called. I always wondered how the eyes do that 3d thing. Very interesting post. Thank you.

    Well, when I'm dead i hope I can bypass the laws and not get stuffed with chemicals to preserve me but just get laid in a simple thin pine box 6 feet under.

  18. What an interesting and informative post. I love it when you write about vintage things. So much to learn and enjoy. Many thanks.

    Greetings from London.

  19. Skeleton leaves are so interesting. I never knew they used chemicals to create them. I have always loved the natural ones found around our place. Gum leaves create such wonderous designs.

  20. Wow I just love stopping bye. I learn something new each time. I had never heard of skeleton leaves or the process of creating the arrangement. Thank you

  21. wow. what a cool gift. and leaves look so cool like that. i think i wore out a few viewmasters growing up...

  22. I, too, spent countless hours with my viewmaster, and an equal amount of time with my aunt's stereoscope. Such fun.

    The lacy leaf shot is stunning.

  23. Oh thanks for the shout out Willow. Fascinating. I too had a viewmaster only black. I couldnt recall the name of the viewer for the stereo card though I've seen them before. And I collect skeleton leaves. You have to keep your eyes peeled as you walk the woods and trails and you can see them and later use them in your artwork. Great post.

  24. I've said it before and I'll say it again: The Victorians were really weird!!!

    Weirder still? I dreamed I was studying something ... gardening? ... by using a viewmaster last night! I kid you not.

    I know I'm psychic, but why do I always tune in on wavelengths like what Willow will write about tomorrow? It's odd. Kinda cool though.

  25. Another one of my psychic tour de forces was when I intuited National Yo-Yo Day.


  26. Very interesting! I never knew about the skeletal leaves! And my boys still have a viewmaster...they still make them!

  27. Oh, Reya, I hear ya. I'm psychic in the same random way. I remember so relating to your Yo-Yo Day thing!

  28. I think all of my five kids had a viewmaster. Now, I don't know where one of the five could be found and all of those round pictures. Gone. I liked the older things with the double images too -- usually in sepia tones.

    I left this reply under the comment you left about the rear end of ladies...

    I can still remember this, Willow...

    How disappointing it was to see these beefy ladies in their tied down corsets from the front but when I turned the sheet I was dumbfounded that I could not see their rear ends. Mom couldn't or didn't help. I suppose I was perverted at an early age and still in cloth diapers, no less.

  29. Abe, your presidential cousin would surely get a kick out of you. I think you share his sense of humor, dear friend.

  30. I love these old funerary things willow - there used to be lots of wax flowers under glass domes on graves when I was small. Where have they all gone? I would love to own one now but have not seen one in years. That skeleton leaf is exquisite.

  31. I had forgotten, entirely, about Viewmasters. What a good memory you have for the beloved bits from childhood.

    Are you enjoying the Guernsey Literary Society (etc) book? I thought that it was so charming.

  32. I never knew that stereo viewfinder was so old.

    How do you think of all these novel things to blog about willow? Mr FF has mentioned to me he would like to see less about himself in my blog so I am casting around for new topics. I'll have to mine your brain :)

  33. Dear Willow,
    just read your comment on Bee's blog.
    If you finish Ullessys (spelled wrong!)
    I will give you a prize. I am serious.
    Cold, cold, cold here!

  34. e, if I finish it, I will give myself a prize!!!

  35. Wonderful post Willow - I am looking forward to more of your fascinating posts throughout the coming year. I always think of you as "a bloggers' blogger" and look forward to reading your posts. I have never been disappointed yet and I am sure I will not be during the coming year. Happy New Year too you and your family.

  36. When my sons were cleaning out their toys to give to Goodwill, I snatched up the the Viewmaster and little wheels of film, ferreted them away for when they get nostalgic and wish they'd kept it!

  37. When I went to California to visit my brother, he took me to all the fabulous places to visit in San Fransisco, my favorite was the Cliff House ruins. How sad to have such a spectacular Victorian mansion burn to the ground.

    Later while shopping for antiques for the shop, I bought a box of stereoview cards. That evening looking through them, I found that many were of California and among them was the Cliff House in it's full splendor.

    It's one that I will never sell, it's meant to be with me at the Pink Chateau.

  38. Sharon, I LOVE synchronicities like that! Wonderful story. :)

  39. I had no idea about the skeleton leaf arrangements. I find them skeletonized on the ground around here. Always wish I had a crucible to dip them in somekind of metal, but then I'm such a klutz, my fingers would be skeletal.

  40. Oh yes, the red plastic Viewmaster. Like Russell, I spent many hours entertaining myself with one of them.

  41. A good friend of mine has a stereoscope--they are the coolest things, aren't they? And when I looked at that beautiful skeleton leaf, it reminded me of some earrings I have that are somehow made by dipping the leaves? I love 'em.

  42. Alan, thank you. I hope I can continue to blog up to your expectations. The pleasure is all mine, dear friend.

  43. Your use of the english language is sublime.

  44. Love Abe Lincoln, too.

    And that skeleton leaf with the red background. Love it.

  45. Aren't presents from blog friends just the best, the most heart-widening?

    I've been so busy doing nothing much that I haven't been around to visit my friends in too long. So, though my wishes are late, I mean them with my whole heart. May your year be filled with laughter. May all your surprises be happy ones. May you remember to count your blessings. May you know each day how very much you are loved. Happy new year, my friend.

  46. Funny...I was at a friends on Sunday and he had a collection of these cards and I believe he had two stereoscopes...I've always loved them and certainly adored my bright red viewfinder when I was 6..I had a "slide card" collection of King Tut's treasures to look through and dream about..

  47. I work in an archives and when children visit, they love to look through the steroview and their parents always mention the Viewmaster. The last thing the children do (and sometimes the adults do this also) is rub the nose of the bronze bust of Abe Lincoln. Needless to say, Lincoln's nose is shiny. Thanks for sharing!

  48. I'm fortunate to have about 60 of my grandparents early 20th century stereoscope cards and my own late-mid-20th century Viewmaster.

    The skeleton leaves have always fascinated me. Now I need to research how to do that process.


Inject a few raisins of conversation into the tasteless dough of existence.
― O. Henry (and me)