Monday, April 9, 2012

Benjamin Kilburn and his stereoviews

Benjamin West Kilburn was a well-known American photographer, best remembered today for the thousands of stereoscopic views he created in the late 19th century.  Based in Littleton New Hampshire, the small town immediately west of the Glessners’ summer estate, The Rocks, he was commissioned to take numerous views of the estate for the family, and they also purchased hundreds of his stereoview cards. 

Benjamin West Kilburn was born on December 10, 1827 in Littleton, and was the son of Josiah Kilburn, an iron founder who manufactured Franconia stoves.  Following service in the Civil War, Kilburn began producing stereographs with his brother Edward (born 1830). 

Stereoscopic views, also known as stereoviews, or stereographs, consist of a pair of nearly identical images, placed side-by-side, which produce a 3-D image when seen through a special viewer.  Such views were extremely popular during the late 19th century and most homes of the time, including the Glessner home, had a stereoviewer, also known as a stereopticon. 

The Kilburn Brothers business grew rapidly and by 1872 a large factory was built one block from the Littleton railroad station.  Young salesmen carried the stereoviews onto the trains, quickly expanding the business and within a few years, they became the world’s most extensive manufacturer of stereoscopic views.  Edward retired from the business in the late 1870s, and eventually the company was renamed B. W. Kilburn Co. 

In 1883, the Glessners completed a home at their new summer estate The Rocks, near Littleton.  They commissioned Benjamin Kilburn to take numerous views of the buildings and landscape.  Most of these images are traditional photographs, but a few, such as the image of George and Fanny with their pet lamb, and the image of the library of the house (seen at the top of the article), were made into stereoviews. 

The World’s Columbian Exposition, held in Chicago in 1893 was an important event for the company, which acquired the exclusive rights to sell stereoscopic views of the fair.  It remained the most extensive manufacturer of stereoscopic views in the world until Benjamin Kilburn’s death January 15, 1909. 

(A collection of nearly 300 stereoviews by Kilburn belonging to the Glessner family is currently being accessioned, and will be placed in the schoolroom later this spring).

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