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CameraMuseums / JohnsonShaw

The Johnson Shaw Museum positions displays along the side of the gallery, and a wealth of different models of viewers, cards, and photographs of viewer and card production down the center.


Keystone did all its own woodworking, including manufacturing elaborate cabinets like this one for the 600-view/600-slide sets it sold to schools.


By the 1930s, the home market for stereoviews had given way to movies and radio, but the Stereoscophthalmic Department continued into the 1970s with devices like these for eye testing in police departments and license bureaus, and eye exercises and training prescribed by ophthalmologists.


The manufacturing process for stereoviews included some time spent in a vise like this one, which could put a permanent curl in several dozen cards at once.

The Johnson-Shaw Stereoscopic Museum

   Location:    423 Chestnut St., Meadville, PA 16335
          Visit:    See schedule of hours on Web site below. Admission fee charged.
     Internet:   Web site - http://www.johnsonshawmuseum.org
    Contact:   Phone - 814-333-4326
 Noted for:    a miraculously preserved window into stereoviews and how they were made.

If you have ever wondered why stereoview cards are curved, rather than flat, this is the museum for you. The Johnson-Shaw Stereoscopic Museum in Meadville, PA displays a large collection of the Keystone View Company's products -- the stereopticons and stereoviews found in every parlor in late Nineteenth Century America, as well as the machinery used to make them.

The Keystone View Company was founded in Meadville in 1892 by B. L. Singley. Keystone prospered, acquired other stereoview makers, and eventually became the largest manufacturer of stereoscopic views in the United States. Singley split the company into three product lines -- "Department A" served the home market for cards and viewers. The Education Department turned out not only stereos and viewers, but lantern slides and projectors for the schools market, and the Stereoscophthalmic Department, which made eye testing and training equipment. Singley retired in 1936, and by 1963 Keystone had been sold to Mast Development. Department A and the Education Department were closed in 1972 and the headquarters moved from Meadville to Davenport, Iowa. George Shaw was hired to clean out Keystone's manufacturing operations in Meadville so they could be sold.


The Johnson Shaw Stereoscopic Museum is located in an old church building with a long history in Meadville, PA.

And then magic happened. Lance and Eric Johnson, sons of Harold Johnson, who had been the production supervisor at Keystone, and his wife who had been a slide colorist in the Education Department, found Shaw. And eventually four trailer-truck loads of Keystone equipment and materials came back to Meadville.

What Shaw had saved was much of the manufacturing process for Keystone views. (The heart of Keystone's business, the world's largest collection of stereoscopic negatives and photographs, was preserved when Mast donated it to the University of California, Riverside's Museum of Photography.)

The Johnsons bought an old building that had been a land office and a church for their museum, and they arranged some of what Shaw had saved along the lines of the company's three divisions. You can now see mannequins posed around a parlor table, an ophthalmic display, and the crown jewel of Keystone, a custom-made cabinet containing a 600-card education set and viewers along with a lantern projector and the same views on 600 glass slides.

Equipment from the factories includes a colorist's workstation, where slides were hand-tinted, and a slide-binding station. And at least the "how" part of the answer to the curved-card question: Shaw had saved several vises with convex and concave curved wood blocks. The cards were clamped into the vise until they took on a permanent curl. (The "why" part of the question is apparently still open to some debate, but obviously it's because a card with a longitudinal curl resisted vertical warping, which would have made it hard to insert into a viewer and even harder to focus properly.)

The displays have a homemade flavor, but the wealth of equipment on view makes it worth it. There are also several panels of old photographs that show the steps in the making of viewers and cards, and a seemingly endless collection of viewers of all makes and models, and lots and lots of cards. And when I was there there was a Johnson brother on hand to give a tour and answer questions. (Visited June 27, 2012)

-- Text and photos by David DeJean

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