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The Great War in Stereoviews

Price and Condition

“What’s it worth?” is a question is always near the top of the list for collectors.  A philatelist is almost always interested in a stamp because it is a stamp.  This is not the case with stereoviews, which are of interest not only to specialized collectors, but to historians, photographers, and militaria buffs, to name a few.  There has been no systematic attempt before this book to correlate condition, desirability, and scarcity in order to arrive at estimates of fair prices for Great War stereoviews.  A glance at eBay listings and photo shows reveals great disparities in starting prices.  Common Keystone cards such as 18000 (“Zeppelin Flying Over a German Town”) often have a starting price of $10, $20, or even $40, apparently because some dealers assume anything old about an aviation-related topic must be worth that much.  Given the natural tendency of collectors to assume dealers are knowledgeable, there are buyers willing to overpay.

Keystone stereoviews are the most common and can serve as a baseline. According to eBay prices realized over the past several years, the average cost of a typical Keystone World War I stereoview purchased as part of a set or large lot is about $2.50, exclusive of shipping and handling charges. The common versions of 36, 48, 50, 75, and 100 cards average slightly over $2.00 per card, while the harder-to-find 200- and 300-card versions average $2.60-3.00 per card. Only one of the rare 1932 sets of 400 was sold, and it commanded a per-card price of $6.25. In general, a price of $2.50 per card (1915-1923 sets) is available to anyone, dealer or collector, if he or she is willing to purchase an entire version of a Keystone set.  For those who do not wish to purchase a large lot, a fair price for a single card is in the range of $4.00-5.00, assuming it is neither one of the most common nor most rare.

Many dealers and most collectors do not always take into account the fact that stereoviews from some manufacturers are significantly harder to come by than Keystone, so prices fail to reflect true scarcity. For example, Underwood & Underwood sold views showing the latter stage of the war and the occupation of Germany for only about two years, while Keystone sold the same subjects for more than 15 years, yet there is little practical difference in price for cards of the two manufacturers. On the other hand, there is realization that Realistic views are significantly scarcer than Keystone and their prices reflect that.

Scarcity is only one factor in pricing. Other factors include desirability and technical quality. For example, Nightingale views show only postwar battlefields and Troutman views are poor quality, so neither tends to realize the full value of their scarcity. Aviation-related items, African-American history, skeletons, corpses, and ghastly wounds are topics that greatly increase the price for individual items, even if they are not particularly scarce. The table below provides estimates of fair prices for ordinary stereographs from several manufacturers (Note: Brentano/Over There paper glass stereoviews are known, but there is insufficient basis for estimating their value; glass stereographs are rarely sold individually because of the difficulty in mailing).

Manufacturer

Format

Per Item in Large Lot

Individual or Small Lot

Paper

Glass

6 x 13

Glass

45 x 107

Brentano/Over There

 

X

 

$5.00-7.00

N/A

 

 

X

$3.50-6.00

N/A

Feldstereo-Verlag

X

 

 

$2.50-3.50

N/A

Fisherview

 

X

 

$4.00-5.00

N/A

Keystone

X

 

 

$2.00-3.00

$4.00-5.00

LSU and SDV

X

 

 

$1.50-2.50

$3.00-5.50

 

X

 

$6.50-8.50

N/A

 

 

X

$5.00-7.50

N/A

Nightingale

X

 

 

$1.50-2.25

N/A

NPG

X

 

 

$1.50-3.50

$3.50-6.50

Paris-Stéréo

X

 

 

$1.50-3.50

$3.50-6.50

Presko

X

 

 

$4.00-5.00

$6.00-7.00

Realistic

X

 

 

$2.50-9.00

$5.00-20.00

Rose

X

 

 

$4.25-7.50

$9.00-20.00

STL

X

 

 

$1.50-3.50

$3.50-6.50

 

X

 

$6.50-8.50

N/A

 

 

X

$5.00-7.50

N/A

Troutman

X

 

 

$3.50-5.00

$5.00-8.00

Underwood

X

 

 

$2.50-5.00

$5.00-10.00

Verascope Richard

 

 

X

$7.50-10.00

N/A

Because of the interest across a wide spectrum of collectors, buyers of WWI stereoviews are not apt to be as sophisticated as philatelists in correlating price and condition.  Given an acceptable condition, there is at present only a small premium for “mint” or “excellent” condition.  This situation makes it possible for knowledgeable buyers to realize significant bargains.  The condition table below is based upon John Waldsmith's reference work Stereoviews: An Illustrated History and Price Guide.

Grade

Definition

Premium

Mint

No wear evident.  The photos retain the original gloss; if paper, the mount is pristine.  The view looks as though it just came out of the box for the first time.

1.2

Excellent/Fine

A view that has a clear and sharp image; if paper, the mount is clean and undamaged with little if any wear.

1

Very Good

A slightly less-than-perfect view. There will be no major defects in the view or the mount, but there will be signs of some usage. If glass, there may be minor spotting on the emulsion.

.8

Good

A view in average condition. A paper stereoview may be slightly faded, and corners may be rubbed or the mount may be stained. A glass stereoview may be missing emulsion on the edges.

.5

Fair/Poor

A view with major faults, including stains, heavy soiling, foxing (brown spots), bends, a damaged mount, or missing emulsion.

N/A

Waldsmith includes “Mint” with “Excellent” and “Fine.” Most stereoviews are sufficiently old that there is little chance of finding a truly mint copy, hence Waldsmith's definitions readily apply.  World War I stereoviews, however, are of recent enough origin that mint copies can be found and should command a premium.  A “mint” stereoview should look as though it just came out of the box for the first time. Views called “excellent” or “fine” will be similar, but may have trivial flaws scarcely visible to the naked eye which do not detract from the viewing pleasure.  A “very good” view is a presentable copy, while wear will be obvious on “good” copies.  Stereoviews in “fair” or “poor” condition have little practical value and are of use only in filling spaces until better copies are available.

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