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The Great War in Stereoviews

W. E. Troutman, Inc.

According to the Historical Society of Berks County, Warren E. F. Troutman was an illustrator who ran a photography supply store under the name W. E. Troutman, Inc. in Reading, PA in the Twenties. Born in 1899, he would have been a youthful competitor of Keystone View Company, which is not known to have bought out Troutman as it did most other American stereoview companies. As discussed below, Troutman may not have owned rights to images he used, diminishing his company’s attractiveness to Keystone. No images were used in common save Keystone 19351/Troutman 5131, which was probably inadvertently used by both companies.


Keystone 19351

Defiant German Prisoners, Captured by 2nd Division Marines after Bitter Fighting in Belleau Wood


Troutman 5131

German Prisoners, captured by Americans at Belleau Wood


Troutman published a single World War One set of 300 cards that was also available in a smaller edition of 100 cards. Minor variations exist, with different cards being substituted at some positions, but only one basic set is known. The period the set was on sale is unknown, but the boxes used by Troutman were virtually identical in construction, fabric, and lettering to those used by Keystone in the Twenties. The only difference is the name at the bottom of each volume. Whether Keystone or a common supplier provided the boxes, this similarity enables the Troutman WWI set to be dated to that period.

Troutman World War cards are generally numbered from 5001 to 5305. A handful fall outside that range, some apparently because of typographical errors in the numbers.

It is not likely that Troutman or his employees ever traveled to France to photograph the battlefield. At least 185 of the 300 views in his WWI set are copies of French stereographs. The remainder are stock postwar views that could have been readily obtained from photographers on the Continent or in the USA.

As described elsewhere in this book, the most realistic stereoviews of the war were created by French photographers. These often included shots of Americans in France because private American photographers were forbidden to take pictures of their own military until after the Armistice. Troutman primarily used Type A and C French paper stereographs.

The high proportion of French stereoviews offered Troutman the opportunity to produce an appealing World War set, but instead of acquiring rights to a sizable number of glass stereoviews, Troutman used the relatively tame paper stereoviews. The technical quality of Troutman WWI stereographs is the poorest of any manufacturer, with high contrast and loss of fine detail the norm. A comparison of Troutman and the original French images shows remarkable difference in quality, suggesting that Troutman copied his images from paper copies or had markedly inferior equipment. For the table below, Troutman 5227 and French Type C 2821 were scanned at the same resolution and settings. They accurately replicate the actual stereoviews. The typical impression of high contrast and lack of detail of Troutman images is particularly noticeable in comparison to the original.

Troutman 5227, Washing their clothes near the front



FR-C 2821, Les sources de la Suippe (The sources of the Suippe—a humorous reference to a river in the Marne with a weak flow)



Insert closeups

The quality of the final stereoviews was no better. Mislabeled photos, misspellings, overprints, and upside-down captions and explanations occur at a far higher rate in Troutman sets than in those of any other manufacturer.

Insert examples

The poor quality control evident in any group of Troutman stereoviews suggests an operation run on a shoestring. Despite their many failings, Troutman stereoviews command premiums because of their scarcity. At the time they were available, they must have sold slowly because of their obvious inferiority compared to the competition. This probably explains their limited availability today.

In addition to his technical shortcomings, Troutman assembled the set without any attempt at organization by chronology or topic. This disjointed presentation is basically a collection of 300 different images. Troutman often used creative titling to enhance the relevance of his views to an American audience.



Two-piece box made to look like a pair of books. The spine was marked in gold letters on black fabric at top "STEREOGRAPHIC LIBRARY," at top center "WORLD WAR--THROUGH--THE STEREOSCOPE, at bottom center the volume numbers, and at bottom "W. E. Troutman, Inc."

Thirty-nine of the estimated 185 have been confirmed by comparison with copies of the French views in the author’s collection. The remainder are of the same style, showing French and American subjects.


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