Collecting For Our Museum (Hopefully)

Green-Wood has a who’s-who of pioneering photographers interred here. One of those is Alexander Beckers.

Several years ago I was checking a list of early photographers, looking for those who might be at Green-Wood. As I did so, I came to an Alexander Beckers, whose business was at 560 Broadway. And, lo and behold, Green-Wood had a man, interred in section L, lot 21718, in 1905, named Alexander Beckers. But was it the same man? Well, I checked Green-Wood’s records, and the Alexander Beckers who purchased that lot listed his address as 560 Broadway. A match!

Beckers was a daguerreotype photographer–we have several of his portraits in our collections. But he was also the inventor of the Beckers Viewer, which used several patents that he obtained. It was the home entertainment center of its time. It allowed people, two at a time–one seated on one side of it, the other on the opposite side–to tour the world in 3D, viewing stereoscopic views through lenses and using a rotating mechanism to look at many views. Before there was an Internet, or television, you might discover the Pyramids or Paris or New York City with a Beckers Viewer.

We do have a Beckers Viewers in our Historic Fund Collections. But I recently came across an auction item that is the best of the best–a great piece of 19th century furniture (of which we have none in our collections) and the personal Beckers Viewer owned by Alexander Beckers himself (and, according to the auction description, consigned by Beckers’s 85-year-old granddaughter).

Alexander Beckers's own Beckers viewer.

It would be a great piece for a Green-Wood museum–as a window to Green-Wood’s ties to invention (and our other inventors: Samuel Finley Breese Morse–the telegraph, Elias Howe– the sewing machine, Walter Hunt–the safety pin, etc.), and to our great collection of approximately 1,000 stereoviews of Green-Wood’s grounds, taken in the 1860s and 1870s. We also have a modern electrical stereoscopic viewer that we used in our recent Civil War exhibition, “Honoring Their Sacrifice,” and this would also be a great link to our display of 3D photographs of our grounds and 3D portraits of some of our interees (we own stereoscopic views of Henry Raymond, Horace Greeley, Lola Montez, and many more).

So, with permission to bid away, this past Saturday I was able to purchase the Beckers viewer and the photograph of Alexander’s family for the Historic Fund. A very exciting addition to our collections! And, hopefully, in the not-too-distant future, a featured item in our Green-Wood Museum.

The Beckers Family. That is Alexander with the white beard.


This ad for a Beckers viewer appeared in The Nation in 1869.

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