Help identify and analyze these Great War stereoviews, and win 3D swag!

Dedicated to the memory of Anthony Paul Brooks, better known amongst his mates as Pookie, 23 December 1980 – 8 July 2010. He loved games, and he loved the military. Requiescat in Pace.

About two months ago, along with hundreds of glass views and some regular contact-printed stereoviews, I received the 13 cards we’ll be focusing on here. Instead of contact printing so that the images were properly aligned, the photographer hand-cut his own mounts. Not-quite-perfect rectangles of cardstock that resembles an 18% neutral grey card, the photographer had pasted onto the mounts stereo pairs printed onto photographic paper. He clearly did his best, but the images are often misaligned by over 1º – enough to be bothersome to free view. I stuck them in my “Low Priority Accessions” box, and began processing a huge (500 piece) amateur glass collection for the Boyd/Jordan archives. In addition to the other problems mentioned, the images were almost entirely faded:

Both halves of a stereo pair pasted on to cardstock that is roughly neutral grey.
A card from this collection scanned without any correction or image enhancement – that is to say, more or less exactly how it looks to the naked eye. While you can certainly succeed in free viewing it, the results are none too impressive and like as not to cause eye strain if you don’t free view daily.

Come this past weekend. I needed a break from the huge collection of negatives I was processing, and I decided to reorder my accession processing queue with the help of some removable color labels. I came across the neutral grey backed views again, only this time, I noticed something I hadn’t before. On the back of each card was verso text giving context to the image! I pulled out a Raumbildbetrachter, my favored method of viewing any small or medium format printed card. And I realized that I had some very good stereography on my hands, faded and misaligned though it was! I set about making some better scans, but then…

The First Brooklyn Stereography “Identify & Analyze” Contest!

As soon as I realized that I had 13 very cool stereoviews on my hands, I started to research them in order to be able to present them with context. However, within an hour, a thought began nagging at me: I’m still writing the three-article series on the Fasser Collection. I’m processing 500 slides, which all have to be manually developed from digital negatives, flipping them horizontally, and exchanging sides. When the article is done, I have to research this second set. I don’t have time to analyze every small set that comes across my scanner, yet these merit exploration. Then the idea came upon me – why not crowdsource the research? And meanwhile, why not make it fun, by giving people a lot of time and including some awesome prizes?

This contest is for everyone who wants to study the Neutral Grey Collection.

With so many amateur slides in the Boyd/Jordan collection, and barely any of them processed, I’m running out of names for sets. So since this one has a defining characteristic – the neutral grey mounts – it gets a definite name. Now in terms of setting up this contest, I wanted to give you, the readers, ample time for research. I recognize that I have many subscribers who study the Great War – and many who are just here for the images. But everybody has to start somewhere, and if you’ve never tried to do research from images alone, this could be a great exercise for you. Everybody gets to play!

So the contest will run until the anniversary of Armistice – 11 November at 11:00 Paris time. This allows ample time for even the greenest researcher to get their heels wet. Further information, including the verso text on the cards, will be released each month. Conjecture is encouraged, especially if it turns out to be correct, but provable facts are much more valuable, and will be awarded points as such. So crack open your books or the vast (and often dodgy, factually speaking) realm of the internet and start trying to identify unit insignia, weaponry, artillery, buildings, and so forth. This is one of the easiest ways for a novice historian to start learning how, and how not, to do history.

LSU 3019 – a help station in Ramscapelle, one of the rare 3000s-3100s series taken entirely by one photographer during the Battle of the Yser, and only available in small format (45x107mm). Look for a blog post on these in the upcoming months. The grand prize winner will receive this, as well as 19 other duplicates from the Boyd/Jordan Collection and a genuine period viewer with which to view them.

What are these points of which you speak? And what are the rules to this thing?

This is all quite simple, really. Everybody is allowed up to two entries a month. An entry consists of clicking on the “Contact” button on this site, and writing out everything you’ve been able to ascertain so far. There are benefits to doing this quickly, as you’ll see below, and benefits to holding off. After each post on the Neutral Grey Collection, I’d recommend using one entry relatively quickly. Put everything you can figure out in a short analysis in this first email. Then save your second entry for nearing the end of the month – allowing you to explore at your leisure. You might be wondering why getting an entry in hastily is to your benefit – the point assignment scheme below should answer that question:

  • Insanely Awesome Characteristic: I doubt that any of these exist in the set, but if they do, they’re worth a whopping 35 points. This is basically anything that would make me clean up the digital files to the full extent of my abilities, either for a lecture or for a journal article. Identifying a well-known, and crucial to the war, historical figure in any of the slides would do it. I highly doubt it, but if you can prove it…
  • Arcane Knowledge: This includes things like the precise location of any card (excepting the last two), the camera used to take the initial glass plate negatives, identification of any person, identification of any impermanent building (eg, barns, dugouts, etc), identification of a precise date, an exact Division identification, and other things that are beyond the scope of what I myself could reasonably do during a lazy afternoon. The first entry to point out a fact will receive 17 points. The second entry merits 8 points, and the third merits 3 points.
  • Major Discoveries: This is the category into which most discernible facts will fall into. It includes things like the identification of the months in which each image was taken, an exact Army designation, the identification of permanent (basically masonry) buildings, the roles and ranks of the soldiers portrayed, and so on. In other words, most facts that can be ascertained about the images with a high degree of certitude. First entry: 9 points. Second entry: 4 points. Third entry: 2 points.
  • Minor Discoveries: These include things like the year the image was recorded, well-reasoned argumentation for the quality or lack thereof of the image, identification of things like firearms, artillery, helmets, uniforms, etc. – basically anything that can be gleaned through a quick thumb through the many military image sites online (including the Boyd/Jordan Collection). First entry: 4 points. Second entry: 2 points. Third entry: 1 point.

Proof vs. conjecture vs. guesswork, and a guide to writing your entries

Submitting an entry is easy enough; you click on the “Contact” button in the main menu, and fill in the form. Make sure to include either a name or a nickname in the message; this is how I’ll be keeping track of points each month. Use numbered paragraphs in the form “1)”, “2)”, etc to state all of your facts and conjecture for that entry; you can put as many as you want in each of your two monthly entries. Hit send. I will tally up points and keep a register of determined facts and their authors, and release a leaderboard with the current top 3 so that those not on the board have a fire lit under their bottoms to keep going.

Simply writing down a bunch of guesses and sending them in 5 minutes after each month’s post goes live will lose you points. Guesswork – that is to say, assertion without any reasoning – is lazy and a poor path to take if you’re trying to do history. Any assertions made without anything to back them up will be docked a point; any serial offenders will be asked to leave the game. Conjecture is different from base guesswork in that it is reasoned guesswork. State your thesis for each bullet point, and if you cannot prove it with secondary sources, make a strong argument for it. If I accept your argument with a 90% degree of certitude – in other words, if I’m pretty sure you got it right, you will receive points equivalent to those one tier lower, or 1 point if already in “Minor Discoveries” territory. Proving your case to get full points takes a bit more – specifically a link (or multiple links) to reliable secondary sources that conclusively show that your fact is, indeed, a fact.

What is the posting schedule for the remainder of the Neutral Grey Contest?

  • July – you’re reading it, silly!
  • August – All facts & accepted conjecture submitted so far, more hints, and filling in of some of the “?” images
  • September – Same as August, plus the verso text from the cards
  • October – Same as August
  • November – All collated knowledge so far, and any missing pieces left
  • 11 November – Contest ends at 11:00 Paris time

The times of the posts will be staggered as well; for example, by design, this one’s going up while it’s evening in America. This means Europe has a disadvantage for Round 1, and this is by design. Most of the research, photo analysis, and so on relating to the Great War goes on in Europe, which makes sense. While America is happy to take credit for the victory, they didn’t enter the war until 1917 – putting their own self-interest first like usual.

A scene from VistaScreen packet “H.221 Portmeirion“, an extremely rare VistaScreen set only available for a couple of years in the Portmeirion gift shop. This is one of five packets, as well as a viewer, that make up the second prize in the Neutral Grey Contest.

So what are the prizes? WHAT ARE THE PRIZES?

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, you wanna know what you can get out of it. However, I had to make sure that everybody read the rules before drooling over the prizes; I don’t want my inbox flooded with incorrectly formatted entries full of guesswork and tomfoolery. That said, the Grand Prize is pretty damn awesome, and the other two aren’t exactly junk either. Of course, if the Grand Prize winner would prefer the Second Prize, they’ll be given two days to make that clear, and likewise with second place. Third place gets what remains. In any case, on my end, all information gathered will be of great assistance, and if this works out, I’ll be doing two per year. Right then, let’s see what you can win!

GRAND PRIZE: A small format (45×107) stereoscope, and 20 Great War glass diapositives from the Boyd/Jordan Collection (Est. value: $250)

Seeing 3D on a computer screen, or viewing classical stereoscopic cards through a Holmes-style viewer, are not experiences which even compare to the ethereal quality of viewing the Great War on glass plate diapositives through a proper, period viewer. The viewer included in the Grand Prize Package, while simplistic, has excellent optics, and likely dates to before the war, and possibly to the 19th century. And these aren’t just any slides, they’re slides with provenance – genuine deaccessions from the Boyd/Jordan Collection! In our years of collecting, there are some slides we still don’t have – and some we have a half-dozen copies of. Here are the slides you’ll win:

As you can see, at present only one slide has been revealed. And it’s a 3000-series LSU slide, captured at the Battle of the Yser on 45×107 glass plate. The entire 3000-series is incredibly rare, and this is among the best images in it. Now every month, this will become fuller and fuller – but I wouldn’t wait until you see something you need for your collection to enter. By that point, someone else will likely have a significant point lead on you!

SECOND PRIZE: A fantastic VistaScreen starter set (Est. value: $100)

Be the envy of all your friends with a boxed VistaScreen viewer and five complete sets (50 total views) from my duplicate boxes! While the boxes will likely be even more poorly maintained than my “canonical” collection versions, the sets will be complete. VistaScreen cards were printed to last; VistaScreen boxes were designed by a developmentally disabled 8-year-old with a sadistic streak. Either way, there will be a mix of common sets and real gems in here. Specifically:

  • H.221 “Portmeirion” – This is among my favorite VistaScreen sets of all time, and is exceedingly rare, both due to high demand due to the site having been the filming location of The Prisoner, and due to the fact that you could only buy them by actually traveling to this strange little Welsh village to purchase them from the souvenir shop.
  • ?
  • ?
  • ?
  • ?
Third prize for the "Neutral Grey" identification contest

THIRD PRIZE: 25 Keystone View Company stereoviews (Est. value: $50)

These won’t be chosen until the contest ends, but basically, this is an opportunity to get your hands on 25 cards from the 1923 Keystone View Company sets. I’ll work with the winner to choose cards that interest them – or if possible to help fill in gaps in their collections. No guarantees, but if we have numerous copies of a Key that you’re lacking, I’ll try to make it happen! And best of all, these have the provenance of being genuine Boyd/Jordan collection deaccessions. You can’t go wrong there!

Need a Hint?

Neutral Grey Stereoviews

Leave a Reply