Made in Dundee, the virtual reality device beloved by Queen Victoria

BrewsterThe Brewster stereoscope, a “virtual reality” headset handmade by a Victorian instrument-maker in Dundee is to be offered for sale at auction later this week.

The device gave the illusion of depth using the same optical technology as today’s VR headsets.

“The principle of Brewster’s lenticular stereoscope has survived until present day being essentially the same as the optical system used on the very latest virtual reality headsets,” say the auctioneers Flints.

According to a 2006 paper by the the International Stereoscopic Union, it was the “the first practical, portable, 3D viewing device”

The Brewster, made of walnut and satinwood, held two images side by side which, when observed through lenticular lenses, converged into a single three-dimensional image.

One of the earliest models to be made for sale, it is expected to fetch between £2,000 and £3,000 at Flints’ auction house in London on Thursday.

It was developed by Dr David Brewster, principal of the University of St Andrews, who also invented the kaleidoscope. In 1849 he took his stereoscope design to George Lowden, who made scientific instruments, in London.

According to the catalogue, the pair fell out over their collaboration. Lowden thought that the lenses were too small, but Brewster disagreed.

Lowden later wrote in his autobiography: “As I feared the idea might be taken up by another, I took out a patent for my improvement – which experience has amply justified.

“But my action was, unfortunately, resented by Brewster, and gave rise to considerable friction, for which I did not consider I was to blame, seeing that I had pointed out the improvement and he had refused it.”

Following the disagreement, in 1850 Brewster visited the French firm of Duboscq et Soliel in Paris, a company that specialised in optical instrument manufacture.

Their resulting product was shown at the Great Exhibition in London the following year. It attracted the attention of Queen Victoria whose interest sparked huge demand.