These images may seem somewhat faded and old-fashioned today, but in the 1850s they were the absolute pinnacle of photographic technology. They are stereoscopic daguerreotypes, two very similar pictures which when seen side-by-side through a special viewing device, create a three-dimensional image of their subject: in this case, Queen Victoria. Photographed about 1854, when Victoria was just 35, these images show a younger, elegantly dressed queen: quite different from the traditional public conception of an older Victoria, still dressed in black mourning clothes after the death of her husband Prince Albert. Victoria and Albert were the early adopters of their day, popularising the new technology in Britain.
In 1851, a French photographer came to London's Great Exhibition to show off his skills. Antoine Francois Jean Claudet was one of the pioneers of early photography, learning his trade from Louis Daguerre, inventor of the first commercially successful type of photograph: the daguerreotype. This complex process etched an image onto a silver-plated copper slide, creating an extraordinarily sharp and accurate image.
Daguerreotypes have been called "mirrors with memory", as they retain their silvery finish and shift appearance depending on lighting and viewing angle. They are also extremely fragile: the delicate pattern of tarnish depicting the image can be damaged by a light touch. These daguerreotypes are sealed in a protective glass case.