Canvassed and Delivered: Direct Selling at Keystone View Company, 1898-1910
This thesis addresses an under-studied aspect of the stereoscopic photograph industry: the business and sales practices employed by American stereograph publishers at the dawn of the twentieth century, as exemplified by Keystone View Company. Stereographic sales practices are an essential element in understanding stereoscopy’s ubiquity and place in American culture, but have been too frequently oversimplified or wholly overlooked in existing scholarship. Using concepts from business history, this thesis addresses the ways in which Keystone’s structure and scale allowed it to function as a national and international entity, and examines the role of communication in the sale of photographs. Keystone’s success hinged on the corporate communications between the company and its direct-selling sales agents, communication between sales agents and prospective consumers, and the communication between consumers and the company (both tacitly through purchase and directly through written praise of the products). Furthermore, this thesis considers the affective qualities and social claims of stereoscopy by proposing the role of aspiration as a motivating factor in the images’ consumption. Aspiration was woven into the company’s prescribed sales pitch, the character of the sales agents employed by Keystone, and in recommendations and testimonials from Keystone users. Consumers’ emotional response to stereography, and especially the way that stereography was sold, served as a significant influence in the sales process. Successful sales were Keystone’s motivation, and its business practices propelled the company’s success, especially through corporate communication and framing stereographs aspirationally. This thesis concludes that the role of business practices in stereoscopic production contributes to the understanding of the cultural phenomenon of stereoscopy, and permits a more complete sense of the market in which these photographs circulated.
- PhD