Optical Toys         Kinetic Toys         Jouet Séditieuse

The Phenakistiscope, invented by Professor Joseph Plateau (1801-1883) and The Stampfer Disc, invented by Professor Simon Stampfer (1792-1864) are both the same inventions, done indepentently by these two scientists.
The device was mentioned to be a
scientific experiment in creating the illusion of movement and how our eyes are able to experience this.

For this reason, Plateau
(see daguerreotype right) and Stampfer are the Grandfathers of Cinema. Most cited with this honour is Joseph Antoine Ferdinand Plateau.
In "
Sur un nouveau genre d'illusion d'optique", Plateau describes the working of a disc with 16 slots and images in between. This principle is one of the major techniques which enabled us to produce "moving pictures" starting at the end of the 19th. Century until today.

Both devices were able to create the illusion of live more than 60 years before the invention of film. However, this early method of creating live in
static images was not the first succesfull attempt to show animated images. (e.g. animated magic lantern slides, preceding the phenakistiscope and the Choreutoscope) Click the daguerreotype to visit the Joseph Plateau collection in the Science Museum, University of Ghent


© Joseph Plateau collection U-Ghent °°

                Daguerreotype portrait depicting Joseph Plateau

Click here for links that guide you to the Plateau pages

A few years ago, the only known photograph depicting Joseph Plateau was discovered at the home of his descendants in France. (see above right) Some further information about this unique Plateau Daguerreotype, made by Joseph Pelizzaro, can be read on the first of a series of 4 Joseph Plateau pages. I'm most thankfull to Professor Jos Uyttenhove & Professor Maurice Dorikens (University Ghent) who kindly give permission to use images from the world famous Joseph Plateau Introduction collection. Joseph Plateau was a scientist active in different fields. "Early Visual Media" is very pleased to be able in presenting Plateau's work relevant to our interest field. More information about this and other scientific work by Plateau can be found in the exhibition catalogue: "JOSEPH PLATEAU 1801-1833 Living between Art and Science". Catalogue is in Dutch, French & English. See the Phenakistiscope page for order information of this unprecedented Joseph Plateau study by Maurice Dorikens, published in 2001.

More pages on this web site explain other successful animations, especially in combination with the Magic Lantern. The Choreutoscope.
The Stampfer discs
(on this page) & Phenakistiscope, however, are of utmost importance in cinema's pre-history since they precede the sequentional succession of static images also used in the hyper realistic movement of films from the beginning until today. These Living Pictures of today have many ingenious forerunners.

While mentioned as a scientific device, the Phenakistiscope & Stampfer discs became well know and popular as a toy for children.
This phenomenon is often seen in pre-cinema items since several of them became popular as amusements or toys. e.g. the Anorthoscope of Joseph Plateau & and the band for a praxinoscope as depicted on the bottom of this page.

 (late) demonstration phenakistiscope

The page on anamorphic images on this web site explains scientific amusements, using the principles of perspective.

Although not often recognised, the principles of anamorphic distortion where also of utmost importance in several major "pre-cinema" devices such as the
Phenakistiscope, the Zootrope, the Anorthoscope, etc.

This knowledge, however, was not always applied in these toys. Due to the sequentional succession of static images in early kinetic toys the illusion is seen deformed.
For this reason, a good designed image for use with (early) kinetic devices is always anamorphic distorted, in a certain way, to produce a normal image when seen in use.

Because of the fast development & improvements of kinetic toys, the anorthoscopic distortion of the drawings became more and more superfluous. Especially in the
Phenakistiscope and the Zootrope this correction can be necessary. Not so for the Praxinoscope.


The slots in both devices are "windows" to the quickly changing images. In the phenakistiscope, the image is seen indirectly via the mirror when the opening is in front of the (preferably one) eye. In the zootrope we see the image through a similar slot on the opposite side of the drum. In both cases, a lot of light (another problem) is lost. But most of all, the images are seen shortened, similar too low perspective views.

This loss of light, caused by the narrow openings, is easily solved by using extra environmental light. The "windows" need to be narrow to produce an image with acceptable sharpness. The narrow opening (e.g. diaphragma) quickly passes our eye similar to a curtain shutter of a 35mm camera. Due to this, the effect of shortening is caused.
Both problems where partly solved in the Praxinoscope (and Theatre Praxinoscope) because the "window" was replaced by a wider mirror showing the whole image in frontal view. See a working phenakistiscope, or at the Bill Douglas Centre.


Simon Stampfer's "Stroboskopische Sheiben"

More information about the Joseph Plateau

collection on the Visual Media web site can be found on 4 pages:
- Joseph Plateau Introduction
- The "Phenakistiscope Collection" with his Pre-cinema items
Plateau's Anorthoscope
- The Duboscq Bioscope or photographical stereo phenakistiscope disc
- Scientific stereo images of Plateau's "Thin Films" by A. Neyt

The two discs above and the following illustrations show four Stampfer discs (printed and hand coloured, on both sides)
This "second set" of Simon Stampfer discs was published by Trentsensky in Wien and labelled as STROBOSCOPE or MAGIC DISC.
On the Phenakistoscope page, web site of the science museum, Ghent University, several good phenakistoscopes can be seen at work.
The same web site on Joseph Plateau also shows reconstructions of working Anorthoscope discs.

The web site of Charl Lucasen, Chronophotographical projections, is a very useful source for the history of chrono-photography (animations!) and also offers several Optical Toy devices at work, including the Thaumatrope, phenakistoscope, Zootrope & Praxinoscope.

A most complete history of Pre-Cinema is found on Paul Burns' The complete history of the discovery of Cinematography.
The Gif animations where kindly offerd by Jey.

See some replica Phenakistiscope discs and other newly made Optical Toys


Although Joseph Plateau is most know for the invention of these Kinetic discs, the 8 illustrations (black background) are early examples of the Simon Stampfer's "Stroboskopische Sheiben"

For more info on Simon Stampfer visit the
web site





Move mouse over


Move mouse over




Copyright: 2003 - 2004 - 2005 - 2006 - 2007 - 2008 - 2009 - 2010 - 2011 - 2012 - 2013 - 2014 - 2015 - 2016 - 2017 - 2018 by Thomas Weynants
he online Media Archaeology Museum version (24) Jan 2017 to Dec 2018 - All rights are protected by SOFAM.be