Optical Toys         Kinetic Toys         pHILOSophical toys         JouetS Séditieux
Marvellous amusements for Children and Adults


          Lithograph from "Spielzeug, eine Bunte Fibel"

Perhaps the most fascinating amusements, both for children and adults are the
Philosophical toys in other words, Optical Toys, Kinetic Toys & Jouet Séditieux. Many of these toys, dating especially from 18th. & 19th. Century, where firstly made as scientific amusements for adults and subsequently as toys for children & grown-ups.

The best example, the
Phenakistiscope, was invented both by Professor Joseph Plateau (1801 - 1883) & Professor Simon Stampfer (1792 - 1864), independent at almost the same time! Click to see a portrait of Plateau.
The device was mentioned to be a
scientific experiment in ophthalmologic research to explain the working of the eye, and how we are able to see the illusion of movement.

For this reason, Plateau 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 wich enabled us to produce "moving pictures" from the end of the 19th. until today.

While mentioned as a scientific device, the Phenakistiscope became well know and popular as a toy for children. The phenakistiscope was not the first optical amusement, many intriguing devices where invented before and after the rise of the Phenakistiscope (round 1833)

This pages will give an insight in the almost endless variety of optical & kinetic devices but will never be complete due to rarity & limited availability of suchlike toys. Of course, I hope to receive permissions from other collectors & museums to show their treasures here on my pages in an effort to approach completeness.


The image above depicts a few examples of optical & kinetic toys seen in a late German book "Spielzeug, eine Bunte Fibel" by , Hans-Friedrich von Geist (text) & Alfred Mahlau (lithographs), 1938.
In the image, we see a
Peepshow, a Camera obscura, a Zootrope, a Stereoscope, a Kaleidoscope, a Magic lantern and a filmstrip
Collecting these marvels is a real challange because most of these devices are rare, but bargains still do exist as proved by this book, found only two hours before starting in compiling this optical toy introduction page. Indeed, ephemera items are a most important source for information.

Commercial leaflet by Emiel Reynaud announcing his popular optical toys

Collection Veerle Van Goethem

, is a name often used to describe this "group" of items. Unfortunately, the name is in the first place misleading since not all pre-cinema items have their place in film pre-history unless you start to limit this group strongly.
A more problematic effect of this name is a vast teleological point of view, suggesting that these inventions where made with the ultimate result, cinema, allready in mind. The truth is that all these inventions where mostly "stand alone" experiments that where, partly, later used by the pioneers of cinema.
Emiel Reynaud, Muybridge, Marey, Demenÿ, Meliés, Skladanowsky, the Lumiere brothers and many others.
This short & incomplete selection of names, preceding the Lumiere brothers, illustrate that the latter where certainly NOT the true inventors of cinema.

The story is far more complex as read in most film history books. To read the best historical research about the latter subject I would advice Laurent Mannoni's:
"The Great Art of Light and Shadow" (Exeter Press, 2000) translated by Richard Crangle. ISBN: 0 85989 567 X

Philosophical Toys

The devices on this and many other Early Visual-Media pages were known as
Philosophical Toys in the Victorian Era. These mostly "table top" toys demonstrate the principles of 18th. & 19th.Century scientific experiments.

These toys have a scientific value indeed, since they help us to understand new ideas, theories and inventions in optics, physics, electricity, mechanics, music,... etc.
"Philosophical Toys" induce experiences that provoke questions about the world surrounding us. They are able in helping us to understand the nature of reality and truth, many of them however are able to mislead by creating virtual illusions.

Because it's not possible to show photographs of many optical toys, several devices will be illustrated by engravings depicted in old dictionaries and Physique Amusante books.

The image on the right comes from an old unknown source.
Unfortunately, many antique dealers and even collectors still destroy important books to get maximum financial results by selling these engravings as single prints. The important text information is mostly lost! See Pre-Cinema Ephemera

Here we see a solar microscope, a cone & cylinder anamorphose, a cylinder mirror, a magic lantern, a peepshow box, a camera obscura, etc. Detailed scans of these & other images will be used on the subsequent optical toy pages.

The aim is not to give a complete and chronolgical overview of optical toys but rather a personal selection of intriguing devices, at random, following a personal choice. Where posible and within my knowledge, explanation will also be provided.

The printed text information in "Physique Amusante" sources can be extremely interesting and important since these are contemporary sources who often explains the working principles of our devices and are open to interpretation by a variety of researchers. Sometimes these sources have extra handwritten information relating to specific subjects since many of these books where realy used. A good example of this are four handwritten pages in a copy of "Dictionnaire Encyclopédique des Amusmens des Sciences, Mathémathique et Physique" by Jacques Lacombe Lacombe. 1792.

The latter book is a very important historical source for different reasons!

- First a lot of information, text & images, is provided about scientific experiments in the field of Astronomy, Gnomonique, Amusemens de Physique, Amusmens de Mécanique, Amusemens d' Optique, Amusemens d' Acoustique ou Musique, Amusemens de Catoptrique, Amusemens de Navigation et d' Architecture, Pyrotechnie sans feu et purement physique, La Magie Blanche, etc.

- Second, this book was the preferred source of
Robert-Houdin where he found his first ideas for the art of Prestidigitation / Conjuring.
In his personal copy, Robert-Houdin wrote, "
Volume dans lequel j'ai puisé mes premières inspirations dans l' art de l' escomotage"
Indeed, conjuring arts also play an important role in the history of Visual Media. There exist interesting relations between Pre-Cinema, Prestidigitation & Photography.

The fourth page, second paragraph (unfortunately unfinished), explains the coloring of magic lantern slides:
Des Couleurs a Peindre sur le verre Pour les Tableaux de la Lanterne Magique"
The previous three pages explains the coloring of Vues d' Optique:
Couleurs dont on doit se servir pour peindre les Vues d' Optique


Mouve Mouse over Stampfer Disc.

A most important collection of optical toys is in the science museum
of the
Ghent University:
  "Joseph Plateau collection"

- 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

Click on the Praxinoscope band and jump to Anamorphic Images

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