amusements for Children and Adults
"Spielzeug, eine Bunte Fibel"
Perhaps the most fascinating amusements, both
for children and adults are the Philosophical
in other words, Optical Toys,
Many of these toys, dating especially from 18th.
& 19th. Century, where firstly
made as scientific
for adults and subsequently as toys
for children & grown-ups.
The best example, the
was invented both by Professor Joseph
(1801 - 1883) & Professor Simon
(1792 - 1864), independent at almost the same
to see a portrait of Plateau.
The device was mentioned to be a scientific
in ophthalmologic research to explain the
of the eye,
and how we are able to see the illusion
For this reason, Plateau and Stampfer are the
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
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
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.
image above depicts a few examples of optical
& kinetic toys seen in a late German book
eine Bunte Fibel"
by , Hans-Friedrich
von Geist (text) & Alfred Mahlau (lithographs),
In the image, we see a
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,
are a most important source for information.
leaflet by Emiel Reynaud
announcing his popular optical toys
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.
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
"The Great Art of Light
and Shadow" (Exeter Press, 2000) translated
by Richard Crangle. ISBN: 0 85989 567 X
The devices on this and many other Early Visual-Media
pages were known as Philosophical
the Victorian Era. These mostly "table top"
toys demonstrate the principles of 18th.
& 19th.Century scientific
These toys have a scientific value indeed, since
they help us to understand new ideas, theories and
inventions in optics, physics, electricity, mechanics,
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
it's not possible to show photographs of many
optical toys, several devices will be illustrated
by engravings depicted in old dictionaries and
The image on the right comes from an old unknown
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
Here we see a solar microscope, a cone & cylinder
a cylinder mirror, a magic
box, a camera
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.
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
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
where he found his first ideas for the art of Prestidigitation
In his personal copy, Robert-Houdin wrote, "Volume
dans lequel j'ai puisé mes premières inspirations dans l' art
de l' escomotage"
arts also play
an important role in the history of Visual Media.
There exist interesting relations between Pre-Cinema,
The fourth page, second paragraph (unfortunately
unfinished), explains the coloring of magic lantern
Couleurs a Peindre sur le verre Pour les Tableaux de la
The previous three pages explains the coloring of Vues d'
dont on doit se servir pour peindre les Vues d'
Mouse over Stampfer Disc.
Click on the Praxinoscope band and jump
to Anamorphic Images