The Paris / Phillips Thaumatrope

Extended from a brief section on the main Thaumatrope page.

This page is only possible through the kind assistance of two collectors, Richard Balzer and Lester Smith. Some years ago Lester showed me an 1825 issue of the paper John Bull that he had found, which - for the first time - revealed all of the subjects and mottoes of Dr. Paris's original thaumatrope set. More recently, Dick posted images of his (perhaps unique?) surviving set of the Paris / Phillips set on his website. My research concerning the subjects illustrated and lampooned in this series, follows.

            Subject No.8. This example, now in the Cinématheque Française, with motto
              added in manuscript, was previously in the Will Day Collection.

              (Cinématheque Française, courtesy Laurent Mannoni)

High society patronage

The support of so simple a novelty as the thaumatrope by such an august body as the Royal Institution was ridiculed with relentless irony throughout a leading article in John Bull in 1825, linking its importance to the great thinkers of England. The writer, most likely editor Theodore Edward Hook (1788-1841) - a prolific author known for his witty, incisive criticism and pitiless invective - adds the name of the editor of a competitor's journal, the poet Thomas Campbell, for further ironic effect:

                                                          (Lester Smith Collection)

The writer sarcastically applauds the thaumatrope for 'the solution which it affords of a hidden and hitherto unintelligible problem, for which the country has to be grateful...' . 1

Despite the caustic criticism the article carefully lists titles of all eighteen subjects, together with the rhymes associated with each and an advertisement; which can only have helped sales.


                (Richard Balzer)
"No.1. A Parrot is presented on one side, and a Cage on the other. On spinning round the card the bird will be seen safely lodged in the cage.- MOTTO . Why is this bird like an Opposition member, who goes over to the Ministers? -ANSWER, Because, by TURNING ROUND HE GAINS A BIRTH, AND CEASES TO BE FREE!!!

The most famous thaumatrope subject, much copied. Perhaps refers to a particular member of the Opposition, as yet unidentified, who turned from Whig to Tory (thus supposedly gaining a position, while losing his 'freedom'). [birth no doubt means berth.]

                (Richard Balzer)
"No.2.-A Rose Tree, with a Garden Pot in the reverse. MOTTO , Why does this resemble the Tree of Liberty?- ANSWER . Because it is planted by a Revolution.

Thomas Jefferson remarked: "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants." 2 The original Liberty Tree was a famous elm tree that stood in Boston, USA, in the days before the American Revolution. The tree became a rallying point for the growing resistance to the rule of Britain over the American colonies.

                (Richard Balzer)
"No.3. -A Horse, with a man on the reverse. MOTTO . Turn round and he will Turn on.

                (Richard Balzer)
"No.4.-A leafless branch, which will become verdant on the spinning of the card. - MOTTO .- A new turn to an old joke, or a round-about way to Turn'm Green ! ! !

At least two different published versions of an apocryphal story concerning novelist and playwright Oliver Goldsmith relate to this punning on the name of Turnham Green, then a village on the road between London and the West, and now a park in Chiswick.3

Poor Goldsmith was represented at a table where green peas were served. They were somewhat yellow. Why do you not send them to Kensington? said a neighbour. And why to Kensington? said the host. Why - that's the way to Turnham-green, (Turn 'em green) was the reply. Goldsmith, who never saw a joke in all his life - almost wept with vexation when this was explained to him, and saying that he would give the world to have been the author of it, persuaded his friends to assist him in letting it off at his own table, for a pop of his own. They did their best, to be sure - but when it came to poor Goldsmith's turn to play into the catastrophe, instead of saying, why that's the way to Turnham-Green, he cried out - why that's the way to Brentford ! and then fell back into his chair convulsed with laughter.4

                (Richard Balzer)
"No.5.- Turns of Fashion, or a revolution in dress.

The dress of this girl is very properly varied according to the circles in which she is seen.

           Dutch Paper Doll Book 'Louize' by J. Guykens, c.1820

This subject is reminiscent of the cutout paper dolls, with overlaid dresses, being sold at that time - and of course, still popular today.

                (Richard Balzer)

"No.6.- The body of a Turk, with his head on the reverse.

"He who in Turkish Courts is bred
"On turning round may lose his head!
"The Turk that's here, you see, has found
"Another head by turning round.

Very likely to refer to Ali Pasha, 1744?-1822, Turkish pasha [military governor] of Yannina (now Ioánnina, Greece), a province of the Ottoman Empire (Turkey). Possibly the son of a Turkish family from Anatolia, though generally considered Albanian. The despotic ruler enjoyed torturing and killing his enemies and many innocents, before himself being captured in 1822.

                       Peter Johann Nepomuk Geiger (1805-1880). Ali Pasha's head,
                            severed from the trunk, is presented to the Sultan Mahmud II,
                            in a solemn audience. (c.1860)
                                                                       (Wikipedia Commons)

'When asked to surrender for beheading, he famously proclaimed, "My head ... will not be surrendered like the head of a slave," and kept fighting till the end, but was shot through the floor of his room and his head cut off to be sent to the Sultan. Hursid Pasha, to whom it was presented on a large dish of silver plate, rose to receive it, bowed three times before it, and respectfully kissed the beard, expressing aloud his wish that he himself might deserve a similar end. To such an extent did the admiration with which Ali's bravery inspired these men efface the memory of his crimes.' [Wikipedia]

                (Richard Balzer)
"No.7-John Bull, with a bottle on the reverse.
"From this turn, if you turn well, 'twill clearly turn out,
"That each turn in the world had its own turn about,
"Thus the Cit swallows wine, as his leading concern,
"But at length by the bottle is swallowed in turn.

[Cit : A contemptuous Term for a member of the merchant class, one who works in or lives in the City of London, i.e--the central business area of London.5]

                (Richard Balzer)
"No.8- A Boy, pelting a dog kennel ! ! !
MOTTO . Take care, when you Turn round he'll Turn out.

No apparent reason for the emphasis in the first line. No 'hidden meanings' revealed so far, despite my best efforts.

                (Richard Balzer)
No.9.-The Watchman going his Rounds, or a "Charly" more paradoxical than eccentric in his movements.

"The caprice of this Watchman surpasses all bounds,
"He ne'er sits in his box but when going his rounds !
"While he no sooner rests-what a strange paradox !
"Than he flies from his seat, and turns out of his box.

The social position of the watchman is well described in a recent blog:

A regular night watch came into existence after the passing of the Statute of Winchester in 1285, which required householders to maintain the peace in their parishes. Later, constables supervised the "Charlies", a nickname watchmen acquired during Charles II's reign....

The watchmen's duties included crime and fire prevention, waking people who needed to rise early, calling out the time and weather, and helping drunks home. Men could avoid their duty by paying a fine or hiring a deputy. By the eighteenth century, deputies had become common and watchmen tended to be elderly, often drunk, usually incompetent and highly ridiculed by the public.

According to The London Encyclopaedia, this mock advertisement appeared in 1821: "Wanted, a hundred thousand men for London watchmen. None need apply for this lucrative situation without being the age of sixty, seventy, eighty or ninety years; blind with one eye and seeing very little with the other; crippled in one or both legs; deaf as a post; with an asthmatical cough that tears them to pieces; whose speed will keep pace with a snail, and the strength of whose arm would not be able to arrest an old washerwoman of fourscore returned from a hard day's fag at the washtub...."

Made of timber or stone, the wooden [watch boxes] provided targets for bored young "gentlemen" who tipped them over (and the snoozing watchman within) for sport....6

            Robert and George Cruikshank, "Tom Getting the best of a Charley," Life in London;
              or, the Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorn, Esq., and his Elegant Friend Corinthian Tom,
              Accompanied by Bob Logic, the Oxonian, in their Rambles and
              Sprees through the Metropolis
(Sherwood Jones & Co., London, 1820-21)

                                                    (Ohio State University Rare Books and Manuscripts Library)

...as shown in this cartoon. It's by George Cruikshank, who was responsible for the drawing of Mr Seymour demonstrating the thaumatrope, that appeared in Dr. Paris's Philosophy in Sport. We know that Cruikshank drew some zoetrope strips decades later; could it be that he was also responsible for the drawings of the original thaumatropes? No hard evidence, but perhaps a possibility.

                (Richard Balzer)
No.10.-A Gallows on one side, and a man suspended on the other. MOTTO . Turn round and you'll see a Turn off. Wonder not, for it is the common consequence of a Revolution.

                       Drawing: George Theodore Wilkinson, 1821
                        (Wikipedia Commons)

In 1820 five conspirators in the Cato Street conspiracy had been hanged for High Treason, and their heads subsequently severed from their bodies. Their plan had been to kill the Prime Minister and the entire cabinet, thereby overthrowing the government, and then to set up a Committee of Public Safety which would supervise a radical revolution.7

                (Richard Balzer)
"No.11. Tobacco pipes and wine glasses; on the reverse, a decanter.
By spinning of the card, the figure of a man is produced.

"Prometheus gave life, as old Fabulists say,
"By fire snatched from Jove, to a Man made of clay;
"Turn around, and you'll see how I follow his line,
"My pipe is his clay, and his fire's my wine.
"From his fate, You alone can pronounce me excempt,
"For no vulture I fear, but the Public contempt ! ! !

                (Richard Balzer)
"No.12.- A Cabbage, carrots, and radishes, on one side, and a turnip, &c. on the other. The figure of a man is produced by the whirling of the card.

"The plants were Men, Believe but Ovid's strain,
"They now come round, and turn to men again.

This couplet refers to the epic Roman poem Metamorphosis by Ovid.8

          (L: British Museum etc etc, R: Public domain)

Drawings of people composed from everyday objects were popular over a long period.
L: a print is by George Cruikshank, details. R: this head comprising flowers, fruit, and vegetables is by Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1527-1593).

                (Richard Balzer)
"No.13.-Harlequin and Columbine, on different sides, unite by the revolution of the card.

"The faithful couple, who with true love burn,
"Tho' Poles divide them, to each other turn.

                (Richard Balzer)
"No.14.-A comic head on one side, which, on turning round become invested with a wig.-Why does this head resemble an Opposition Candidate at the late Westminster election?-Because a revolutionary movement places a Whig at the top of the Pole.

I think there's something very specific going on here, politically, relating to a particular Whig politician; most likely Charles, 2nd Earl Grey (of Earl Grey tea fame). The term 'top of the Pole' could mean top job (Prime Minister). The Whigs failed in 1820, but in 1830 Grey would indeed become Prime Minister. As with the Cato Street Conspiracy, the 'late Westminster Election' referred to here had also taken place in 1820 (in March-April). It seems perhaps unlikely that this topical political joke was still current five years later when the thaumatrope set was published. Perhaps the puns and discs had actually been prepared some years earlier, but their publication delayed as being too risky. Ali Pasher's beheading was in January 1822, so if this is the source of the subject for disc No.6, then that would be the earliest period for the Thaumatrope's original drawings - assuming of course that they were all produced at the same time.

                (Richard Balzer)
No.15.-A man sleeping.-MOTTO. Turn him round, and you'll wake him.

                (Richard Balzer)
No.16.- The head, legs, and arms of a Man on one side, and Re-
galia on the other.

"Legs, Arms, and Head, alone appear,
"Observe that, No-body is here;
"Napoleon-like, I undertake
"Of Nobody a King to make.

Following this rhyme in the John Bull transcript are the letters and exclamation 'F.C. !!!' John Bull presumes that these indicate a name and notes sourly that the author 'has appended his initials, lest his effusion should be mixed up with the coarser materials.' 9

Or could it be that the letters stand for Fortis cadere, [cedere non potest] (The brave may fall, but never yield), in reference to Revolutionaries, indicating a real and dangerous political statement; hence Paris's initial reluctance to be associated with the device?

                (Richard Balzer)
"No.17.-The Potter at his Wheel,
"Behold the Potter! by whose magic turn,
"The shapeless clay becomes a classic urn;
"What turn can any Thaumatrope produce,
"So full of wonder, or so full of use?

Here, Paris admits to the relative uselessness of the Thaumatrope.

                (Richard Balzer)
"No.18.-Pantaloon struck by Death.
" MOTTO . My Turn is come at last."

In the English harlequinade, Pantaloon (originally Pantalone in the Commedia dell'arte) emerged as the greedy, elderly father of Columbine who tries to keep the lovers separated. [Wikipedia] Here he meets his end. The final word indicates that this was the last thaumatrope in the set. John Bull concludes:

In order to show that these literary effusions are not considered at all secondary (we can positively state that thay are not by MR. SAMUEL ROGERS) we must refer to the author's advertisement, which is at the end of the work:-10

Now, speaking with all reverence due to the high source whence this work flows, we must be permitted to observe, that however easily the author turns his Puns and Epigrams! and however easily he may imagine the world will catch the infection, one part of his invention appears to have failed - we mean that, which assumes to round old jokes so as to give them all the airs of originality - however he thinks pehaps that wit like wine improves with age; and whatever trifling imperfections the critical eye may find, we have no hesitation in declaring, that a work like the THAUMATROPE, has rarely been given to society under equally high and imposing auspices.
Is John Bull's editor Hook just enjoying the joke, and pretending to be outraged at the way in which the thaumatrope is being presented as a serious scientific / artistic development? Irony disguised as sarcasm, commenting on irony?


Paris's book Philosophy in Sport appeared two years after the thaumatrope set. A vignette showing Mr Seymour demonstating the thaumatrope to the two children introduced the relevant chapter, and was drawn by George Cruikshank.

In 1837 a pirate translation of the book, entitled Nouveau Manuel complet des Jeux, enseignment la Science, appeared in France, with the author given as T. Richard.11 Cruikshank's little sketch was traced over and reproduced (credited to M. Godard), but with one small but deliberate difference. In the original drawing, the image on the disc had been represented by squiggles. In the pirate copy, the image suggests the face of a coin. What's odd about this is that when Brewster, decades later, was recalling the introduction of the thaumatrope, he described a single example that (if it really existed) was a reposte to Dr. Paris - "How to turn a penny. / A new trick from Paris" - on one side a gentleman in black, with his hands out in the act of spinning a thaumatrope, and the design on the other side a penny-piece.12


Back to The Thaumatrope


1. The quotes from the review of the thaumatrope are all from A LIST OF THE SUBJECTS OF THE THAUMATROPE John Bull, Vol.5 No.17, 24 April 1825, 1-2. The full text is here: JOHN BULL 1 [in preparation]. "↩"

2. Thomas Jefferson to William Stephens Smith, Paris, 13 Nov. 1787.

3. The combination of Goldsmith's literary work and his dissolute lifestyle led Horace Walpole to give him the epithet inspired idiot. [Wikipedia] "↩"

4. Miscellany, American Masonic Record, and Albany Saturday Magazine, 1830, Vol.3, p.5. "↩"

5. http://www.regencyassemblypress.com/Regency_Lexicon.html "↩"

6. http://historicalhearts.blogspot.co.uk/2011/10/night-watchmen-through-ages-with-little.html "↩"

7. The Cato Street Conspiracy.

8. Publius Ovidius Naso (43 BC-AD 17/18), known as Ovid in the English-speaking world, had by 8 AD completed his most ambitious work, the Metamorphoses, a hexameter epic poem in 15 books which encyclopedically catalogues transformations in Greek and Roman mythology from the emergence of the cosmos to the deification of Julius Caesar. The stories follow each other in the telling of human beings transformed to new bodies - trees, rocks, animals, flowers, constellations, etc. "↩"

9. London Mechanics' Register 16 April 1825 (Vol. 1, 397) carried a review, The Thaumatrope, from the Hereford Independent, that picked out this particular verse. "↩"

10. During his lifetime the English poet Samuel Rogers (1763-1855) was one of the most celebrated, although his fame has long since been eclipsed by his Romantic colleagues and friends Wordsworth, Coleridge and Byron. [Wikipedia] The quotes from the review of the thaumatrope are all from A LIST OF THE SUBJECTS OF THE THAUMATROPE, John Bull, Vol.5 No.17, 24 April 1825, 1-2. "↩"

11. Richard, T. 1837. "↩"

12. Babbage, Charles. 1864 Passages from the Life of a Philosopher. London: Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts, and Green, ch.xiii, 189-190. "↩"


Richard, T. Nouveau Manuel complet des Jeux, enseignment la Science, ou Introduction à l'Étude de la Mécanique, de la Physique, etc., contenant des Théories scientifiques et des Recherches historiques sur les Jeux les plus usuels with woodcuts, 2 vols. 1837. A plagiarism of Paris's Philosophy in Sport. Tracings of George Cruikshank's illustrations are here credited to M Godard.