Draft. Awaiting permissions.

The Phenakistiscope, and Stroboscopic Disc

Part Two

Early sets by other publishers

There was clearly great demand for the toy during these early years. The well-known publisher of protean views William Spooner released several series. Sets by other British publishers included The Magic Circle by C. Tregear,1 (S.W.) Fores's Moving Panorama or Optical Illusions,2 (E.) Wallis's Wheel of Wonders.3

McLean's Law and Equity     
(icollector.com 25982)

(Thomas) McLean's Optical Illusions or Magic Panorama,4 included comical subjects with specific social and political reference. 'The Polypus' shows a man suffering a polyp of the nose having the organ removed by an executioner's axe. Another is a legal-political satire. 'Law and Equity' features a giant crowned figure forking up and gobbling down a judge carrying a sack (of cash?). This seems to represent the scandal of the delays of Court of Chancery (or Equity), originally set up by the King, consuming the money of those badly served by common law.5 The 1830s saw a reduction in the "old corruption" that had long plagued the court, first through the Chancery Sinecures Act 1832 and then through the Chancery Regulation Act 1833.6 Despite reforms the situation was still often desperate for anyone involved; a situation masterfully portrayed a generation later in Charles Dickens's Bleak House. The exact point being made by the artist of this subject would perhaps become clearer with further research.

Above: Crawling beetle      
Below: Design by Edward Sang. Both published      
by Forrester and Nichol
(Beinecke Library, Yale University)        

Edward Sang - mathematics teacher, civil engineer

Forrester & Nichol of Edinburgh, a firm of engravers and lithographers - 'Drawings by Artists and Amateurs carefully Printed' - published a set entitled The Phenakistiscope or Magic Disc in the early autumn of 1833, in association with local optician John Dunn.7 Subjects included genre and natural history - a couple playing with their young child, a lifelike crawling beetle8 - and several mechanical animations designed by Scottish mathematician Edward Sang (1805-1890), best known for his logarithmic tables. Thirteen discs are illustrated by Laurent Mannoni (1996).9

The five (known) designs for which Sang was responsible feature rotating and reciprocating wheels - some resembling escapement mechanisms, such as those used in clocks - and were perhaps inspired by Stampfer's similar discs picturing wheels and cogs, published just months earlier.10 The example shown here includes a modern-looking stroboscopic speed indicator outer ring. Sang's subjects are printed with the text 'Projected [i.e. designed] by Edward Sang And Published by Forrester & Nichol, Lithographers, 10 George Street, & John Dunn, Optician, 50 Hanover Street, Edinburgh'.11

Sang's technical papers on opics, astronomy, and mechanics as well as pure mathematics, were published over a sixty-year period. They included subjects with geometrical aspects that might well relate indirectly to the mathematics of the phenakistiscope, including papers on oblique arches,12 On the contact of the loops of epicycloidal curves, 13 On the toothing of un-round discs which are intended to roll upon each other,14 and perhaps even On the effects of the curvature of railways,15 and details for cutting an annular lighthouse lens.16 His phenakistiscope designs reflect Sang's dictum, 'It is a trite remark, but one that cannot be too often repeated, that art and science go hand in hand.' 17 Around the rim of the perforated disc are seen parts of a series of letters, which when viewed by reflection with the disc in motion read VITE (from Latin vita / vitae: life), a technique previously used by Stampfer.


The Magic Wheel,     
J. Bradburn, New York    
(Qatar Museum Authority)       

Magic Discs around the world

The Fantasmascope appeared in Holland c.1840, published by K. Fuhri of Pays-Bas, with subjects copied from Ackermann.18 French examples of the period include those by Junin et Lazard, and Co[c]queret.19 [ask laurent re: Cocqueret].

Frédéric Voigtlaender of Vienna published Les Disques Magiques c.1840; examples are rare.20 Several Magic Disc sets from Germany used double-sided picture discs.21

With the Periphanoscop or 'Le Spectacle Magique' produced in Aurau, Switzerland by lithographer R.S. Siebermann, each disc was limited to a single colour.22

At least three series of The Magic Wheel, 'a beautiful toy for children' were published by J. Bradburn, New York, c.1860.23 Earlier American sets have yet to be found.

Dr. Paris's arrangement for two      
people to view different discs      
(The Projection Box)

The 'Exhibitor'

A set by Fores (London) dated 1833 includes the notice 'Fores has just invented a Machine called an Exhibitor, by which two persons may view at once two subjects, without a looking glass.'24 The same, or similar, arrangement was described and illustrated in later editions of John Paris's Philosophy in Sport Made Science in Earnest, its invention attributed to the fictional Mr Seymour, who had introduced the Thaumatrope to the public in the first edition of the book.25 The more usual arrangement with a slotted disc on just one end of the shaft and a single picture disc on the other, was used by Johannes Evangelista Purkinje (1787-1869), who in 1841 brought out his phorolyt for medical subjects including drawings of a heart beating, and later kinesiskop; both variations on the original instruments.26

Home-made versions, and more satire

Perhaps the earliest instructions for those interested in crafts and toy making in the home, and also the most detailed, appeared in the Dutch magazine De Mimersbron. Tijdschrift voor jongelingen [The Mimer Source? Possibly meaning Imitator? Magazine for young men] in 1834.27

Political cartoon in Punch, 1848     
(The Projection Box)

Punch used the device in 1848 (Vol.15) to satirise Parliamentarians scrapping. 'An Illustrated Parliamentary Duel' shows a phenakistiscope disc with silhouettes of two men throwing punches, and asks 'Cannot gentlemen meet without insulting one another? The above diagram might be made into an instructive toy for juvenile M.P.'s.'28 These were dangerous times in Parliament, not limited to bouts of laddish fisticuffs or duels. That year (1848), MP William Smith O'Brien was tried for sedition for his involvement in the Young Irelander rebellion, and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered - a punishment later commuted to transportation for life. The revolution punned relentlessly by Dr Paris with his thaumatrope in the '20s seemed imminent. The Chartists' activities were considered so potentially dangerous that Queen Victoria was dispatched to the Isle of Wight for her safety, and the Duke of Wellington - with thousands of soldiers and special constables - was brought in to defend London.29

Scientific use

Other scientists made use of the phenakistiscope / stroboscope. In 1846 Johannes Peter Müller (1801-1858) used the device for demonstrating wave-motion drawings;30 J.V. Alber of Frankfurt published and sold the lithographed sheets. Hopwood shows a device illustrating a swinging pendulum, with metal perforated disc and separate card picture disc.31

Giant discs

Large picture discs viewed by a theatre audience and illuminated intermittently by powerful limelight or electric arc beamed through the slotted disc, which today we would call stroboscopic lighting, were used for public demonstrations. Professor Pepper applied for a British patent,32 and in the USA Dolbear described the technique in 1877. The New York Herald reported the use in an 1869 lecture:

The subject of persistence of vision then illustrated, first, by large discs six feet in diameter, with devices of balls, rings, &c., painted upon them, and rotated, - while they were illuminated by rapidly recurring flashes of light. All the effect of the best zoetrope was thus displayed to the immense audience with far greater clearness than in the ordinary instrument, for there was no secluding interruption to the view. The great discs stood directly before the house, and were directly viewed with no intervening object.33

An off-stage phenakistiscope with the images reflected off glass, as a 'Pepper's Ghost' effect, was suggested by J. Maurice in a patent of 1868.34 Even before these presentations of large-scale images using opaque discs, direct projection of moving images using transparent discs and a magic lantern had been attempted and was soon achieved; initially with eight designs derived from discs published by Ackermann.35 [See: projection phenakistiscope]

A seventies revival

The introduction of the zoetrope in the late 1860s may have influenced a revival of the older toy; a set entitled Magic Circle, by G. Ingram, London, appeared c.1870.36

Printing plates for another set printed by R. Pontifex & Son, and distributed by Edwin Pearson (London 1870) republished from designs originating from S.W. Fores decades earlier, credit George Cruikshank as the artist.37 The originals had been 'exhibited revolving by steam at the old Polytechnic, Regent Street.'

A Tableaux Animes - Nouveau Phenakistiscope set was published by Watillaux, Paris, c.1875.38

Stereoscopic phenakistiscope viewer for      
microscopic posed sequence images,     
Cook and Bonelli      
(Photo: Stephen Herbert)


Photographic discs

It was inevitable that inventors would try to incorporate the new art and science of photography with the movement of the phenakistiscope / stroboscope, and there was a flurry of activity in the 1850s-60s. Gaetan Bonelli of Milan patented, with Henry Cook, a device in Britain in 1863, which had (posed) micro-photographic images representing a sequence of movement.39 Bonelli later patented a similar machine for stereoscopic photo sequences, shown here. These machines never went into production; one example survives.40 A detailed account of photographic and stereoscopic phenakistiscopes is here.

The horse

Some of the early phenakistiscope subjects had included horses in motion - in most cases not too convincingly, though perhaps this is easy for us to say with hindsight. Following Muybridge's initial single-image snapshot experiments with fast-moving horses - but long before his sequences had been published - those with an interest in animal movement tried producing realistic sequence drawings and paintings, some using a phenakistiscope to reproduce the imagined phases in motion. In 1862 equestrian expert Lieutenant Louis Rupert Wachter of the French Army produced a painted disc of a galloping horse.41 Irish watercolourist Michael Angelo Hayes (1820-1877), who presented a paper on animal movement in life and in art to the Royal Dublin Society in 1876, also experimented with phenakistiscope discs. One of these he included in his presentation.

Large watercolour (or gouache) cardboard disc      
by M.A. Hayes, c.1876      
(Photo: Stephen Herbert)


'The last illustration I will submit to you is through the medium of the Phenakstiscop - an old French invention, known, I dare say, to many of my audience. It is, you observe, a revolving disc, upon which are several figures of the horse in the various positions, from the time he lifts his legs from the ground till the completion of the stride, when he is ready for a fresh bound forward. ...'
    At the termination of the lecture, the revolving phenakistiscope was looked at and examined by most of those present, and was generally pronounced to be a faithful and accurate representation of the action of a living animal in full gallop.42
Many of Hayes' conventional paintings featured horses, as do several of his unique, unpublished discs. Most of his subjects, such as a riverboat race with a wonderfully executed perspective view of the top-hatted spectators, and another of a rocking rowboat on a churning sea, are finely detailed and unusually 'busy'.43

The Pantinoscope, c.1860      
(Chritie's, London)

Cutouts and souvenirs

Commercial cutout sheets of 'real' phenakistiscopes - the 1848 Punch version wouldn't have produced a very successful result when animated - did appear much later, including L'Ekonoscope by Parisian publisher Pellerin, specialists in coloured sheets of paper toys.44 In 1885-86 Le Journal des Demoiselles of Paris printed, over several issues, colour (predominantly red and blue) Pantinoscope discs.45

A few years after Hayes' attempts at portraying a horse in motion on his hand-painted discs, Muybridge's silhouette horses appeared on Magic Discs in Knowledge (England) in January 1882.46 Zoopraxiscope series images based on Muybridge's sequence photographs, traced by medical artist Erwin F. Faber - 50 b/w outline drawings, with a selection also printed in colour litho - were produced as paper discs to sell as souvenirs at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair.47

Professor Boys called this disc     
of a falling liguid drop a Thaumatrope     
(The Projection Box)

Creating a splash

In late 1889 / early 1890 Professor C.V. Boys, during his lectures for young people at the London Institution, used a large phenakistiscope to demonstrate a sequence of 43 chronophotographs - converted to silhouette - showing the formation of a droplet of splashing liquid, endlessly reforming. A paper copy (42cm diameter) suitable for mounting on card, was presented with his book Soap Bubbles.48 Soon, the cinematograph would take over the role of reproducing scientific chronophotographs in motion.

Modern examples

Into the 20th century many further sets were published, including several for the American toy market. The phenakistiscope / stroboscope has been frequently 'revived' in books and magazines, and as modern toys and replicas of antique originals.

Academic interest in the 21st century

In recent years, the device has attracted the attention of academics, especially those who have written extensively about early cinema. This subject will be dealt with in a separate article.

Stephen Herbert 2013. Not to be reproduced in any medium without written permission.

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1. Hecht 1993, entry 621. A set is in the Richard Balzer Collection. "↩"

2. Mannoni 1996, 242-243. "↩"

3. Wallis's Wheel of Wonders: Reference to follow. "↩"

4. [Thomas] McLean's Optical Illusions or Magic Panorama, Hecht 1993, entry 737. "↩"

5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Court_of_Chancery
Nicholas Hiley suggests that the sack could represent the barrister's brief bag, indicating his status.

6. The staff of the court included a large number of clerks, led by the Master of the Rolls, who regularly heard cases on his own. The 1832 Act abolished a number of sinecure offices within the court and provided a pension and pay rise for the Lord Chancellor, in the hope that it would reduce the need for the Chancellor to make money by selling court offices. The 1833 Act was a major reform. The Master of the Rolls' jurisdiction was extended to hear any and all cases, and the appointments system was changed so that Masters in Chancery would henceforth be appointed by The Crown, not by the Lord Chancellor, and that they would be paid wages. "↩"

7. Advertisements appeared in the Caledonian Mercury (Midlothian, Scotland) on 26th and 28th September, and 5th October. A general advertisement for Forrester & Nichol is in the collection of Edinburgh City Libraries and Information Services, reproduced online here:

8. These two examples are not included in the 13 discs in the Collection of the Cinématheque Français. The total of 16 known subjects suggests that at least two sets were issued. "↩"

9. A set appears on the web site Room 26 Cabinet of Curiosities, which features new acquisitions, unique documents, and visual and textual curiosities from the collections of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. The Forrester & Nichol phenakistiscope set comprises 11 discs in a folder. Library's website:
Mannoni 1996, 243-246, for 13 illustrations.

10. See: Schuster et al 1998, p.** "↩"

11. Mannoni 1996, 243-246. Three of the mechanical subjects are animated here:

12. Sang, Edward. 1840. An essay on the construction of oblique arches, The Civil Engineer and Architect's Journal, Scientific and Railway Gazette, volume 3, 232-236 (abridged from the Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal). "↩"

13. Sang, Edward. 1867. On the contact of the loops of epicycloidal curves, Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, volume 24, 121-126. "↩"

14. Sang, Edward. 1877. On the toothing of un-round discs which are intended to roll upon each other, Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, volume 28, 191-195. "↩"

15. Sang, Edward. 1840. On the effects of the curvature of railways, Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal, volume 29, 334-336. "↩"

16. Sang, Edward. 1838. Notice of a dioptric light erected at Kirkcaldy Harbour. With a description of the apparatus for cutting the annular lens to the true optical figure. Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal (N.S.) 25, 249-254. "↩"

17. http://books.google.fr/books?id=U3JQAAAAcAAJ&pg=PA262#v=onepage&q&f=false
Annual report on the State of the Useful Arts. Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal, Vol. 23. April-October 1837, 262.

18. A set of 12 is in the Historisch Museum, Deventer, Holland.

19. Junin et Lazard, and Co[c]queret. Details to follow."↩"

20. A set is in theFrançois Binétruy Collection. http://www.collection-binetruy.com/8701.html?&tx_jppageteaser_pi1%5BbackId%5D=486 "↩"

21. Magic Disc sets from Germany, double-sided."↩"

22. Periphanoscop; François Binétruy Collection.

23. The Magic Wheel, J. Bradburn, New York, is illustrated on Richard Balzer's website."↩"

24. 'Fores has just invented a Machine called an Exhibitor, by which two persons may view at once two subjects, without a looking glass.'"↩"

25. Paris. 1857. Philosophy in Sport Made Science in Earnest, 7th edition (and possibly in some earlier editions), 384. "↩"

26. A web page detailing Purkinje's devies and discs is in preparation. "↩"

27. De Mimersbron. Tijdschrift voor jongelingen "↩"

28. Punch 1848. Vol.15, 23."↩"

29. The Chartist Movement 1838-1848, by Stephen Roberts

30. 1846 Johannes Peter Müller (1801-1858) used the device for demonstrating wave-motion drawings."↩"

31. Hopwood shows a device illustrating a swinging pendulum, with metal perforated disc and separate card picture disc. Also: Adolphe Popp, Frankfurt 1852-3. (Hecht 1993, entry 210A); re: the Interferenzoskop of 1853, used to demonstrate wave motion."↩"

32. Professor Pepper applied for a patent (BP 2823 7 Nov 1857). Hecht 1993, entry 218B."↩"

33. New York Herald 1869. "↩"

34. J. Maurice in a patent of 1868 (BP 1049). Hecht 1993, entry 248R. "↩"

35. Naylor's machine, with eight designs derived from discs published by Ackermann. "↩"

36. Magic Circle, G. Ingram, London, c.1870."↩"

37. R. Pontifex & Son, distributed by Edwin Pearson (London 1870) republished from designs originating from S.W. Fores. Mannoni 1996, 257-258."↩"

38. Tableaux Animes - Nouveau Phenakistiscope, Watillaux, Paris, c.1875."↩"

39. Gaetan Bonelli of Milan, and Henry Cook, patent (BP 2063) 1863. Hecht 1993, entry 231D. "↩"

40. Bonelli later patented a similar machine for stereoscopic photo sequences."↩"

41. Newhall, Beaumont. 1952. The Horse in Gallop, in: M. Deutelbaum. 1979. 'Image' on the Art and Evolution of the Film, Dover, New York. (Concerns L. Wachter) "↩"

42. Hayes, M. A. 1876. The Delineation of Animals in rapid Motion. (Pamphlet version of a paper read before the Royal Dublin Society in 1876): On the Pictorial Delineation of Animals in rapid motion, with Illustrations. By M. Angelo Hayes, R.H.A., M.R.D.S., and Member of the Institute of Painters in Water Colours, London. Journal of the Royal Dublin Socety, Vol.7, 255- 271 [read, Monday evening, 20th November 1876]. "↩"

43. In the 1990s I was able to view these discs, then in private ownership, and take photographs for my own non-commercial use, in return for arranging the making of a video animation. The originals are now in the V&A museum. "↩"

44. L'Ekonoscope by Parisian publisher Pellerin. "↩"

45. Le Journal des Demoiselles (Paris) Pantinoscope "↩"

46. Magic Discs, Knowledge, (Great Britain) 6 and 20 January 1882 (reproduced from the Scientific American). More on Muybridge's phenakistiscope and zoetrope sequences here:

47. 'Copyright Eadweard Muybridge'. Drawn by Erwin F. Faber. 50 b/w outline drawings, with a selection also printed in colour litho, for 1893 Chicago World's Fair. Listed, with illustrated examples, in: Herbert, Stephen and McCormack, Anne (eds.) 2004, 105-106. "↩"

48. Boys, C.V. 1896. Soap Bubbles and the sources which mould them. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. "↩"


[advert.] The Scotsman, 28 September 1833, p.1 ['magic disc' phenakistiscope]; 12 October 1833, p.3 ['Cheapest edition of the phenakisticope']

[advert.] London Literary Gazette and Journal of Belles Lettres, Arts, Sciences, &c., 19 October 1833, no.874.

[advert.] Manchester Guardian, 26 October 1833, p.1 [Ackermann Phantascope, with prices.]

Barnes, John. 1985. Inventing the Cinema. The Photographic Collector, Vol.5 No.2., 134-141.

Baudelaire, Charles Pierre. 1853. Morale due joujou, in Monde litteraire 17 April 1853.

Boys, C.V. 1896. Soap Bubbles and the sources which mould them, Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, London.

Cook, Olive. 1963. Movement in Two Dimensions. London: Hutchinson.

Dolbear Amos Emerson. 1877. Persistence of Vision, The Stroboscope, in: The Art of Projecting. A Manual of Experimenation in physics, chemistry, and natural history with the porte lumiere and magic lantern. New York. [Hecht, entry 285]

Dorikens, Maurice. 2001. Joseph Plateau 1801-1833 Living between Art and Science.

Füsslin, Georg. 1993. Optisches Spielzeug Oder Wie Die Bilder Laufen Lernten. Stuttgart: Füsslin. [Colour illustrations, including Muller disc].

Hayes, M. A. 1876. The Delineation of Animals in rapid Motion [Pamphlet of a paper read before the Royal Dublin Society in 1876].

Hecht, Hermann (ed. Ann Hecht). 1993. Pre-Cinema History. London: Bawker-Saur and BFI.

Herbert, Stephen, and McCormack, Anne, (Eds.) 2004. The Eadweard Muybridge Bequest. Hastings: the Projection Box.

Mannoni, Laurent. 2010. Les disques stroboscopiques et magiques de Simon Stampfer. in: Dorikens, Maurice. 2001. Joseph Plateau 1801-1833 Living between Art and Science, 235-241, and 224.

Mannoni, Laurent. 2000. Pirouette of the Dancer, in The Great Art of Light and Shadow (Trans. Crangle) University of Exeter Press.

Mannoni, Laurent. 1996. Le mouvement continué Paris: Mazzotta / Cinématheque française. [Many colour illustrations by numerous publishers, and printing plates by Pearson.]

Newhall, Beaumont. 1952. The Horse in Gallop, in: M. Deutelbaum (1979) 'Image' on the Art and Evolution of the Film, Dover, New York. [About L. Wachter].

Paris J.A. 1857. Philosophy in Sport made Science in Earnest: being an attempt to implant in the young mind the first principles of natural philosophy by the aid of the popular toys and sports of youth. London: John Murray.

Piusano-Basile. 2010. Jan Evangelista Purkyne: La stroboscopic au service de l'enseignment. In: Dorikens, Maurice. 2001. Joseph Plateau 1801-1833 Living between Art and Science, 250-252 and 242.

Plateau, Joseph. 1833. Sur un nouveau genre d'illusion d'optique [On a new type of optical illusion] 20 Jan. [Published shortly afterwards in Correspondance Mathematique et Physique, Vol.7, p.365 with an engraving of a disc with pirouetting dancer.]

Plateau J. 1833. Des illusions [optiques] sur lesquelles se fonde le petit appareil appelé récemment Phénakisticope Anales de Chimie et de Physique de Paris, 53, 304-308.

Robinson, David. Plateau, Faraday and their spinning discs. In: Dorikens, Maurice. 2001. Joseph Plateau 1801-1833 Living between Art and Science,265-270.

Robinson, David. 1991. Masterpieces of Animation 1833-1908, le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone [detailed facts and colour illustrations].

Robinson, David. 1990. Animation The First Chapter 1833-1893, in: Sight and Sound Vol. 59 1990, 251-254.

Sang, Edward. 1877. On the toothing of un-round discs which are intended to roll upon each other. Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, volume 28, 1877, 191-195. [For other papers by Sang, see notes].

Schuster, Peter; Christian Strasser; Roland Floimair. 1998. Simon Stampfer: 1790-1864: von der Zauberscheibe zum Film. Salzburg: Landespressebüro.

[website, Francois Binetruy] http://binetruy.org/1279.html?&L=1

[L'Orangerie. Optical toys, including rare phenakistiscopes.]

[website, Richard Balzer] http://www.dickbalzer.com/

[Optical toys, including rare phenakistiscopes.]

[website, Thomas Weynants] http://www.visual-media.be/

[Optical toys, including rare phenakistiscopes.]


Allmer, Franz. 1996. Simon Stampfer 1790-1864. Picture a life. In: Communications of the Geodetic Institute of the Technical University of Graz, No. 82, Graz 1996.

Formann, William. 1966. Austrian pioneers of cinematography. Wien: Bergland Verlag, p. 10-18.

production notes
[Tableaux Animes - Nouveau Phenakisticope - fusselin p34]

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