The Projecting Phenakistiscope

This section is currently a selection of notes and quotes; it will eventually be a full account.

(Notes, July 2013)

Before the introduction of the flexible medium of celluloid film, producing animated pictures for screen projection (based on a series of sequential images) was a problem. Transparent mediums were few; essentially mica, and glass. So most of the early attempts made use of glass, either in disc form or as separate pieces set into a wheel of metal or wood.

There are one or two (perhaps more) pictures of very early magic lantern projection that suggest images forming an animated sequence, but no indication of any mechanism to enable them to be projected in a "lifelike" manner. The first recorded diagram of a suggestion for such a machine appeared in 1843.

T.W. Naylor 'Phantasmagoria for the projection of moving figures' 1843

      Naylor's projector

T.W. Naylor was an English moving picture experimenter of Newcastle, who, in 1842, described a spinning-ring device for demonstrating visual persistence. In 1843 Naylor proposed a projecting phenakistiscope, a 'Phantasmagoria for the exhibition of moving figures', illuminated by an Argand lamp, for showing sequence pictures painted around a glass disc. This was the first known suggestion for projecting sequential moving pictures, some 12 years after Plateau and Stampfer had independently invented the phenakistiscope viewer. Both picture disc and shutter disc revolved in the same directions, with the latter placed between the two elements of the objective lens. Naylor suggested tracing onto glass, picture sequences from the cardboard discs sold by Ackermann & Co. He published a detailed drawing of the projector, but there is no known reference to a demonstration, and nothing else is known of Naylor.
Stephen Herbert, Naylor, Encyclopaedia of the Magic Lantern p.208

Uchatius, Franz Freiher von

Uchatius [details to follow]

(1811-1881) Austrian Army officer and inventor of projection phenakistiscopes. Around 1851, Uchatius had the idea of devising a projecting phenakistiscope, and two successive models were made from his designs by the instrument maker Prokesch. The first of these - apparently based on the design of T.W. Naylor, which had been published in German and Austrian technical journals - consisted of a transparent phenakistoscope disc which revolved along with a shutter disc in front of a lantern objective. The great loss of light from the oil illuminant restricted the size of the projected image to a few inches in diamatere.

Uchatius's second model, demonstrated to the Vienna Academy of Sciences in 1853, was much more successful. In this the progressive drawings were painted around the edges of a transparent disc, which remained stationary. A separate lens system was placed in front of each design, with all the lenses focused in perfect registration on the same screen. In projection, the illuminant, a limelight, was revolved behind the disc so as to illuminate and project each separate images in turn in rapid succession. The apparatus, marketed by Prokesch, was bought by the showman Ludwig Dobler, who used it throughout Germany and Austria during the next decade as an attraction in his programme of dissolving views and magic.

Deac Rossell, Uchatius, Encyclopaedia of the Magic Lantern, Magic Lantern Society 2001. p.313

Frederick William Hartley BP 46 (1868) proj phenak (Encyclopaedia)

The magic lantern (slide projector) had been a method of projecting animated images since its invention in the 17th century, but these were simple arrangements using slipping glasses, levers, etc. and did not provide a mechanism for showing sequential pictures in quick succession (to give a 'lifelike' movement) until the 1860s-70s.

Lantern wheel of life

A miniature phenakistiscope for projecting on the screen, by means of a magic lantern, a repeating motion sequence of animated drawings. The images were on a glass disc, revolving on the same axis as a shutter disc. The discs were moved by a winch handle, driving a looped string over a large double-grooved pulley, with the string crossed so that the pulleys turned in opposite directions. Invented by Thomas Ross, the device was sold by many retailers from the 1870s on, including the Pumphrey brothers, who may have been the original manufacturers. Ross's original design of 1869 (BP 681) had a shutter disc with several apertures, travelling at the same speed as the picture disc. This caused the images to be distorted on projection, so they were painted with an opposite distortion to compensate. As sold, this early version had eight painted images, and a glass 'shutter' disc with eigth clear apertures; interchangeable subjects available were: Regiment of Windmills, Fish and the Bird, Jack in the Box, 6 Men and 5 Heads, Jumping Jack, Cobbler, and Acrobats.

Lantern Wheel of Life, mica examples, details to follow.

All images courtesy Martin Gilbert

Ross's second patent (BP2685 of 1871, provisional) was an improvement; a faster shutter with only one aperture did not distort the projected images, so undistorted pictures - much easier to prepare - could be used on the disc. This design also reduced flicker, and there were other visible improvements to the screen result. There were 13 silhouette images, and a metal shutter with a single aperture. On each rotation of the shutter disc, the picture disc advanced by one image. Subjects included Ice Skaters, Fishes, Giant's Ladder, and Bottle Imp. (The basic mechanism was also used for mounting two different effect slides; the changing-colour chameleon, and the Chromatic Wheel.)

Lantern Wheel of Life, glass examples. Details to follow.

All images courtesy Martin Gilbert

Middleton sold a lantern Wheel of Life in 1874; the London Stereoscopic Company listed 12 subjects in the 1870s, including The Galloping Horse; and J. Wrench offered 24 subjects in their 1900-01 catalogue. In France, Molteni sold a Ross-type wheel of life in 1882.
Lester Smith / Stephen Herbert, Encyclopaedia of the Magic Lantern, p.322

Intermittent movement slide

McAllister intermittent movement slide (Lester Smith)

O.B. Brown's Phoenocinopticon

O.B. Brown's Phoenocinopticon. Patent drawing

In America experimenter Obadiah Brown made a projection device with intermittent motion, eliminating image distortion, but the Phoenocinopticon failed to take off.

Duboscq Projecting Phenakistoscope

Duboscq projection machine [details to follow]

Duboscq projection machine. (Francois Binetruy)

Duboscq projection machine. (Cinématheque Francaise)

The following is from:

'Soleil, Duboscq, and Their Successors', Bulletin of the Scientific Instrument Society

"Duboscq also made several pioneering experiments on moving image technology [44] Around 1855, he proposed a very interesting apparatus, the projection phenakistoscope. Two parallel discs were rotating at different speeds in front of a projection lantern. A series of images in sequence (between 10 and 16) were painted on the glass disk, which was near the light source, while in the second one (made of wood) was imbedded a series of lenses. The latter disc worked, in fact, at the same time as a condenser as well as a shutter. The projection phenakistoscope never became very popular, but it was advertised in the firm's catalogues almost until the end of the century."


"The essential component of this device is a glass disk (34 cm in diameter) upon which are arranged figures radially, representing a moving object in successive positions On turning the disk, and projecting a light beam through the lens and opening, the persistence of vision of the viewer produces the impression of actual motion. The projection lens has an aperture of 11.5 cm. Five glass discs remain, representing an acrobat balancing a ball on his feet, a spinning top, a tumbler doing a hand spring, a ball moving through a hoop, and a cat gamboling with two mice. In the case of the top, 13 separate hand-painted figures compose the sequence. Marked "J. Duboscq a Paris" (in script)." From Robert T. Lagemann, The Garland Collection of Classical Physics Apparatus at Vanderbilt University (Folio Publishers, Nashville, Tenn., 1983) pg 191. [The devices illustrated are at Vanderbilt University, Yale University, and Williston Northampton School in Easthampton, Massachusetts.]

Note that the disk with the images and the disk containing the four lenses rotate at different rates."

Muybridge's original Zoopraxiscope. (Kingston Museum and Heritage Service)      

"What an extraordinary affair the 'Zoöpraxiscope' must be! (I have looked out the word, to make sure that the spelling is correct, which it was rather necessary to do, as we only heard the name in full dress, as it were, at Mr. Muybridge's lecture...."

The Critic, no. 277, p.198, 1889.

The Zoopraxiscope was unique to Muybridge, and most likely only one was built (now in Kingston Museum, England). In Animals in Motion (1899) Muybridge gave a careful and entirely accurate description of what the Zoöpraxiscope projector actually was, subtly written and demonstrating a fine command of the English language.

" is the first apparatus ever used, or constructed, for synthetically demonstrating movements analytically photographed from life, and in its resulting effects is the prototype of the various instruments which, under a variety of names, are used for a similar purpose at the present day." synthetically demonstrated movements ... photographed from life, (but not the actual photographs, even though it was capable of doing so*). In its resulting effects - animated pictures on the screen capturing the essence of life motion - it was the most important prototype of the cinematograph, (but not in its technical method). Muybridge made no claim to being first with projecting motion sequences from a disc, but was proud that his were the first to be adapted from sequence photographs.

[* One disc, of the skeleton of a horse in motion, was a true photographic image, proving that the machine was capable of projecting actual photographic sequences, which needed to be specially prepared to eliminate distortion. Apart from this one demonstration, Muybridge chose not to project actual photographs. By using graphic representations of his photographs instead, he was able to eliminate backgrounds, making possible complex combinations of sequences.]

Of course the animated discs produced very short, repeating sequences, which could be continued until the operator or lecturer decided to stop.


• Originally conceived 1879, and built by January 1880 latest.
• Technically, it is from the family of devices generically known as 'projecting phenakistiscopes'.
• From an account book, it seems that the California Electrical Works were eventually paid 477 dollars 18 cents for their work on the machine (November 1880). That would perhaps be the whole sum for its construction.
• In 1880, Stanford's lawyer Henry Beard was investigating the possibility of patenting the device.
• At this early stage, the machine was described in these documents as the Zoographiscope and Zoographyscope.

Technical details (original arrangement)

• The device used glass discs, originally 16 inches in diameter. The images were largely derived from Muybridge's sequence photographs, very skillfully transposed into painted silhouettes (later, a different production method was used for the 12-inch coloured discs.). The machine was capable of projecting sequences of original photographs, as was the case with the Skeleton Horse disc, but for several reasons Muybridge chose not to use that method for the other discs.
• Several different metal, slotted 'shutter discs' could be interchanged, depending on the picture disc being used and the effect required on the screen.
• The lamphouse was 'bought in' - i.e., it was a standard slide projection / scientific projection lantern.
• The illuminant favoured by Muybridge was oxy-hydrogen limelight, but electric illumination could be used.
• The machine was hand-cranked.
• Muybridge first used the device for private showings at the home of Governor Stanford, late in 1879 or very early 1880. It was by then known as the Zoogyroscope.
• From May 1880 Muybridge started to use the machine during his public lectures.
• From c. May 1881, the machine was known as the Zoopraxiscope.
• A special slide carrier is fitted to the lantern, enabling standard glass slides (around 3 x 4 inches) to be shown very quickly by being fed from a 'hopper'. (The device is still fitted, but the hopper, if ever used, is not). This quick-change slide device was patented by Muybridge. (Slides were also shown with a separate 'bi-unial' (double lens) projector.)
Several more silhouette 16-inch discs were produced during the 1880s.

Conversion to take smaller, coloured discs

• Some time later, most likely around 1893 or 95, the Zoopraxiscope was adapted to take 12-inch discs (possibly in addition to the original 16-inch discs. This fact has not yet been established. It is conceivable, but very unlikely, that there were two mechanisms.). These 12-inch discs were produced by a different method, and comprised outlines coloured-in.

Final presentation

• The last known presentation with the Zoopraxiscope was in Sheffield in 1895, and the discs shown were almost certainly the 16-inch silhouette image discs.
• There is no known report of a presentation with the 12-inch colour discs.
• Muybridge left the Zoopraxiscope and discs in his Will, to Kingston. The machine now resides in the Kingston Museum Muybridge Bequest Collection, together with almost 70 (of approximately 73 known worldwide) original discs.

Demeny phonoscope projection

Demeny Phonoscope in projection mode, and showing disc arrangement      

Demeny Bioscope (later version of the Phonoscope)      

Mostly used for direct viewing, the Demeny Phonoscope was also described as being suitable for projection. "Talking Photographs" La Nature. Up to 24 chronophotographs "pronouncing words and phrases". (La Nature, September 1, 1892, identifying British Patent No.15709). A sequence of Georges Demeny mouthing a phrase was reproduced in La Nature as drawings based on the chronophotographs. (The actual projections, if any took place, would have used real photographic images.)

Toy lanterns (Encyclopaedia) Towards the end of the 19th century and into the 20th, several toy manufacturers, mostly in Germany, produced moving image projectors with pictures set around a glass or celluloid disc. Ernst Plank made several of these for export. Since they all (?) used some form of intermittent mechanism to stop and start the disc between each picture projection, in could be argued that they are not true phenakistiscopes, as all versions of the original viewing device featured continuous motion of the disc. However, for general classification purposes, it seams reasonable to include them here.

Ernst Plank Kinematador

Ernst Plank Kinematador (Auction Team Breker)      

Ernst Plank Kinematador Nr. 788, c. 1896
Ernst Plank, Nuremberg. Rare magic lantern projector, for ordinary glass slides (4 cm) and discs in rotating holder for moving pictures. Handcranked drive. Size: 15 3/4 x 9 x 4 3/4 in. Original celluloid disc, with chromolithographed picture sequence.

Ernst Plank Kinematador (Auction Team Breker)      

Kinematador No. 790, 1897
Magic lantern projectors for ordinary glass slides (4,5 cm), and moving picture discs. Made by Ernst Plank, Nuremberg. Size: 12 x 12 x 6 in.

E. V. L. Cinématographe

"Cinématographe - Fabrication Francaise. Déposé E.V.L.". Pete Ariel, Register, 1989, No. 982. Disque Cinématographe by Edouard Virgile Lapierre, Paris. Approx 1898/1899. For round transparent celluloid discs (7 1/2 in.) which are mounted into fibre star cross wheels. The outline pictures were produced by chromolithography.

Lapierre disc cinematographe. (Auction Team Breker)      

The following text is from:
taken from a c.1902 catalogue:

Modèle no. 1 à vues circulaires (Disques)

Ce modèle se recommande par la simplicité de son fonctionnement.
DESCRIPTION. - Il se compose d'un bati bois facon noyer, contenant le système actionnant le disque porte-vue pour les projections animées, d'un projecteur et de sa lampe, le tout monté sur un plateau facon noyer. Livré en boite bois, avec 6 disques pour les projections animées, 6 verres no. 0 et 2 tableaux mécanisés en peinture fine sur verre pour les projections fixes.
Une seule grandeur.
Pour les projections animées, il suffit simplement d'introduire le disque figuré à l'avant dans l'auge du bati bois portant l'objectif. (Voir le pointillé.)
Pour les projections fixes, retirer le bati bois de l'avant, adapter le système optique directement sur le projecteur et opérer comme avec une simple lanterne magique.
Hauteur : 0m40
Poids : 4k. 750
Prix, la pièce : 20 fr. 70
CINEMATOGRAPHE TOY Model no. 1 views circular (Discs)

This model is recommended for the simplicity of its operation.
DESCRIPTION. - It consists of a wooden box built of walnut containing the operating system for disk holder for animated projections, projector and its lamp, mounted on a walnut board. Supplied in wooden box with 6 discs for animated projections, 6 glasses No.0 and 2 mechanized tableaux with fine glass painting for fixed projection.
One size.
For moving pictures, you simply need to introduce the figurative disc to the front in the wooden disk trough section holding the lens. (See the dotted line.)
For filmstrips, remove the wood section forward, adjust the optical system directly on the projector and operate as a simple magic lantern.
Height: 0m40
Weight: 4k. 750
Price, each: 20 fr. 70

- Catalogue Lapierre, S.d. (Ca 1902)

Lapierre disc cinematographe. (Francois Binetruy)[backId]=4820

Unknown German projecting cinematograph lantern

Last days of disc projection in the 19th century.

During the last decade of the 19th century and first decade of the 20th these disc projectors were superseded by toys and home projectors using 35mm film, which had the potential for longer sequences. One of the last disc machines to have any sigificant use was the Kammatograph camera / projector, introduced c.1900 for domestic use, which had a spiral of small photographic images on a glass disc.

Pellin, Francois-Philibert, still selling Duboscq proj phenak in 1903 (Encyc)

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