Zoetrope Strips

Start the zoetrope spinning and suddenly a collection of static pictures begin an endless and mesmerising dance. That metamorphosis of something stationary into a vivid display of repeated movement is surely what makes the otherwise crude drawings, of a clown falling over, or a horse galloping, so wonderful.

When a zoetrope is stopped, the individual frames of its animation appear to fall out of a coloured blur, immediately static against the walls of the now motionless cylinder. The story has been un-ravelled, disintegrated into a neat set of individual parts, ready to reassemble whenever the viewer desires.

Chris Baraniuk, "The Wheel of the Devil": On Vine, gifs and the power of the loop [note 1]

London Stereoscopic & Photographic Company.

Series No.5.

49. A CAUTION TO BAD BOYS (moderate motion)

The warning to misbehaving children "If you're not good the policeman will get you" had evidently been well established by the 1860s, thirty years after the Peelers were formed in London.

50. MUSIC WITH DANCING (slow motion). [David Robinson lists this as No 50 - my example is numbered 51]

Itinerant organ grinders were usually accompanied by a monkey, as an extra exotic attraction, with the animal sometimes collecting money in its hat or in a cup. Cartoonists sometimes showed the monkey taking over the grinding. In this version the music is accompanied by a dancing poodle.

51. A LIVELY TUBSTER (slow motion)

52. THE SKIPPING GIRL (moderate motion)

By the 1860s, the subject of a girl skipping with a rope was a popular mechanical hand-painted magic lantern slide - using just two phases of action. She could be projected life size onto a big screen. Adapting this subject for the parlor Zoetrope meant that the same effect could be shown more easily, just a flick of the wrist and the drum was set in motion.

53. A SKATING CIRCLE (slow motion)

An ambitious animator tries to get to grips with animating subjects that are approaching and receding, by changing their sizes relative to the observer and to each other. Choosing to put the characters on skates at least avoids the extra difficulty of providing lifelike walking movements to the men's legs.


55. PRECOCIOUS CHICKENS (slow motion)

This strip is one of the uncommon examples of where the animator had to address the issue of non-circularity in the subject being depicted. After the second chick has hatched from the same egg as the first, the egg - with no regard for real-life accuracy - magically seals again, allowing the next chick to break out.

56. THE SPORTSMAN (slow motion)

57. MR. SIMPSON (slow motion)

I thought at first that the subject might be William Simpson (1823-1899), at that time artist and war correspondent for the Illustrated London News. Adrian Lipscomb informs us that: 'On Simpson's return from the Crimea in 1855, he had been commissioned to sketch the victory parade of the returning artillery contingent before the Queen at Woolwich. The sketch was sent to Buckingham Palace for approval, and, a few days later, Simpson was ordered to attend at the palace to discuss it. To his surprise, the Queen herself received him, and discussed very knowledgeably and with great interest the events of the war in the Crimea. This was his first meeting with the Queen.
Her Majesty ... came forward bowing and smiling, and stood at the window while the interview lasted...' [note 2]
However, David Robinson lists this strip as Mr Simpson of Vauxhall. [note 3] 'The illustrious' C.H. Simpson was Master of the Ceremonies of Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens for upwards of 36 years, finally retiring in 1833.

(Bloomsbury Auctions)
Engraving 1833, artist not known.

... gentle Mr. Simpson, the kind smiling idiot, whose personality is preserved in the wonderful etching by Robert Cruikshank. [note 4] There must be people living yet who remember Mr. Simpson, the very incarnation of humility, - Simpson with his knee breeches and shirt frill, his tasselled cane and his dress hat... [note 5]
The public were evidently very fond of him, but it's perhaps surprising that he was still sufficiently well remembered a generation after his departure to warrant being a subject for the zoetrope.


(The Projection Box)

(Poldark Mine, Cornwall)
Nineteenth-century steam-powered shearing
machine by John Cameron,
Salford, Manchester.

Phenakistiscope discs of the 1830s frequently showed cogs and escapements, but by the 1860s the actual machines in which they were used were being depicted in zoetrope drawings. The mid-19th century saw much experiment with steam-powered machines for a wide range of industrial processes. Steam guillotines and shears could cut thick sheets and bars of iron. The artist has combined a reasonably credible looking ratchet mechanism (inaccurate but passable at first glance) with a giant pair of hand scissors, producing a fantasy machine that's not far from reality and reflects the fascination with the new technologies of the period, in a medium that allows the viewing of their motion. Actual machines like this (not just drawings) were used in other motion picture experiments at that time, the fact that they could be posed in successive phases of movement making them ideal subjects for animated photographs of simulated photographic, and even stereoscopic, movement. [More about this in a future section of the website.]

59. IRISH TAIL (moderate motion)

The artist or publisher has been unable to resist the pun on 'tale' . The subject of an Irishman riding a pig is quite common in the 19th century, and into the 20th. It developed from earlier propensity for illustrating irishmen with pig-like features. Joseph Nugent tells of

... Paddy's bestial ancestor in James Gillray's United Irishman engravings of the late eighteenth century. In the gaping mouth, upturned nose, exposed nostrils and black marble eyes of these composite creatures we find the visage of the pig. It is as if the Irish body, plainly human in form, must strain to contain a spectral swine struggling to emerge. Fifty years later, the swinish Irish physiognomy continued to issue in the work of George Cruikshank, whose 1845 depictions of Irish brutes "strongly suggest," as Curtis remarks, their "porcine ancestor" [note 6: Curtis, L.P. [1971] 1997]. By mid-century, the relationship between Paddy and his pig was firmly and lastingly established.[note 7]

(Bertoia Auctions)

The photograph shows a German Lehmann clockwork tinplate toy "Paddy and the Pig", "Paddy's Dancing Pig", or "Schweinereiter", patented 1903.

60. BADGERED CAT (moderate motion)

A fluid animation excercise by a talented animator.

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1. Chris Baraniuk, "The Wheel of the Devil": On Vine, gifs and the power of the loop, on the website The Machine Starts:

2. Lipscomb, Adrian. William Simpson (1823-1899) - 'Prince of Pictorial Correspondents'

3. Robinson, David. 1991. Masterpieces of Animation 1833-1908, le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone, p.**.

4. V&A Museum. C.H. Simpson, Esqr. M.C.R.G.V. For upwards of 36 years, - with a distant view of his Colossal Likeness in Variegated Lamps. Print. 19/08/1833. Isaac Robert Cruikshank, (1789-1856). Museum number: S.290-1997.

5. Boulton, William B. 1901, p.40.

6. Curtis, [1971] 1997.

7. Nugent, Joseph. The Human Snout: Pigs, Priests, and Peasants in the Parlor. Senses & Society, Vol. 4, Issue 3, 283-302.


Boulton, William B. 1901. The Amusements of Old London: Being a Survey of the Sports and Pastimes Tea Garden and Parks [etc.] Vol. 2. London: John C. Nimmo.

Curtis, L.P. [1971] 1997. Apes and Angels. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institute Press 1971, 1997: 35).

Nugent, Joseph. The Human Snout:Pigs, Priests, and Peasants in the Parlor. Senses & Society, Vol. 4, Issue 3, 283-302.

Robinson, David. 1991. Masterpieces of Animation 1833-1908, le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone.