Category Archives: Pre-cinema optical devices

Automatons and Anamorphics

Nicolas and Alexis Kugel are the fifth generation of a family of antiques dealers founded in Russia at the end of the 18th century by their great-great-grandfather Elie Kugel, a collector of clocks and watches. In 1985, the Kugels took over the family business and in 2004, relocated the gallery to Hôtel Collot, 25 quai Anatole France, built in 1840 by Louis Visconti for Jean-Pierre Collot, director of La Monnaie (the French Mint).

Galerie J. Kugel is unique in its specialties and the eclecticism of the works of art it offers, including silver, sculpture, Kunstkammer objects, automatons, scientific instruments, and much more.

While visiting Galerie J. Kugel, we had the pleasure of viewing some of the unique treasures featured in Alexis Kugel’s most recent catalogue A Mechanical Bestiary: Automaton Clocks of the Renaissance, 1580-1640 (Marquand (SA) Oversize NK7495.G4 K8413 2016q).

Some pieces came from the Kugel family collection, which Mr. Kugel recalls playing with as a child: “I probably broke one or two, forcing the needle so it would animate,” he told Jake Cigainerosept of the New York Times.

Cigainerosept notes that the technology for automaton clocks dates to Heron of Alexandria, the ancient Greek mathematician who wrote extensively about mechanics. Their popularity surged during the Renaissance, when many were made in Augsburg, Germany, the artistic center of Bavaria at the time.

There is a pug dog whose eyes spin and tail wags; a monkey that beats his drum; and an elephant with dancing soldiers. “If you couldn’t afford a real elephant or lion for your menagerie,” noted Mr. Kugel, “then you could compromise with one of these.”

In another remarkable room are 18th-century anamorphic panel paintings, meant to be viewed in the reflection of a mirrored cylinder. We have several anamorphic prints in Princeton’s graphic arts collection, although not as rare or historic.




Optical devices on view

Our new reading room includes a consultation room at one end for small classes and group discussions. The room also has a case now filled with a portion of the optical devices collection. On view are a portable camera obscura, camera lucida, stereoviewers, megalethoscope, zograscope, zoetrope, thaumatropes, magic lanterns, and much more.

You are welcome to come individually or with a group to see these objects Monday-Friday between 9:00-4:45. At some future date, the back wall will be removed and students will be able to view the collection whenever the building is open, seven days/week.

For more information on the individual items, see the category list to the right and select ‘Pre-cinema optical devices.’


Sequential Magic Lantern Slides

On a recent visit from Fia Backström’s class VIS 311 The Photographic Apparatus, one of the things we looked at were sequential magic lantern slides. Here are a few examples together with our French magic lantern.


Soldiers going off to war / Soldiers returning from the war

Playing a joke on grandfather.

Prof. Backström’s class is described: “Since its inception, the technical development of photography has arisen out of specific historical and political circumstances that have “naturalized” its practice and ideologically coded its apparatus. Through critical discussions, material examinations, and studio projects, this seminar will take a reflexive approach to photographic technology past, present, and future. What can earlier periods of photography reveal about our current condition? How do lens-based technologies relate to determinations of race, class, and gender? What does it mean to be a photographer, to take photographs, and to agree or disagree with its apparatus?”

Disappearing apples below.


“Paris en cinq jours” and other Pathé Baby Films

Please note, for right now, to play the French silent movies posted on our Pathé Baby site, use: until the site links are repaired (*not https*).

While you are there, take advantage of a snowy afternoon to watch the entire 20 reels of Paris en cinq jours (Paris in Five Days), which begins at:

Here’s the first frame introduction: “Among the tourists who come from America to visit Paris under the sponsorship of the Cook agency was an office employee, young, sentimental and distracted: Harry Mascaret…(Nicolas Rimsky) and his fiancée, Dolly, a fast typist.”

The tourist run into multiple troubles during their visit to Paris, including drunken brawls and riotous trips across the city. Take a look.

Horizontorium, 3D views in 1832

horizontorium2John Jesse Barker after a design by William Mason (active 1822–1860), Horizontorium, 1832. Lithograph. Published by R. H. Hobson, 147 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA. Graphic Arts Collection GAX 2017- in process [photographed at an angle]

Before the advent of 3D glasses, print collectors enjoyed optical views like this one to experience the world in more dimension than the usual flat image. This print was to be laid on a flat table and each viewer meant to put their chin on the bottom center so as to see the building at an extreme angle. This is one version of anamorphosis, sometimes also designed to be viewed in a circular reflection.

Here are two other examples from the Graphic Arts Collection collection: and .



horizontorium5Note the spot for your chin, if you want optimal 3D viewing.


The building seen here has been identified as the Gothic-style bank erected in 1808 after the designs of Benjamin Henry Latrobe at the southwest corner of Fourth and Chestnut streets in Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Bank or Bank of Philadelphia (predecessor of the Philadelphia National Bank), was formed in 1803 and incorporated in 1804 as the unofficial bank of the commonwealth. Unfortunately the building was lost in 1836, not long after this print was made.

Researchers believe this print is the only recognized American “Horizontorium” and I have not been able to prove them wrong. The Library Company of Philadelphia, which also owns a copy of this print, suggests that the probable printer was Childs & Inman. For more information, try Nicholas B. Wainwright, History of the Philadelphia National Bank; a century and a half of Philadelphia banking, 1803-1953 (Philadelphia, 1953). HG2613.P5P7 and Nicholas B. Wainwright, Philadelphia in the romantic age of lithography: an illustrated history of early lithography in Philadelphia, with a descriptive list of Philadelphia scenes made by Philadelphia lithographers before 1866 (Philadelphia: Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1958 (1970 printing)) Graphic Arts Collection (GA) Oversize 2008-0429Q

A letter in St. Nicholas magazine, v. 6 (October 1879) p.844, suggests that “a good way to look at this picture is to take a piece of card-board, about three inches long, and bend the bottom of it, in the manner shown in this diagram. Two holes should be made in the card, and the one in the lower bent portion should be so placed that the point of sight can be seen through it. The hole in the upright portion should be 2 inches from the bottom, or the angle formed by the bent part. Through this upper hole the picture should be viewed, when all its peculiar perspective—or, rather, want of perspective—will disappear.” Read the entire piece in GoogleBooks:

Posted in honor of John Berger, 1926-2017, author of Ways of Seeing (London: British Broadcasting Corporation; Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1972). Firestone N7420 .W28 1972


Having just moved a library collection ourselves, it is fun to see how someone else accomplished it. According to their publicity, the first Rijksmuseum opened in 1800 and eight years later, the new King Louis Napoleon moved the collections to the Royal Palace on Dam Square, the former city hall of Amsterdam. In 1876 the architect, Pierre Cuypers, was commissioned to design a new building, which remained basically unchanged since its opening in 1885.

From 2003 to 2013, the entire building and presentation of their collections was renovated. For the first time, the museum’s Special Collections are also displayed so that visitors can enjoy objects from the applied arts, science, and national history, including their collection of magic lantern slides, hold-to-light prints, and optical devices [see below].



The building is also the home of the Cuypers Library, the largest and oldest art historical library in the Netherlands, holding 5,4 km (3 1/3 miles) of books. During their recent renovation, not only was the original study room updated but a viewing balcony for the visiting public was installed so non-researcher do not disrupt those actively using study materials.

The reading room is shared between the library and the print study collection, which holds more than 500,000 engravings, etchings, woodcuts, lithographs, and “sheets in other graphic techniques” dating from 1440 to the present. Fashion and ornament prints, maps, decorative papers, and popular prints are included alongside the Rembrandts, Picassos, and the other masterworks. More information about appointments can be found here:

A Rijksmuseum Special Collections hold-to-light slide. This link takes you to similar views in the Graphic Arts Collection at Princeton.




The Graphic Arts Collection recently acquired a nineteenth-century stereo-graphoscope in a molded thermoplastic case.  This unusual model has a small section at the bottom for three colored glass filters to be used in the graphoscope lens.

Like the zograscope of the eighteenth century, this optical viewer was most often used in a family parlor for evening entertainment. The graphoscope’s round magnifying glass allows for detail views of cabinet cards, tintypes, engravings, and other single photographic images, while the lower stereo glasses are for the viewing of stereographic cards. The whole device folds up into a small box.


Thermoplastic cases, also called Union cases, were first developed in the 1850s for housing daguerreotypes. The earliest patent was filed by Samuel Peck in Connecticut and the use of this material on the Stereo-graphoscope dates it earlier than other wood or leather models.


According to an anonymous author in the British Journal of Photography, “the action of the graphoscope . . . is one [subject] that seems to be very little understood. Everyone who has used the appliance is familiar with its effect, but very few seem to be prepared with an explanation of the relief observed in a single photograph when it is observed through a single large lens.”

He goes on to explain, “a graphoscope is a large single lens of sufficient diameter to enable both eyes to observe the photograph, and the three conditions we have referred to are: first, a condition governing the appreciation of perspective; second, a condition peculiar to the formation of a virtual image of a plane object by a single positive lens; third, a condition peculiar to the binocular observation of any diagram or picture through a large lens.

We have several times pointed out the extreme importance of true perspective in connection with the subject of stereoscopy, and also when referring to the matter of monocular relief. … the trouble with photographs is that the proper view point is very often so near the print that distinct vision from that point is impossible. One remedy for this is to stop down the eye pupil by observing the object through a pinhole. This so increases the range of distinct vision that the proper position can often be found. Another remedy is the use of a magnifying lens to increase the size of the picture, and also the viewing distance, up to a convenient dimension. This, then, is one of the functions of the graphoscope.” —The British Journal of Photography 54, no. 2448 (April 5, 1907)



Welcome GER 308: Topics in German Film History and Theory

early-german7Thanks to Professor Thomas Y. Levin for bringing his class, “Topics in German Film History and Theory – Cinema Philosophy: Aesthetics and Politics” to visit the Graphic Arts Collection.

“Conducted in English, this theory seminar explores issues of narration, representation, spectatorship, the historicity of perception, semiotics, etc. of importance to students in art history, visual arts, literature, music, history, philosophy, sociology and psychology as well as film and media history and theory.”

For more information on Princeton University’s film studies, courses, screening, and other special events see:

For other posts involving our optical devices see:

early-german4An anamorphic print. Look into the cylinder and see Jules Verne.


praxinoscopePraxinoscope gif

1924 Winter Olympics

A film of the skating competition during the 1924 Olympic Games in Chamonix, France, can be viewed at These were the first winter Olympic games and Pathé’s coverage some of the earliest cinematic documents from the games. The footage includes Sergeant Maudrillon, coach of the French military skiing team, surrounded by the representatives of every team, solemnly reciting the Olympic oath; the 5,000 meter speed skating race; Ms. Henie of Norway, 11 years old, the youngest contestant in the figure skating competition; and much more. For additional facts, see:

Also available is the Match d’athlétisme France-Finlande (the track Match between France and Finland) at Bergeyre stadium. In the shot put, Perhola (Finland) came in first with a throw of 14 meters. Tuulos (Finland), was the champion in the triple jump, with a 7.15 meter new Finnish record. In the javelin throw, Myrra (Finland) came in first with a 61 meter throw.




Les Cinq gentlemen maudits

opiumOn September 3, 1920, Les Cinq gentlemen maudits (The Five Gentlemen Cursed) was released by Pathé films in Paris. Acted and directed by Luitz-Morat and Pierre Regnier, based on a story by André Reuze, the drama opens with Yves Le Guérantec visiting an opium den on the French Riviera.

Chance meetings occur along the way as he sails first to Marseilles and then to Tunis. During a walk through the bazaar one day, one of his friends pulls the veil off a young woman’s face and in retaliation, her (?) father casts a spell on them. Gambling, drugs, murder, extortion and suicide are all part of the plot.opium2

Distributed by Pathé as a ten reel home movie, you can now view the film in its entirety here: There are nearly 800 other French silent movies available at this site.