Category Archives: Pre-cinema optical devices

Théâtre des voyages

Théâtre des voyages. Le Tour du monde par un petit français. Grand spectacle en 24 tableaux (Paris: M.-D. [i.e. Mauclair-Dacier] Editeur and J.J.F. [i.e Jeux et Jouets Français]. [1905]. Series: Théâtre des voyages et des actualities. Cotsen Collection (CTSN) Toys 46025


A recent search through our collections of paper theaters led to one particularly rare item in the Cotsen Children’s Library https://blogs.princeton.edu/cotsen/. A multi-media Théâtre des voyages, this home theater comes with a music box for sound to accompany a scrolling 17 foot vertical panorama with 24 lithographic scenes and titles on either end. The narrative takes a young French boy on a world tour from France to New York City, the Rocky Mountains, mining for gold in the Klondike, hunting with indigenous people in the mid-West and Alaska, attending a marriage in Peking, getting arrested in Bangkok, feasting in Benares, crossing the Siberian steppe and on to Moscow, being enslaved and sold by Tuaregs, escaping to ride the rapids of the Oubangi to Brazzaville, traveling through Africa to Algiers, Marseilles, and finally home.

The toy theater was produced and sold by Mauclair-Dacier, who established his own business in 1887, which ran successfully through 1904 when he was taken over by JJF (Jeux et Jouets Français).

While many of the scenes are politically incorrect as might be expected of a 1905 toy, others are surprisingly egalitarian, such as the multi-racial orchestra playing below the proscenium arch throughout the entire show.

The rolling narrative is interrupted by sliding ‘tableaux lumineux’ (hold to light slides) mounted on wooden frames that slide through the top of the box and cover the scroll while it changes scene. Here are a few examples:.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For other Cotsen treasures, see: https://blogs.princeton.edu/cotsen/.

Before Zoom, Pre-Cinema, Optical Devices Tour

Remember 2:00 p,m, EST on Friday, December 4, 2020

 

One day Gillett Griffin, Graphic Arts Curator 1953-1966, was working on the 2nd floor of Firestone library and a graduate student named William Mackenzie walked in. It seems his Scottish aunt had this big wood thing in her attic she wanted to get rid of and would Gillett like it for the collection? Happily he said yes.

The gigantic optical device [left] known as an alethoscope was added to the graphic arts collection. Because of its size, we call this a Mega-alethoscope or megalethoscope and there are only a handful of these beautiful devices in the United States. In fact, if you look it up in Wikipedia, you will see Princeton’s megalethoscope.

Patented by Carlo Ponti in 1861, the slides for this deluxe viewer are albumen silver prints on stretched canvas, with holes or layers so that when light comes from the front, you see a daytime scene and when light comes from the back, day turns to night.

 

The evolution of images and image viewing is of equal importance to the evolution of words. The optical devices are not simply toys or novelties but important evidence documenting image viewing over the last 500 years.

 

 

 

 

Please join us at 2:00 EST on Friday, December 4, 2020, for a free webinar highlighting our collection of pre-zoom, pre-cinema optical devices, rare artifacts designed for shared public entertainment or personal moments of wonder, leading up to the invention of the motion picture.

Through a series of live webcams (yikes, not prerecorded), we will attempt the phantasmagoria experienced in the past as we peer into 18th-century peepshows, twirl phenakistoscopes, open a gigantic megalethoscope and crank a miniature cinematograph. Feel the sense of wonder as still images come to life, turning day to night, causing volcanoes to erupt, and conjuring faces to rise from anamorphic chaos.

We will be joined by Christopher Collier, Executive Director, and Jesse Crooks, Operations Director and Head Projectionist for Renew Theaters, who will share some of the history and treasures of Princeton’s Garden Theater.

As always, this one hour session is free and open to the pubic but you need to register to get the invitation link: Register here.

 

 

 

 

 

Seen here are a variety of 18th-century hand colored prints and 19th-century photographs, each used in a different type of viewing device.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Before Zoom. Save the Date

Pre-zoom, pre-cinema moving picture

 

Please join us at 2:00 EST on Friday, December 4, 2020, for a free webinar highlighting material in Princeton University Library’s Special Collections. This December we will offer you a captivating tour of our collection of pre-zoom, pre-cinema optical devices, rare artifacts designed for shared public entertainment or personal moments of wonder, leading up to the invention of the motion picture.



Through a series of live webcams (yikes, not prerecorded), we will attempt the phantasmagoria experienced in the past as we peer into 18th-century peepshows, twirl phenakistoscopes, open a gigantic megalethoscope and crank a miniature cinematograph. Feel the sense of wonder as still images come to life, turning day to night, causing volcanoes to erupt, and conjuring faces to rise from anamorphic chaos.

We will be joined by Christopher Collier, Executive Director, and Jesse Crooks, Operations Director and Head Projectionist for Renew Theaters, who will share some of the history and treasures of Princeton’s Garden Theater.

As always, this one hour session is free and open to the pubic but you need to register to get the invitation link: Register here.

 

A Portable Phenakistoscope Theater

 

One of the problems with the original phenakistoscope, pictured above as it was invented around 1833, was that you needed to provide your own mirror. Looking through the slots in the circular print while it turned, a moving image appeared like magic in the reflection. Unfortunately, many 19th-century rooms (similar to our classrooms) were completely lacking in mirrors.

Within a few years, this toy evolved into the zoetrope and then the praxinoscope, devices that were all-inclusive moving image suppliers. Émile Reynaud further designed a portable praxinoscope theater [on the left] around 1879, which included all the parts needed to have a mini motion picture theater in your home.

Not to be left behind, someone also developed a portable phenakistoscope theater, complete with the circular prints, the turning handle, and the mirror. Most customers had already moved on to more elaborate devices and this model never caught on, making it rare in pre-cinema collections. Happily, we now have an example of this optical theater in the Graphic Arts Collection. Take a look.


Thanks to Nicholas Gallop who made this thumbnail gif

Optical games with letters

Detail from below

The Alphabet. The Alphabet in Capitals. The Lord’s Prayer. May his efforts to please his kind patrons succeed... (London: W. Snow [prob. circa 1815]). Hand colored steel engraved card, 14 x 10.5 cm. Graphic Arts Collection Recap 103360002
Detail from below.

 

 

This fun piece of ephemera offers three puzzles on one printed card, each with an optical trick. Published by W. Snow in Theobalds Road, London, the card showcases two alphabets written in the shape of monograms and a micrographic script with Lord’s Prayer.

W. Snow might refer to William Higgin Snow, publisher of another optical trick: A map of the country ten miles round London, printed around 1815 on a card 15 x 12 cm, the same as our optical card.

Such printed games were popular throughout the 19th century. A second copy of Snow’s card can be found in the John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera at the Bodleian Library along with dozens of other examples of the Lord’s Prayer or other texts “written in the compass of a silver penny.” https://library.princeton.edu/resource/4747

Here’s Two ALPHABETS rare;
With our blessed LORDS PRAYER;
‘Graven neat, Sirs, to please,
With precision and care.

While the ARTIST relies
On the strength of your eyes
And the help of kind Judgement
To AID his supplies

May his efforts to please his kind PATRONS succeed
And He’ll Emulous prove and feel grateful indeed.

 

Can you find all the letters of the alphabet?
X and Z might be the most difficult, easier in capitals below.

Phenakistoscope, the 19th-century gif


 

One of several scientists working on optical devices in the early 19th century was Simon Ritter von Stampfer (1792-1790)), inventor of the stroboscopic disk, an early version of the phenakistoscope. He received a patent in 1833, began production, and published an account with Mathias Trentsensky. The first series of commercial disks sold out immediately. His book is available full-text online here: Ritter von Stampfer (1792-1790)), Die stroboscopischen Scheiben; oder, Optischen Zauberscheiben. Deren Theorie und wissenschaftliche Anwendung (Wien: Trentsensky & Vieweg, 1833).

 

Today, examples of the phenakistoscope are available in the graphic arts collection at Princeton and throughout the internet, as seen below in google image. Here are a few to enjoy.



In the 20th century, Magic Mirror Movies were a variation of the phenakistoscope, made for your 33 1/3 record player:

Pre-Digital Humanities

Checking out Spooner’s protean views and other ‘hold-to-light’ prints

 

Another way to appreciate protean views is by using a Polyorama Panoptique, popular from the 1820s through to the 1850s (and today). The portable, collapsible viewer was invented by Pierre Seguin, often given away as a souvenir during popular events or exhibitions. It is a miniature version of the megalethoscope.

 

John Ayston Paris, a London physician, is often credited with 19th century ‘persistence of vision’ devices. Many of the students made their own. https://graphicarts.princeton.edu/2013/10/28/thaumatrope/

A portrait of Jules Verne https://graphicarts.princeton.edu/2015/03/25/anamorphic-images/

https://graphicarts.princeton.edu/2017/01/03/horizontorium-3d-views-in-1832/

 



https://neolucida.com/history

The Neo-Lucida is much easier to use than the original 19th-century device patented by Sir William Hyde Wollaston. That’s not just because it was invented by a Princeton graduate.

 

Macbeth lantern slides

A recent photo-reproduction request for the Macbeth slides within The Wheeler collection of lantern slides (formerly held by the Brander Matthews Dramatic Museum, 412 Low Library, Columbia University), led to the discovery that many had turned pink.

Regardless, there are some wonderful photographs and prints of Shakespeare productions in the 19th century. The collection includes 19 boxes of slides, together with 3 boxes of ring-bound 3×5 card sets, plus six other related items (stored in box 19).

Access is provided by a box list [see below] and a list in numeric order giving a brief description of each numbered slide. There is also the ring-bound card sets, grouped by presentation such as ‘Belgian Children’s Theatre’.

Contents of boxes http://libweb.princeton.edu/libraries/firestone/rbsc/aids/tc123.columbia.pdf

Listing by Wheeler number http://libweb.princeton.edu/libraries/firestone/rbsc/aids/tc123.wheeler.pdf

Many Wheeler slide sets are productions of William Shakespeare, Macbeth highlighted here. For details on the Brander Matthews Dramatic Museum, http://www.columbia.edu/cu/lweb/archival/collections/ldpd_6661090/ see the records of the Museum (1910-1971) held by the Archives of Columbia University. We call it the ‘Wheeler Slide Collection,’ probably because these slides were made by the New York firm DeWitt C. Wheeler.

https://catalog.princeton.edu/catalog/3849555

 

From Columbia’s website: “Brander Matthews (1852-1929). Appointed to the Columbia College faculty in 1892, Matthews began collecting theater-related memorabilia in 1911, convinced that the only way to learn about drama was through first-hand acquaintance with artifacts, images, and texts of the theatrical past.

Matthews then donated his own collection of theatrical memorabilia to the University to support the burgeoning study of world-wide theater history. He commissioned stage models representing historical periods, collected the scripts and theatrical designs of his contemporaries, gathered more than 30,000 images of actors and entertainers, and purchased masks and puppets from dealers and performers all over the world.

Thanks to a generous endowment, additions to the collection were made for decades after Matthews died in 1929. The Dramatic Museum was housed in Low Library at Columbia until it was closed in 1971; since then the collection has been split between various archival repositories at Columbia University.”

To The Moon

*play this full screen

In case you missed “To The Moon” last summer 2019 at the Museum of Natural History, you have a brief opportunity to catch it as part of the Under the Radar festival this month. Created by Laurie Anderson, Visiting Lecturer in the Princeton Atelier, and Hsin-Chien Huang, the virtual reality experience flies you through constellations built from molecular equations and alphabets forming DNA skeletons that merge science, literature, and graphic art. Commissioned by the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, Denmark; The National Culture and Arts Foundation, Taipei, Taiwan; and National Taiwan Normal University, it is 15 minutes of lunar phantasmagoria. Unlike our pre-cinema collection of optical devices, this might be considered post-cinema.

The theater cautions: This production is not recommended for people with serious medical conditions including heart ailments. Pregnant women, the elderly, or anyone who risks serious injury from falling and people with epilepsy, or who are prone to seizures, dizziness, vertigo, fainting or motion sickness are not encouraged to participate in this production. As sensitivities vary from person to person, if you have specific questions regarding content, please call us at 212.967.7555.

Together with Arto Lindsay, Anderson has been teaching ATL 499, Spatial Sound, in which students “explore wave field synthesis including the dynamics of short stories, parades, suspended grammar, psychic states, animal consciousness, and depth of field in sound and film. Special attention will be paid to experimental forms of sound installation, use of different spatial techniques in live concerts, and spatial theater.” Final projects were presented on Friday, January 10, at Princeton University. https://arts.princeton.edu/events/spatial-sound-story-and-image/

Loew’s Jersey “Wonder” Theater

https://loewsjersey.org/

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The Loew’s Jersey opened on September 28, 1929, as the fourth of the five Loew’s Wonder Theaters, just two weeks after the Loew’s Paradise in the Bronx and the Loew’s Kings in Brooklyn. All five would have opened earlier but in October 1927, the first talking picture, The Jazz Singer, was released and all the Wonder theaters under construction had to be refitted for sound.

Meant to be a movie palace with “opulence unbound,” in fact the gilding throughout the lobby was actually painted aluminum and the marble columns are scagliola, a technique for producing faux marble. So much for movie magic.

The exterior has a muted terra cotta façade and standard marquee but at one time, the tower’s Saint George and the dragon was animated so that, when the clock chimed every fifteen minutes, red bulbs in the dragon’s mouth would light up and Saint George would lunge at the dragon.

According to the New York Times, “Reports of the theater opening describe an eight-foot, 150-year-old French Buhl clock, Dresden porcelain vases from the Vanderbilt mansion, bronze statues from France, crimson curtains embroidered with gold griffins and a turquoise-tiled Carrera marble fountain filled with goldfish.” Creating even more of a spectacle, guests were serenaded by live piano music or a string quartet coming from the musicians’ salon, the gallery above the entrance.”


The interior of Loew’s Jersey has appeared in several films, including Last Days of Disco and just this year Apple TV’s Dickinson, season 2, used the theater as a 19th-century opera house.

 

Located across from the PATH station in Journal Square, the theater was closed in 1987 and the building was slated for demolition when local residents banded together to save the historic theater. They collected 10,000 petition signatures and attended countless City Council meetings, and finally, in 1993, the city agreed to buy the theater for $325,000 and allow the newly formed Friends of the Loew’s to operate there as a nonprofit arts and entertainment center and embark on a restoration effort.

This fireplace is in the men’s room off the balcony. The Lady’s room has a separate lounge area and a third room for checking your make up.

 

 Read about all five wonder theaters: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loew%27s_Wonder_Theatres