Category Archives: Pre-cinema optical devices

Vues d’optique with a third layer

“Le Peintre la Nature et l’Atelier”

Thanks to the generosity of Bruce Willsie, Class of 1986, the Graphic Arts Collection has eleven new French vues d’optique mounted on wooden frames to be viewed in a polyorama panoptique. Not only are they different sizes and different views from anything currently in the collection, but several have a mysterious third layer so that when they are held up to light, or viewed in a closed box, a new print is visible in silhouette. Here are a few samples. Note the performers on stage below and the congregation at the midnight mass at the bottom.

“Salle de l’Opera à Paris”


“Taverne de l’Angle à Londres”


“La Messe de Minuit”

Stories in stereo

Unidentified photographer, The Ghost in the Stereoscope, ca. 1865. Published by the London Stereoscope and Photographic Company after a suggestion by Sir David Brewster. Two albumen prints in stereo-format, hand-tinted. Title: “Kindly suggested by Sir David Brewster, K. H. [entered at Stationers’ Hall” on verso. A dramatic view of the late Mr Stubbs haunting the new occupant of his house. The graffiti on the walls reads: “Mr Stubbs his cottage his picter” and “Mr Stubbs erd.” Graphic Arts Collection GAX in process


The Graphic Arts Collection has acquired several British stereoviews, each providing a narrative through a single 3D image. Some relate to major literary sources and others minor stories. Here are some examples:


[below] Unidentified photographer, Gambler’s Ghost, ca. 1865. Published by the London Stereoscope and Photographic Company. Two albumen prints in stereo-format, hand-tinted. Graphic Arts Collection GAX in process

[Above] Alfred Silvester, Little Nell. Vide – ‘Old Curiosity Shop’ by Charles Dickens, 1870s-1880s. Two albumen prints in stereo-format. Graphic Arts Collection GAX in process


[Below] Unidentified photographer, Haidee and Juan, Canto 2nd, 1870s-1880s. Two albumen prints in stereo-format, hand-tinted. Titled on small printed label pasted to verso with copyright note:  A passionate moment between Juan and the pirate’s daughter Haidée, before she dies of a broken heart and Don Juan is sold into slavery. Graphic Arts Collection GAX in process

Daniel Defoe (1661?-1731), The Life and Strange Adventures of Robinson Crusoe of York, Mariner: Who Lived Eight and Twenty Years Alone in an Uninhated [Sic] Island On the Coast of America, Near the Mouth of the Great River Oroonoque: Having Been Cast on Shore by Shipwreck, Wherein All the Men Perished But Himself: With an Account How He Was At Last Strangely Delivered By Pyrates Written By Himself ([London: s.n.], 1719-[1720]). RHT Oversize 18th-955

Lake Price, Robinson Crusoe and Friday, 1870s-1880s Two albumen prints, hand-tinted, in stereo-format. Title and credit on printed label pasted to verso, with Dublin art shop ‘Lesage’ label on verso. Graphic Arts Collection GAX in process



Sir John Everett Millais Bt PRA (1829-96), My Second Sermon, 1864. Oil on canvas. Guildhall Art Gallery, London.


[below] After Sir John Everett Millais (1829-1896), Unidentified photographer. First time at Church. The Litany, no date [after 1864]. Two albumen prints in stereo-format, hand-tinted. Graphic Arts Collection GAX in process

[Above] Unidentified photographer, Cinderella and her Godmother, 1870s-1880s Two albumen prints in stereo-format, hand-tinted. Graphic Arts Collection GAX in process



Le Taxiphote

The Graphic Arts Collection recently acquired an early twentieth-century Taxiphote. Developed by Jules Richard (1848-1930) “Le Taxiphote” is a mechanical tabletop stereo viewer, ours having all its original cabinet drawers and parts, custom slide trays and a collection of approximately 200 glass stereo views of Paris and the French countryside.

This device is the most technically sophisticated of all the stereo-viewers Richard invented, much evolved from the hand-held stereoscopes most families had in their homes. All these devices involve two photographs taken from approximately the distance between our eyes so that when looking through the viewer, the two images merged into a single three-dimensional image. Richard’s camera for making stereograms was called a “Verascope,” patented in 1893. A few years later in 1899, he patented the first model for the viewing stereo-slides, which he called “Le Taxiphote,” sold well into the 1930s. There are two levers; one to raise the slide and view the image with both eyes and a second smaller lever to read the text on the slide caption with your right eye.

Jules Richard was the son of Félix Richard, a manufacturer of optical and measuring instruments and the nephew of Gustave Froment, a well-known manufacturer of electrical instruments.
Jules designed barometers, thermometers, chronographs, dynamometers, and other photographic devices.

“Having been personally owned and managed by Jules Richard for thirty years, in 1921 the business became a public company, with a capital of six million francs and a workforce of about 300. In 1923 Richard gave the city of Paris six million francs to found an ‘École des Apprentis Mécaniciens Précisionnistes’, to provide training for precision instrument makers and ensure the continuity of the skills which were so important to him. This college still exists. So too does the firm, at least in name, the present ‘Société JRC’ (Jules Richard Constructeurs) manufacturing precision instruments for industrial uses.” Museum of the History of Science, Oxford.

Opening the top, one cassette of glass slides is loaded. Turning the side crank will lift the first slide and place it in front of the lens, with light coming through the ground glass behind. Keep turning and the next slide will move into place, and so on.

The bottom of the box is a storage space to hold our 200 glass slides, created for this viewing device specifically. The slides are on their way to Princeton and when they arrive will also be digitized for long-distance viewing.

Thanks to Rubén Gallo, Walter S. Carpenter, Jr., Professor in Language, Literature, and Civilization of Spain at Princeton University for his assistance in acquiring our Taxiphote.

Le Taxiphote Stereo-Classeur, French stereo viewer with approximately 200 glass slides, ca. 1910. Mahogany case with hinged and locked lower door opening to a compartment for glass slide storage, two brass handles on sides for carrying, rack and pinion focusing, hinged lid and two adjustable levers at left and right for focus. The front has two engraved gutta percha labels in French text under gutta percha eye pieces. Graphic Arts Collection GAX 2018- in process


The Historiscope

The Historiscope: a Panorama & History of America (Springfield, Mass.: Milton Bradley & Co., [1868?]). Graphic Arts Collection GAX 2018- in process

Lithographer Milton Bradley (1836-1911) marketed his first game “The Checkered Game of Life” in 1860 and went on to produce hundreds of educational toys and books. Princeton is fortunate to own several copies of the Bradley Company’s paper panorama: The Myriopticon: A Historical Panorama of the Rebellion (American Civil War). We now add a new edition of its complement: The Historiscope: A Panorama and History of America (Springfield, Mass.: Milton Bradley & Co., ca. 1868), offering a less elaborate model than Cotsen’s.

Cotsen Library, South East (CTSN) Toys 30665

The chromolithographic scroll is made up of eight conjoined strips resulting in an image measuring 14 x 221 cm ( ~7 1/3 feet long). It rolls across the printed proscenium of a paper theatre box, thanks to a winding mechanism that is cranked by hand. Ours comes with its original crank.

The Historiscope provides a rolling journey through the history of the United States of America, from its discovery by Columbus, through the War of independence and the age of the steam engine. There are twenty-five scenes, including Columbus arriving in America; the Spanish conquest; the baptism of Pocohontus; Pilgrim Fathers; early settlement; treaties with Native Americans; the battle between the English and the French; the American War of Independence; the opening of transcontinental railway celebration; the new Capitol building, Washington D.C.; cotton farming; a steam threshing machine; and several more.

For more, see “The Historiscope and the Milton Bradley Company: Art and Commerce in Nineteenth-Century Aesthetic Education” by Jennifer Lynn Peterson

Welcome to Columbia Students

Founded by an endowment from LeRoy and Janet Neiman, Columbia University’s LeRoy Neiman Center for Print Studies promotes printmaking through education, production and exhibition of prints. Twelve students and their instructor Ben Hagari made the trip south to visit the Graphic Arts Collection of pre-cinema and optical devices on Tuesday.

The class, Print into Motion, encourages undergraduates to “use printmaking techniques to create animation works, optical devices and projections.” The students have already begun creating their own thaumatropes and other phantasmagoria. Future projects will take inspiration from our metamorphosis cards, transformation images, and flap books. Here are a few moments from the class.


Ben Hagari is a New York-based artist, who was born in Tel Aviv, Israel. His work “dissolves the distinction between theatrical facades and backstage by creating spaces where magic, subterfuge, and poetry collide.” Hagari’s solo and group exhibitions include Afterwards, Total Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul, Korea (2012); Invert, Rosenfeld Gallery, Tel Aviv (2011); The Museum Presents Itself: Israeli, Art from the Museum Collection, Tel Aviv Museum of Art (2011, 2012, 2013, 2014); and in December 2017, 24:7 in New York City’s Time Square.

Dick Balzer 1944-2017

My apologies for not recognizing the death of Richard J. Balzer (1944-2017) earlier. He would have been more on top of it. His website remains: I recommend the Balzer “Life Map” created by his daughter.

I would say I’m lucky to have visited the collection but honestly, I don’t know anyone who was ever turned down. I accompanied classes from Boston area colleges, visiting photographers from China, Print Council of America, and The Magic Lantern Society several times, in addition to sending Princeton students individually. His door was always open and the megalethoscope loaded with a slide.

We all know Dick Balzer from his seminal volume Peepshows: a Visual History (Abrams, 1998) but by my count, he was involved in over 35 books. Those of us who only know his anamorphic slides, transformation prints, and peep eggs forget his day job. Harvard’s Kennedy School notes:

Richard J. Balzer has worked globally as an organizational consultant focused on leadership, strategy, and organizational change for over thirty years. He has served as a coach and advisor to chief executives and board chairmen. His clients have included British Petroleum, Standard Chartered Bank, Goldman Sachs, NBC, and the NBA. Balzer has also worked with a number of unions including the United Auto Workers, the United Steelworkers, the International Machinist Union, and the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers promoting joint labor-management efforts. A writer and photographer, he is the author of five books including Clockwork: Life In and Outside An American Factory, Next Door Down the Road and Around the Corner, and China Day By Day. He currently serves as the chairman of the Petra Foundation, an independent organization that identifies and awards grants to community-based leaders who work to address human rights and social justice issues throughout the United States. He is a graduate of Cornell University and Yale Law School.

They forgot the privately printed: The Print Council of America annual meeting, Boston, May 2, 2015, exhibition at the Richard Balzer Collection (2015). I’d post it but it is only for those members who made the trip, as per Balzer’s specification.

I’m sorry to have missed the service at the Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School, would have made the trip. Bryan Marquard of the Boston Globe has an obituary, “Dick Balzer, 73; expressed curiosity, passion in pursuits” from January 10, 2018: Larry Rakow wrote a terrific remembrance in the current newsletter for the Magic Lantern Society of USA. Here’s small screen shot but you should join the organization if you like reading it.

The Newsboy’s Debt and other Lantern Readings

The Lucerna Magic Lantern Website notes: No magic lantern show consisted of slides alone: there were always elements like music, audience participation, or the spoken word. Especially in the later nineteenth century, many slide producers published ‘readings’ giving a recitation, story, or lecture to accompany the slide images.

The Graphic Arts Collection recently acquired a dozen or so Lantern Readings, the text that accompanies a particular set of slide. As noted on the covers, the scripts could be borrowed for a performance and returned when it was done. Today, they can be matched with the Magic Lantern Society’s Readings Library project, launched in 1995, which currently offers nearly 3,000 images, scripts, and music scores.


The Newsboy’s Debt: [originally published by Hannah R. Hudson, “The Newsboy’s Debt,” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, May 1873].  Plot: A gentleman trusts a newspaper boy to get change, which he was to bring to his office. The lad, however, is run over, but sends his brother to say that when he gets well he’ll work to refund the money lost at the time of the accident.

References to this set:
1891 Catalogue of photographic lantern transparencies and apparatus: season 1891-2 (Bradford: Riley Brothers, 1891), 34
1891 Complete catalogue of lantern slides, dissolving views, magic lanterns etc. (London: UK Band of Hope Union, 1891), C 17
1894 Wood’s catalogue of slides, optical lanterns, and dissolving views apparatus: forty-eighth issue (London: E.G. Wood, 1894), 106
1905 Catalogue of optical lantern slides (Bradford: Riley Brothers, 1905), 16
1910 A detailed catalogue of photographic lantern slides, life models &c. (Holmfirth: Bamforth & Co., 1910), 13
1912 Lantern slide catalogue (Glasgow: J. Lizars, 1912), 45
1912 Wood’s catalogue of over 200,000 slides, optical lanterns etc.: 1912-13, sixty-seventh issue (London: E.G. Wood, 1912), 383
Other references (2)
1888 Stationer’s Hall copyright register, COPY 1/393/154-155 (27 July 1888)
1888 Walter D. Welford and Henry Sturmey (compilers), The ‘indispensable handbook’ to the optical lantern: a complete cyclopaedia on the subject of optical lanterns, slides, and accessory apparatus (London: Iliffe & Son, 1888), 299



While the Sabbath Bells Were Ringing:

While the Sabbath Bells Were Ringing By W. A. Eaton (1848-1915)

The sunshine fell on cottage-roofs and waving cornfields bright,
And all the world seemed lying still beneath the golden light.
The cattle stood beside the hedge, the sheep were in the fold,
The sunlight on the old church-tower lit up the fane of gold.

And from its nest in the long grass the lark was upward springing,
And softly on the evening air the Sabbath bells were ringing.
The organ-notes rang loud and deep, and sweetly sang the choir,
While through the colored window-panes the sunlight fell like fire.

And earnestly the minister lifted his voice in prayer;
The sunshine fell upon his face, and on his snow-white hair.
And then once more upon the air there came the sound of singing,
While softly, sweetly over all the Sabbath bells were ringing.

Within the street of a great town I saw a noisy throng;
And there were women wan and pale, and brawny men and strong.
And they were pressing round the door of a gin-shop warm and bright;
Within they drank and screamed for more — it was an awful sight.

And oh ! the din of babbling tongues, and loud, half -drunken singing,
While far above them, out of sight, the Sabbath bells were ringing.
And farther on I saw a crowd around two women stand;
And one of them, with eyes aflame and blood upon her hand,

Struck at the other like a fiend and felled her to the ground;
And no one tried to interpose of all who stood around.
She rose and glared upon her foe, like fiend from hell up-springing.
And this was in a Christian land, while the Sabbath bells were ringing.


The Quarryman’s Resolve by Joseph John Lane:



Welcome to Rethinking Pictorialism Symposium Visitors

In conjunction with this weekend’s symposium, “Rethinking “Pictorialism”: American Art and Photography from 1895 to 1925” sponsored by the Department of Art and Archaeology at Princeton University, visitors were also introduced to our growing collection of pre-cinema optical devices.

Thank you to those students and scholars who got up extra early to come over to our classroom display.

Organized by Anne McCauley, David Hunter McAlpin Professor of the History of Photography and Modern Art, the two-day conference is being held in conjunction with the exhibition, Clarence H. White and His World: The Art and Craft of Photography, 1895-1925, on display at the Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton, NJ (October 7, 2017–January 7, 2018).

After Princeton, the show travels to the Davis Museum, Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA (February 7, 2018–June 3, 2018); the Portland Museum of Art, Portland, ME (June 22, 2018–September 16, 2018); and the Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH (October 21, 2018–January 21, 2019).

For more information about the exhibition and catalogue, see:

A few more magic lantern slides

Leaver slide of two cats confronting each other. Their backs go up.

Slipping slide, pulling a tooth.

Slipping slides, only the eyes move.

Thanks to a generous donation from David S. Brooke, director emeritus of the Clark Art Institute, the Graphic Arts Collection and the Cotsen Children’s Library have acquired a new group of chiefly English, hand-painted magic lantern slides. Here are a few more examples from this wonderful collection.

Seven of a twenty-five-slide temperance set titled “The Last Shilling,” in which a husband is about to spend his last shilling on drink but remembers his poor wife and instead, returns home to give the shilling to her.
Various chromatrope slides.

Sunbonnet Sue and I Want My Man

Thanks to a generous donation from David S. Brooke, director emeritus of the Clark Art Institute, the Graphic Arts Collection has acquired a new group of magic lantern slides. Among them are an almost complete set of “Sunbonnet Sue,” presumably images to accompany the song of that title, music by Gus Edwards (1879-1945) and lyrics by Will D. Cobb (1876-1930), published in 1908 by Gus Edwards Music Publishing Company.

In addition, there is a set of beautifully colored slides from the firm of Scott and Van Altena (SVA) of New York City, with the title “I Want My Man.” Scott and Van Altena are discussed at length in a recent article entitled “Outstanding Colorists of American Magic Lantern Slides,” by Terry Borton (American Magic-Lantern Theater. P.O. Box 44 East Haddam CT) in a recent Magic Lantern Gazette. He notes:

“One other company needs to be mentioned for out-standing color, both of detail, and of overall flamboyant impact. Scott and Van Altena (SVA) was the leading producer of the “illustrated song” slides that became popular about 1900, so popular that a minimum order became 20 sets and an order of 200 sets was not uncommon. The sets were usually of 12 to 14 images, selling for $5.00 (about $132.00 today).

The slides combine life models, elaborate photographic montages, and vibrant color—all depicting the lyrics of popular songs sung in movie theaters, and all perfectly matching the spirit of a new century. “Novelty” montages were created by combining negatives in a process that SVA guarded closely. The coloring was done in two rooms of the company’s New York studio, using aniline paints applied by camel-hair brushes.

John D. Scott and Edward Van Altena, the principals of the company, had somewhat different roles. Van Altena, whose mother had been an artist, became a photographer, and was the company’s master in that field. Scott was the master colorist—though Van Altena was responsible for coloring half the sets. Scott, who was deaf, had gone to the Lexington School for the Deaf, where he was taught by Dwight Elmendorf, whose comments about coloring were presented earlier, and who will reappear as an out-standing colorist later in this article.”



You can listen to a recording of the song online or play it through YouTube, links to both below.