Ayrton Paris, 1825
| How it works | What
became of it | Animations
Video Demonstrations | Sources
to Optical Toys
of the thaumatrope, whose name means "turning marvel"
or "wonder turner," has often been credited to the
astronomer Sir John Herschel. However, it was a well-known
London physicist, Dr. John A. Paris, who made this toy popular.
Thaumatropes were the first of many optical toys, simple devices
that continued to provide animated entertainment until the
development of modern cinema.
is a small disc, held on opposite sides of its circumference
by pieces of string. An image is drawn on each side
of the disc, and is selected in such a way that when the disc
is spun, the two images appear to become superimposed.
To spin the disc, one string is held in a hand, and the disc
is rotated to wind the string. Then, both strings are
held, and the disc is allowed to rotate. Gently stretching
the strings will ensure that they continue to unwind and rewind.
This motion causes the disc to rotate, first in one direction
and then in the opposite. The faster the disc rotates,
the greater the clarity of the illusion.
the thaumatrope does not produce animated scenes, it relies
on the same persistence of vision principle that other
optical toys use to create illusions of motion. Persistence
of vision is the eye's ability to retain an image for roughly
1/20 of a second after the object is gone. In this case, the
eye continues to see the two images on either side of the
thaumatrope shortly after each has disappeared. As the
thaumatrope spins, the series of quick flashes is interpreted
as one continuous image.
of a thaumatrope has a tree with bare branches on one side,
and on the other, its leaves. When spun, the tree appears
to be full of leaves. Another example has a bird on
one side, and a cage on the other. When spun, the bird
appears to be in its cage. The bird-cage pair of
images were used on the first thaumatrope, and is the most
common one seen on thaumatropes today.
became of it:
of thaumatrope images were pictures that did not imply motion,
such as running animals or dancing people. A thaumatrope
could only take two images and merge them, essentially creating
one still image from two. The phenakistoscope was a
great improvement on the thaumatrope, creating one moving
image from several stills, and became the first optical toy
to create a true illusion of motion.
Links to video demonstrations:
(requires RealPlayer G2 or higher)
connection (T1/LAN/DSL/cable) only
higher video quality in a downloadable file
Video for Windows
to build a simple thaumatrope: