The Forgotten Art of the Phenakistoscope

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Phenakistoscope, Great Britain, 1833Courtesy of the Richard Balzer Collection

Behold: the psychedelic predecessor of the animated GIF

Before Instagram videos and immersive cinemas had their part to play in the audio-visual landscape, the phenakistoscope – an early animation apparatus developed by Belgian physicist Joseph Plateau in 1829, was the device du jour. It tended to take the form of a spinning disc, adorned with small illustrations, which was attached to a vertical handle, and depicted a small animation when turned.

The fame of the phenakistoscope lasted only two years, due to the rapid progression of science in the era, but fortunately certain historicists have devoted their careers to sourcing and celebrating these forgotten objects. Collector Richard Balzer is one such person – an aficionado of zoetropes, dissolve slides, vue d’optiques and other such illusory devices – and since stumbling upon his first 40 years ago he has established an admirable and ever-growing collection. Here, AnOther selects a tiny fraction of his archive, from softly rippling foliage to pirouetting ballerinas and galloping horses, for your delight.

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