Praxinoscope Theaters (1878)

the letter In 1878, just one year after he licensed his basic praxinoscope, Charles-Émile Reynaud added to the device and created the praxinoscope theater. This new invention featured:

  • a wooden case with a rectangular viewing hole in its lid
  • a frame for holding any one of several printed “scenery” cards inside the top cover (positioned directly under the viewing hole)
  • ten animation strips with black backgrounds (twelve frames per strip)
  • a praxinoscope basket that was black inside except for an animation sequence of a child playing with two small dogs and a hoop (printed directly on the metal)
  • a hinged “floor flap” attached inside the top cover (just below the scenery card holder); this flap was decorated with a glued-on print of a floor (drawn in proper perspective) and an upside-down product label that would appear right-side-up and nicely framed within the viewing hole when the flap was raised and the case was closed
  • a large insert card, comprised of a small panel of clear glass sandwiched between two sheets of cardboard …
    • the back sheet: was black and had a modest rectangular opening in it through which the viewer could see a mirror (and the reflected animation strip images with their black backgrounds as the praxinoscope basket rotated behind the insert card)
    • the front sheet: sported a color lithograph of a theatrical stage that had a larger, square, opening in it (through which the smaller opening and its black border could be seen)
  • two pairs of wooden slats inside the bottom half of the box (one on either side) into which the insert card could be placed and held at an angle (with the lowered floor flap resting against it)
  • a storage area in the box base (up near the hinges) where extra scenery cards and other supplies could be stored
  • a candle holder and lampshade for evening viewing 

When the theater apparatus was assembled and the praxinoscope basket was made to spin, a viewer (looking in through the hole in the case) would see the moving mirrors and a “set” of their choice assembled on the stage (a composite image of the scenery card artwork and the printed floor flap pattern, statically reflected in the exposed glass surface of the insert card). And, given that the black background of the animation strips did not interfere with the reflected set, the “superimposed” characters seemed to float like ghosts upon the toy’s diminutive stage. 

See one of Reynaud’s fantastic praxinoscope theaters in use (no audio):


For more information:
Who’s Who of Victorian Cinema: Charles-Émile Reynaud


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Praxinoscopes (1877)

a praxinoscope theater that is being used like a basic praxinoscope

A young girl watches an animation in a praxinoscope that is part of a later Reynaud invention—the praxinoscope theater. (click to enlarge)

The praxinoscope was invented in France by Charles-Émile Reynaud in the year 1877. It was quite similar to its predecessor, the zoetrope, but differed in two significant ways. Instead of using viewing slits in a deep metal bin, the praxinoscope employed a ring of twelve flat mirrors—positioned halfway between the center of a much shallower container and its outer wall.

a praxinoscope

a praxinoscope (click to enlarge)

A rectangular strip of images was placed inside the basket, as before, but it was upon the paper’s reflection in the device’s taller mirrors (and not the original artwork) that the viewer’s eye was supposed to be trained. Each “frame” of the strip corresponded to one of the mirrors, and the animation was looped.

A year later, Reynaud would expand upon his idea to create the praxinoscope theater—a significantly more complicated device. 

Look into the mirrors of a praxinoscope:


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Zoetropes (1834)

zoetrope inserts

the letter T

he zoetrope was invented by the British mathematician William George Horner in 1834. It was very similar to the phenakistoscope, but was more three-dimensional, did not require a mirror, and could be enjoyed by more than one viewer at a time.

a zoetrope

a zoetrope (click to enlarge)

Instead of a circular phenakistoscope-like image carrier, where each image (or “frame”) was allocated a pie-like wedge of space, Horner’s zoetrope had a round metal bucket into which a rectangular (and thus more film-like) animation strip was placed.

The metal bin could spin about the vertical axis of its pedestal base. And, once it was moving quickly enough, anyone who looked through the slits and into the chamber would see the images therein spring to life. 

Look into a spinning zoetrope (turn volume down):


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