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Victorian Virtual Reality

Brian Goodison-Blanks previews the special sale of the Philip Banham Collection of Optical Toys noting that in the 19th century the simple effect of Optical Toys and Stereoscopes was equally as amazing to the Victorians as VR is to Millennials.

Vu du Optique (SS6/6) offered in our An Auction of Optical Toys starting on 6th March 2019 at our salerooms in Exeter, Devon.

Vu du Optique (SS6/6) offered in our Auction of Optical Toys starting on 6th March 2019 at our salerooms in Exeter, Devon.

As much as we like to think how clever we are in the 21st century with Virtual technology, 3D films and lifelike computer graphics, once again, the Victorians appear to have got there first in the 19th century.

Admittedly, the technology has improved, but in the 19th century the simple effect of Optical Toys and Stereoscopes was equally as amazing to the Victorians as VR is to Millennials.

The forthcoming auction of The Philip Banham Collection of Optical Toys, Optical Prints & Stereoscopes including The Great Exhibition of 1851 at Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood on the 6th March 2019 has a fascinating collection that enables us to peep behind the curtain of a 19th century phenomena.

Transformation View (SS6/8).

Transformation View (SS6/8).

The collection covers the development of optical curios from the late 18th century through to the early 20th century. Early pieces like Vue du Optique (SS6/6) and transformation prints (SS6/8), show one image when lit from the front transforming to another when lit from the reverse. One of the simplest optical toys is the Thaumotrope, a piece of card with a separate image on each side, which becomes one single image when spun, like the example included within the auction of Napoleon Bonaparte (SS6/14).

An Early 19th Century Thaumatrope of Napoleon Bonaparte (SS6/14).

An Early 19th Century Thaumatrope of Napoleon Bonaparte (SS6/14).

Though perhaps ludicrously simple to us today, thaumotropes were hugely popular at the beginning of the 19th century at a time when medicine and science were still in their infancy. The development of the Phenakintoscope (SS6/19) and the Zoetrope (SS6/67) amazed the Victorians even further as the images moved before their very eyes. The effects are still as magical today as they were over 100 years ago and collectors will be keen to acquire many of the wonderful examples included within the sale.

Phenakistoscope - A Group of Three 'The Magic Circle' Discs (SS6/19).

Phenakistoscope - A Group of Three 'The Magic Circle' Discs (SS6/19).

Zoetrope (SS6/67).

Zoetrope (SS6/67).

One of my personal favourites has to be the collection of stereoscopic cards with a vast array of exquisite views of the past. The images of people, places and events recorded by early photographers are brought to life through a table top or handheld viewer in three dimensions in an almost time travelling experience.

The science and basic principle behind stereoscopic viewers is still used today for virtual reality headsets, so you can imagine that most Victorians would have felt like looking into a virtual world though the lenses of a Brewster stereoscope viewer!

A Rare Stereoscopic Daguerreotype of the Visit of Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie
        with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert To Crystal Palace, Sydenham, 20th April 1855,
        by Negretti & Zambra (SS6/62).

A Rare Stereoscopic Daguerreotype of the Visit of Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert To Crystal Palace, Sydenham, 20th April 1855, by Negretti & Zambra (SS6/62).

Included within the section of stereoscopic items is a rare stereoscopic daguerreotype of the Visit of Napoleon III and Empress Eugene with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert to Crystal Palace, Sydenham, 20th April 1855, by Negretti & Zambra (SS6/62). A fabulous image of Victorian pomp and ceremony within the grandeur of an Exhibition.

Erotic Stereo Cards (SS6/121).

Erotic Stereo Cards (SS6/121).

The earlier 19th century technique of backlighting was incorporated into tissue stereoscope cards to provide colour, like the French Tissue erotic cards (SS6/121). While some might not be amused, you can certainly see that at least some Victorians were not prudish.

Video: A clip of one of the optical toys on offer in the sale.

Tags

  • Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood
  • Philip Banham Optical Toy Collection

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