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Continued from product description on Classic Toys & Puzzles' Page Five...

Historical Background: Thaumatropes are the first of many optical instruments developed to study persistence of vision. They typically consist of a cardboard disc with thread attached on the left and right sides. On each side of a round piece of card stock is a picture, painting or illustration. The images are designed and placed so that when the disc is spun by rolling the threads back and forth between the fingers and thumbs. The faster the disc is spun back and forth, the more the two pictures appear as one!

The earliest known example of a thaumatrope is a bird perched inside a birdcage. At least it looks like a bird is perched inside a birdcage when it is spun. On one side of the disc is a picture of the bird sitting on a wooden perch and on the other side of the disc is the birdcage. Again, when the disc is spun by rolling the threads (called "handles"), these two images appear superimposed on top of one another.

This simple optical experiment tool heralded the beginning in the study of the persistence of vision effect. It is also the forerunner of other experimental devices that explore this effect, which is also known as the Phi phenomenon.

There is some disagreement over who actually made the first contemporary thaumatrope. Some believe the "magic lantern" was invented by either Peter Roget, Sir John Herschel, Charles Babbage (inventor of the first computing machine), or a handful of others. However, Dr. John Ayrton Paris is generally considered the originator because he demonstrated the Phi phenomenon to the Royal College of Physicians in 1824 using a thaumatrope.

Thaumatropes are not only the first toys based on persistence of vision, they are also the simplest in design. Dr. Peter Mark Roget learned of the persistence of vision effect and conducted experiments to investigate after images. After images are the result of our vision's persistency to light impressions which "remain" in the retina cones of our eyes for about 1/20 of a second after the initial impact of light.

Roget's discoveries led to further experimentation and the construction of optical devices and techniques that were sometimes referred to as "philosophical playthings." Eventually, these devices evolved into sophisticated apparatus for mass entertainment.

Thaumatropes clearly demonstrate the delay between reality and the visual perception of reality. For example, the original "Bird and Cage" thaumatrope is a disc with a perched bird on one side and a birdcage on the other. When the disc is quickly spun by its two threads or strings, we perceive the bird is in the cage. Of course, this is not the fact of reality and why this thaumatrope has been called an "eye deceiver."

The next type of "eye deceiver" is the 1833 phenakistoscope. This device is held up in front of a mirror and rotated. For a fraction of a second, the observer sees an image of a sequence of image positions (such as a horse jumping a pasture fence) through the vertical slits in the disc. The phenakistoscope is the first known device to demonstrate perceived motion.

Another version of the phenakistoscope had two discs, one with slits and the other with a sequence of images. While slightly more unwieldy than the 1833 invention, it did not require the use of a mirror. This type of phenakistoscope is thought to have been invented simultaneously by Joseph Plateau in Belgium and Simon von Stampfer in Austria. Regardless of who invented the phenakistoscope, it led to the discovery of the zoetrope.

The zoetrope is a device that produces an illusion of action from a rapid succession of static images. The name comes from combining of two Greek words: zoe ("life") and trope ("turn"). Its meaning has been interpreted to be either "wheel of life" or "living wheel."

The zoetrope consists of a cylinder with vertical slits. Below these slits on an inner surface (a disc attached to the bottom of the cylinder) is a circular band of frames depicting a sequence of drawings, paintings or photographs. When a user spins the cylinder and looks down through the passing slits onto the sequence of images, he sees animation. Viewing the images through a slits prevents blurring and the solid areas between the slits (along with the persistence of vision effect) create an illusion of motion. To add more wonderment to this device, zoetropes have the property to make images appear thinner than their actual size when viewed "moving" through the slits!

Back to thaumatropes... During the Victorian period, thaumatropes were a popular toy. Yet, children and adults alike were fascinated by the Aha effect of these "wonder turners." Thaumatrope sets were published with a variety of subjects and themes. "Turning pair" examples included updated renditions of "Bird and Cage," hunting scenes, horse and rider (galloping, fence jumping, etc.), bare tree and leaves, many styles of vases and varieties of flowers, the list goes on and on. (Suffice to say, any picture or drawing that can be separated into two parts.) Even today, the possibilities have not been exhausted and that is why we include blanks in our Thaumatropes (2016) so one can experiment and play with their own thaumatropic designs.

Unlike our wooden Buzz Saw (2001) which is spun by winding its strings tightly and then alternately pulling the handles apart and immediately relaxing the tension on the strings to make the buzz saw make a whirling or buzzing sound, a paperboard thaumatrope uses a different technique to spin a disc. The handles on thaumatropes are rolled back and forth between the fingers and thumbs. One could also wind up a thaumatrope like a buzz saw and tug away on the strings, but a handle would eventually tear out of its paperboard hole. Not good! The fingers-thumbs roll technique is historically correct and appropriate for it construction material.

As popular as thaumatropes became during Queen Victoria's reign, they did not imply motion. Thaumatropes could only take two images and optically merge them, essentially creating a single image -- much like a single frame in a movie film. The phenakistoscope, on the other hand, was a great improvement on the thaumatrope by merging stop-animation images to create the illusion of motion. This discovery eventually led to the development of the kinetoscope by Thomas Edison and, in time, the birth of the movie industry. Looking back to its earliest roots, one could say that today's movies (with all their 2D and 3D special effects) started with thaumatropes.

How to Make a Thaumatrope

The materials you will need to make a thaumatrope are two square or round cards with at least one blank side (such as a couple of index cards) and two pieces of 10-inch long string. The tools you will need are a single-hole punch; a pair of scissors, and some drawing tools (whatever you care to use -- paint set, felt-tipped pens, crayons, colored pencils, etc.).

Step One. Cut the two cards to the precisely same size and shape. The shape can be square, circular (like the original thaumatrope), or polygonal (many sided). Just make sure both cards are the same size and shape when placed together, back to back. Depending on the shape(s) you choose, you may be able to cut both cards at once! Just be careful to not let the cards move or shift while cutting them. (Speaking of "careful," adult supervision is highly recommended for young children using sharp objects.) This step may take some practice to learn what works best for your card or board stock (including cutting tool). Be patient and experiment around carefully until you can get two pieces to look like one when placed together, back to back. [Tip: To make circular discs, use a round cup or glass to lightly draw a pencil circle for a cutting guide. When done cutting, erase any pencil marks along the disc's edge.]

Step Two. Punch two holes in the cards. If you are using square-shaped cards, punch two holes in the opposing corners while the cards are matched together, back to back. If you are using circular cards, just punch two holes anywhere opposite to each other. [Tip: Punch your holes far enough inside from the edge(s) of the card to prevent a handle from tearing out.]

Step Three. Now comes the fun step, the creatively fun part! On a blank piece of paper, design or sketch a picture that can later be separated into two parts (such as a vase and a flower). This picture can be anything you want it to be! Once you have something you think will work well on your thaumatrope, try another idea. Do this as often as you like. Step Three is as fun as it gets when you try to design your own, unique thaumatrope.

Step Four. Choose a design. You may think you want to use your best design (and this is fine if you do), but it might be wise to make your first "wonder turner" using one of your simpler designs. Why? Because getting two pictures onto two different cards is a little tricky -- especially when one of the pictures has to be upside down!

Step Five. Take one card and place it so that the two holes are level on the left and right sides. Using a pencil, lightly draw, sketch or trace the first part of your two-part design. Once this is done to your satisfaction, get the other card and put it on top of the first one so that the punched holes match. Now, carefully turn the top card around exactly 180 degrees (this probably will cause the holes to not match up -- this is okay). Again, take your pencil and lightly draw, sketch or trace the second part of your two-part design. Make sure this second picture sits over the first card's design. (If you cannot see your design on the first card, get some light behind the cards -- easily done using a backlit window.)

Step Six. When you have both cards penciled to your satisfaction (and, by the way, you can always go back and forth penciling both cards); do a trial run before you paint or ink in your designs. To do this, match up the holes, add some handles, and take your cards for a spin! To make a handle, take a piece of string and fold it in half. Thread the folded end through one set of holes until you have enough length to take the loose ends of the string and thread them through the folded end, pulling it taunt to make a half-hitch knot securely against the cards. Tie the loose ends of the string together with a knot. Repeat this with the second string and other set of holes. You are now ready to test your thaumatrope creation!

Step Seven. Holding the handles (string) between your fingers and thumbs, roll the handles to spin your thaumatrope. The faster you spin your thaumatrope back and forth, the more it will look like one picture instead of two! How does it look to you? If you need to make some changes, just unhitch the handles and go back to the "drawing board" (or window pane). Retest your design until you are "thaumatropically" happy with your design intent.

Step Eight. Get your colored pencils, felt-tipped pens, crayons, or whatever paints you wish to use and color in your two pictures. Take your time! Step Eight is not the step you want to hurry through. Sometimes, it helps to bold some pencil lines with a black-ink pen after all the colors have been applied.

Step Nine. The payoff! Repeat Steps Six and Seven to see the "magic" of your new thaumatrope. Show your friends, show your parents (or, if you're a parent, perhaps gift it to your child), put it in an envelope with a letter and send it to grandma and grandpa. Your payoff is as great as you want it to be. So share your creation with others! Design more thaumatropes and share them! People love to see "neat" optical effects and the biggest payoff is making someone else smile!

Ideas for Designs. Do you need some examples that can help you think up ideas for your own thaumatropic designs? How about: "Cool Cat" (pair of sunglasses/cat's head); "Open Book" (open book with blank pages/words); "Ice Water" (glass of water/floating ice cubes); "Aqua-vision" (computer monitor/swimming fish); "One Trick Pony" (jumping pony/large hoop); or, "Sail Boat" (boat/mast and sail). The possibilities are practically endless in both ideas and how to make them. Above all, try creating something you will proud of when you are finished.

About the Artist

Our Thaumatropes (2016) were painted by William Zimmerman, one of America's premier bird artists. His work has been, and is today, shown in museums and galleries around the world including the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. Mr. Zimmerman's paintings are published in Waterfowl of North America, The Birds of Indiana (later proclaimed a state treasure by Governor Robert D. Orr), The Birds of Illinois, The Birds of Ohio, and The Birds of Kentucky. In 1987, Ducks Unlimited Canada published Mr. Zimmerman's painting of spectacled eiders in a portfolio that featured the works and biographies of thirty internationally known waterfowl artists. His painting, "Ruckus at River Styx," was one of the top 100 paintings selected for the U.S. National Parks Foundation Arts for the Park Exhibition that toured the United States in 1989.

We Elves will be forever grateful to Mr. Zimmerman for taking an interest in our thaumatrope proposal and agreeing to work with us on this project. Nor can we adequately express our thanks for the extraordinary effort he put forth to create a pair of unique, "philosophical playthings." We hope you will enjoy his artistic renditions of the classic "Bird and Cage" and traditional "Bird and Dog" thaumatropes.

Fun Fact: The earliest zoetrope was created in China around 180 AD by the prolific inventor Ting Huan and used rising heat from an open flame to turn it.

Fun Fact: The modern zoetrope was invented in 1833 by British mathematician William George Horner. He called it the "Daedalum" or "wheel of the devil." It didn't become popular until the 1860s when it was patented by makers in both America and England. The American developer, William F. Lincoln, named it "Zoetrope," which means "wheel of life."

Fun Fact: In the Tim Burton film Sleepy Hollow, the thaumatrope is on a necklace which Johnny Depp's character Ichabod Crane carries with him.

Fun Fact: In the film The Prestige, Michael Cain's character repeatedly uses a thaumatrope as a way of explaining persistence of vision.

Fun Fact: Louis XIV's music video for "Guilt by Association" was inspired by the thaumatrope. The video is edited in such a way that even if one band member is on the screen, the others can be seen by persistence of vision.

Not-so-fun Fact: The bird William Zimmerman chose for his "Bird and Cage" thaumatrope is the now-extinct Carolina parakeet. The Carolina parakeet that died in 1918 in the Cincinnati Zoo is frequently identified as the last living bird of this species. The last recorded sighting of this species, however, occurred in 1944 in North Carolina.

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