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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