Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Origin & History of Kaleidoscopes -- Part II

As was noted in an earlier post, the modern kaleidoscope was invented by Sir David Brewster in 1816. Initially conceived as a scientific research instrument, kaleidoscopes became more widely viewed as a form of entertainment during the mid-nineteenth century in Western Europe and America.
Although a few Americans apparently began experimenting with kaleidoscopes as early as 1818, it really wasn’t until the 1870s that they became more widespread, due to a Prussian immigrant, Charles Green Bush (1825-1900). Not much is known of Bush other than he was from Culberg, Prussia (now Germany), and came to Plymouth, MA about 1847. Bush had worked in his father’s hemp manufacturing business in Prussia and established a successful business in Plymouth.

Apparently he was untrained in any of the physical sciences, but later in life he moved to Boston and pursued interests in microscopes, telescopes, astronomy, and photography. During the 1870s he began manufacturing his “parlor kaleidoscopes” by the thousands. Even then, they were recognized as extraordinary. Keep in mind that this was the Victorian Age and there was wide interest in parlor games such as showing stereoscopic photographs, charades, and the like. “Parlor Kaleidoscopes” were the right idea at the right time. Although Bush was not the only kaleidoscope maker of the day, his were extremely popular and trend-setting.
Bush’s kaleidoscopes had a barrel of black hardboard with a spoked brass wheel rotating an object cell, mounted on a turned wooden stand. Bush’s ‘scopes were unique largely because of the objects to be viewed – as many as 35 different objects of various colors and shapes, some even filled with liquid containing air bubbles. These liquid-filled objects (ampules) were patented by Bush and the concept is still widely used in modern kaleidoscopes.

In 1873, one of Bush’s “Parlor Kaleidoscopes” sold for $2.00. Today, collectors willingly pay well over $1000.00 for one of the original kaleidoscopes, when they do come on the market.
CLICK HERE for an example of a "Parlor Scope" for sale.

For a more detailed account of Bush and his kaleidoscopes see the article on the Brewster Society site CLICK HERE
An example of one of an image from one of Bush's Kaleidoscopes being used as a screensaver can be found at the following site CLICK HERE 


The modern variant of the Bush ampule kaleidoscope is commonly referred to as an "Oil Cell Kaleidoscope". They provide a very different "view" than non-oil (or other liquid-filled) cells. From time to time I make oil cell 'scopes and you can see samples on my web site CLICK HERE to see the various kaleidoscopes and other items I craft.

 Above are images of one of the oil cell scopes I have made in Pennsylvania Cherry as well as one of an infinite number of "views" from such a scope.

In the next post we'll track the evolution of kaleidoscopes from the "toys" of the early part of the twentieth century to the works of art of the later twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.

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