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Zograscope or Optique Machine


Zograscope. Mahogany, with boxwood and ebony inlay; lacquered brass knobs and ox-bone finials. England, ca. 1785-1810. 24 inches tall when neck is not extended. Frame, mirror, and lens in very good condition. There is a small applied button missing to the underside of right hand upright. There are some minor cracks to column, but not very noticeable. The lens piece has a slight lean. Overall, very good condition. Denver.

Perspective views, or vue d'optiques, are a special type of popular print published in Europe during the eighteenth century. These prints were a form of entertainment meant to be seen through devices called "optical machines," "optiques," "zograscopes" or "peepshows." With their precisely-ground lens, well-crafted fittings, and internationally-themed prints, these optical machines embodied the Georgian quest for knowledge and refinement. Probably invented around 1750, it was known in England as an "optical diagonal machine" and in France as an "optique." With few variations, a zograscope consists of a mirror hinged with an optical lens, suspended in a frame that stands approximately eighteen inches high.

Originally, zograscopes may have been used simply for those who were short-sighted, who, according to the conventions of the 18th century, would not be seen in public wearing spectacles. Later a whole series of prints, called perspective views or vues d'optique, was developed to be viewed through these optical machines. Drawn with an exaggerated one-point perspective, each print took on a nearly three-dimensional appearance when viewed in the mirror through the optique lens. Strong hand color usually distinguishes perspective views and was often drawn in rather crude bands across the images, which translated well when viewed in the zograscope under low light. Printed in places like Augsburg and London, perspective views, or vues d'optique, offered middle- and upper-class viewers in Europe a glimpse of such far-flung places as Constantinople and New York.

Zograscopes and perspective views often appeared in parlors as an elegant and educational amusement for young and old. To fit the décor of middle- and upper-class homes, zograscopes were fitted with fashionably turned walnut and mahogany frames, often featuring brass finials and finely-worked inlay, as seen on this example. By the light proportions, vase-and-ring turnings, and inlay of this zograscope, it was likely made in the fourth quarter of the eighteenth century. It is a nice, fairly typical example of the type and should give viewers an idea of what these wonderful optical machines are like. $1,200

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©The Philadelphia Print Shop, Ltd. February 4, 2013