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Peepshow - Alabaster Egg, Views of Clifton, Bristol, England, circa 1870 Object Reg. No: ST 038002

Summary:
Alabaster peep egg with a viewing lens on the top and handles which allows the single viewer to turn the scenes shown inside. The translucent alabaster allows light to penetrate the egg so no other light source is required. Handles at either side allows the viewer to rotate a spindle to see the four different views. The views are set within a frame of crystals and depict scenes of Clifton, part of Bristol in England; they include Vyvyan Terrace, and the suspension bridge which was completed in 1864.

A peepshow is a closed, or partially closed box with one or more viewing holes. Interchangeable images are placed within the box for viewing. There were basically two types of peepshow boxes produced. Horizontal boxes had their viewing holes at one end, and relied on the lens of the viewing aperture and depth of the box to create perspective. Vertical boxes (boite d'optiques) also used the lens of the viewer, but in combination with an angled mirror to redirect the gaze, or to create an illusion.

Peepshows have their origin in the study of perspective during the 15th and 16th centuries. Whilst originally the preserve of the educated, scientists and artists, by the 18th century peepshows had become a feature of popular street entertainment. Itinerant showmen travelled the towns and fairs, attracting people by the use of their voices, musical instruments and sometimes an accompanist. The mysterious and magical peepshow was but part of the total show which relied strongly on the showman's story telling abilities. The showman would also at times create movement by manipulating the images within by use of strings and hooks. Some types of images allowed the viewer to see the picture as by day, and then as by night through the use of back-lighting, provided by the sun or a candle. Popular themes for the peepshows included foreign countries, historical events and nature. Small, domestic versions of the peepshow were also produced. During the 19th century peepshows were also sold as souvenirs. These could be as diverse as alabaster peep eggs, to sheets of paper pasted together to form a concertina shaped perspective view of a scene. Peepshows were popular in many parts of the world and went under several different names: in England and the U.S.A., peepshow; in France, boite d'optique; in Italy, mondo nuovo, in Holland, optiques; in Germany, guckkasten. They were also popular in China and Japan.

This peep egg is part of the Francis Collection of pre-cinematic apparatus and ephemera, acquired by the Australian and Victorian Governments in 1975. David Francis was the curator of the National Film and Sound Archive of the British Film Institute as well as being a co-founder of the Museum of the Moving Image in London, which was operational between 1988 and 1999.
Description:
Alabaster egg with stand, in one piece. Circular viewing lens on top. A metal wire pierces the egg and is attached at either end to a round alabaster knob. Turning these knobs rotate the four different scenes within the egg.
Acquisition Information:
Loan & Subsequent Donation from Australian Film Institute (AFI)
Discipline: Technology
Dimensions: 127 mm (Height)

More information

Tagged with: souvenirs, commemorations, optical toys, peepshows
Themes this item is part of: Francis Collection, Leisure Collection
Primary Classification: RECREATION & TOURISM
Secondary Classification: Amusements
Tertiary Classification: optical devices
Inscriptions: On lower edge of scene 1: 'VYVYAN TERRACE CLIFTON'
On lower edge of scene 2: 'CLIFTON SUSPENSION BRIDGE.'
On lower edge of scene 3: 'CLIFTON.'
Place & Date Depicted: Bristol, England, Great Britain, circa 1870
Collector: Mr David Francis, London, Middlesex, England, 1990
References: The Richard Balzer Collection - Peepshows
http://www.dickbalzer.com/Peepshows.202.0.html
Accessed 18 June 2010
Bibliography:
  1. [Book], Mr Richard Balzer, Peepshows: A Visual History, Harry N. Abrams Inc., New York, 1998, 1998, 10-43 Pages

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