Collector's Corner: Kaleidoscopes
By Michele Alice
"Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly,
A girl with kaleidoscope eyes."
Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds-Lennon/McCartney, 1967.
I don't know anyone who hasn't looked into a kaleidoscope at least once in his life. And many, if not most, people have probably owned one of those inexpensive, mass-produced, cardboard-tube toy versions when they were children. But how many of you were aware that the kaleidoscope is considered by many collectors to be an art form, and that first-class precision instruments - both contemporary and antique - can command thousands of dollars on the first and secondary markets? (An example by W. Leigh Newton (c. 1830) fetched 45,000 British pounds (~$75,000) in London in 2000.)
Scottish scientist Sir David Brewster is credited with having invented the kaleidoscope in 1816, and Brewster-sanctioned scopes were marketed under such names as Ruthven, Carpenter, and Bancks - all very rare today. But a problem with the registration of his 1817 patent allowed others to reap most of the financial rewards from marketing the wildly popular device.
By the 1870s, the fad had spread to the United States, and Charles G. Bush was granted several patents for his "parlor" kaleidoscope consisting of a black hardboard tube mounted on various bases of wood. The distinctively brass-spoked object cell contained glass pieces, some of which were liquid filled - another innovation. Thousands of Bush kaleidoscopes originally sold for $2, but specimens in good condition are difficult to find today and can command prices of up to $2000 or more.
Today, there are any number of artisans and manufacturers of kaleidoscopes of almost limitlessly innovative function and beauty. Some will appreciate greatly in value; some will appreciate little, or not at all. How does the collector decide which scopes to acquire?
First, it helps to learn everything possible about the subject. For instance, do you know the difference between a cellscope and a teleidoscope? A 2-mirror and a 3-mirror scope? A limited edition and a production scope? And, what is a polyangular scope? Dichronic glass? Front-silvered mirror? (You will find the answers by checking out the websites listed at the end of this article.)
Then, examine such aspects as:
Quality of construction
Are the mirrors back-silvered, creating secondary reflections? Is the image clean and perfectly symmetrical? Is the tube made of brass, wood, cardboard, etc.?
Is it a limited edition? Is it a Bush pedestal or 3-legged base?
Importance of design
Is it a prototype? A "first"?
All other things being equal, the better the condition, the more valuable the piece, ALWAYS.
Finally, consider the aesthetics. This is a somewhat subjective enterprise, and it helps if the artist has an established reputation, but it's usually best to buy what you like, so,...
"The Kaleidoscope Collector's Guide," by Mary Margaret Gibson, ed.
"The Kaleidoscope: Its History, Theory, and Construction with its Application to the Fine and Useful Arts," by David Brewster
"Kaleidoscopes: Wonders of Wonder," by Cozy Baker
The Brewster Kaleidoscope Society
International organization. Publishes quarterly newsletter, organizes annual convention. Terrific website provides history, glossary, FAQs, information on types of kaleidoscopes, mirror systems, more!
Kaleidoscope Care, by Jan Haber
The Kaleidoscope Collector
Database of extensive private collection, accompanied by beautiful interior and exterior photos. A must see!
Modern Kaleidoscopes - Collecting and Investing, by Judith Paul
Taking Digital Photos Inside the Kaleidoscope, by Jerry Farnsworth
About the author:
Michele Alice is EcommerceBytes Update Contributing Editor. Michele is a freelance writer in the Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts. She collects books, science fiction memorabilia and more! Email her at makalice @ adelphia.net eBay ID: Malice9
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