The phenakistoscope (also spelled phenakistiscope or phenakitiscope) was an early animation device that used a spinning disk of sequential images and the persistence of vision principle to create an illusion of motion.
Although the principle behind the phenakistoscope had been recognized by the Greek mathematician Euclid and later in experiments by Newton, it was not until 1829 that this idea became firmly established by Belgian Joseph Plateau. Plateau planned it in 1839 and invented it in 1841. Later the same year the Austrian Simon von Stampfer invented the stroboscopic disk, a similar machine. A contemporary edition of Britannica says "The phenakistoscope or magic disc...was originally invented by Dr. Roget, and improved by M. Plateau, at Brussels, and Dr. Faraday."
The phenakistoscope used a spinning disc attached vertically to a handle. Arrayed around the disc's center were a series of drawings showing phases of the animation, and cut through it were a series of equally spaced radial slits. The user would spin the disc and look through the moving slits at the disc's reflection in a mirror. The scanning of the slits across the reflected images kept them from simply blurring together, so that the user would see a rapid succession of images that appeared to be a single moving picture.
A variant of it had two discs, one with slits and one with pictures; this was slightly more unwieldy but needed no mirror. Unlike the zoetrope and its successors, the phenakistoscope could only practically be used by one person at a time.
Online sources sometimes refer to this invention as the Phantasmascope or the Phantascope. However, Phantascope is also the name given to two different, later, projection-based moving picture devices by John Arthur Roebuck Rudge.
The Special Honorary Joseph Plateau Award, a replica of Plateau's original phenakistiscope, is presented every year to a special guest of the Flanders International Film Festival whose achievements have earned a special and distinct place in the history of international film making.
- Encyclopaedia Britannica, 8th edition, 1857, Edinburgh, volume XVI, p. 697.
- Collection of simulated phenakistiscopes in action - Museum For The History Of Sciences
- Another collection of animated phenakistoscopes - The Richard Balzer Collection
- A picture and further information - North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics (NCSSM)
- An exhibit of similar optical toys, including the zoetrope (Laura Hayes and John Howard Wileman Exhibit of Optical Toys in the NCSSM)
- Some pictures - Example of the phenakistiscope
- Magic Wheel optical toy, 1864, in the Staten Island Historical Society Online Collections Database
- Detailed illustrated history of the phenakistoscope - The Wheel of Life (Stephen Herbert)