A kaleidoscope is a cylinder with mirrors containing loose, coloured objects such as beads or pebbles and bits of glass. As the viewer looks into one end, light entering the other end creates a colourful pattern, due to the reflection off the mirrors. Coined in 1817 by Scottish inventor Sir David Brewster,[1] “kaleidoscope” is derived from the Ancient Greek καλός (kalos), “beautiful, beauty”,[2] εἶδος (eidos), “that which is seen: form, shape”[3] and σκοπέω (skopeō), “to look to, to examine”,[4] hence “observation of beautiful forms.” [5]

No one knows really how far they date back, but it is well known that reflective surfaces were used in Ancient Egypt.

The Kaleidoscope was invented as an “ optical instrument” in 1816 by Sir David Brewster, a Scotsmen who trained as a clergyman, but whose real passion was optical science. Over the years the kaleidoscope followed many different styles and transformations of its outer design due to creative designs by many artists and crafters. By the19th century they found a permanent niche in the consumer market as a cheaply imported toy. Meant to amuse young children with it endless patterns and shapes of colour.

For adults it became a source of debate and distraction as an after supper routine, to return to the parlor and enjoy looking through a then well know optical scientist known as ‘George Bush’, seriously, who made precision brass and leather table mounted “parlor scope”. Offering after dinner contemplative entertainment piece for those wishing to retire to the sitting room. During the art novae era, this much needed and appreciated “optical instrument” was envied and used by all creative designers like, artists, jewelers, architects, weavers, and any other profession in which symmetrical and ornamental patterns were required. At the dawn of the 20th Centaury, they are still made for children, but more mass produced with sloppy interiors, they lost the there truer magic. Cozy Baker revolutionized them more by publishing various books on her private collection of scopes and on the various artists who crafted them. Hand the way she mourned the death of her son who passed away tragically in 1985 they became a medium of inspiration, harmony, bereavement and a whole culture of ‘lovers of beauty’ was formed in the Brewster Society, where artists and crafters could showcase their unique pieces.

Now comprising of over 250 kaleidoscope artists. And the unwritten law, is that no one copies the other in design, EVER! So now they are used by health professionals from dentists to teachers to help in restoring balance, through meditation.


Formal History of Sir David Brewster, the inventor of the kaleidoscope

Sir David Brewster KH PRSE FRS FSA(Scot) FSSA MICE 

(11 December 1781 – 10 February 1868) was a Scottish physicist, mathematician, astronomer, inventor, writer, historian of science and university principal.

Most noted for his contributions to the field of optics, he studied the double refraction by compression and discovered the photoelastic effect,[2] which gave birth to the field of optical mineralogy.[3] For his work, William Whewell dubbed him the “Father of modern experimental optics” and “the Johannes Kepler of Optics.”[4]

He is well-recognized for being the inventor of the kaleidoscope and an improved version of the stereoscope applied to photography.[5] He called it the “lenticular stereoscope”, which was the first portable, 3D viewing device.[6] He also invented the binocular camera,[7][8] two types of polarimeters,[9] the polyzonal lens and the lighthouse illuminator.[10]

A prominent figure in the popularization of science,[11] he is considered one of the founders of the British Association,[12][13] of which he would be elected President in 1849. In addition, he was the editor of the 18-volume Edinburgh Encyclopædia.

Among the non-scientific public, his fame spread more effectually by his invention in about 1815 of the kaleidoscope, for which there was a great demand in both the United Kingdom, France, and the United States.[14] As a reflection of this fame, Brewster portrait was later printed in some cigar boxes. Brewster chose renowned achromatic lens developer Philip Carpenter as the sole manufacturer of the kaleidoscope in 1817. Although Brewster patented the kaleidoscope in 1817 (GB 4136),[15][16] a copy of the prototype was shown to London opticians and copied before the patent was granted. As a consequence, the kaleidoscope became produced in large numbers, but yielded no direct financial benefits to Brewster.[17][18][19] It proved to be a massive success with two hundred thousand kaleidoscopes sold in London and Paris in just three months.[20]

The Brewster stereoscope, 1849.

An instrument of more significance, the stereoscope, which – though of much later date (1849) – along with the kaleidoscope did more than anything else to popularise his name, was not as has often been asserted the invention of Brewster. 

A much more valuable and practical result of Brewster’s optical researches was the improvement of the British lighthouse system. Although Fresnel, who had also the satisfaction of being the first to put it into operation, perfected the dioptric apparatus independently, Brewster was active earlier in the field than Fresnel, describing the dioptric apparatus in 1812. Brewster pressed its adoption on those in authority at least as early as 1820, two years before Fresnel suggested it, and it was finally introduced into lighthouses mainly through Brewster’s persistent efforts.[14]


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