Victorian GIFs


Stand up, ye spellers, now and spell;
spell phenakistoscope and knell:
Or take some simple word as chilly,
Or gauger Or the garden lily…

– Anon, 19th Century

The first animated gif was created by CompuServe (remember them?) in 1987. But a century and a half before that, there was the phenakistoscope.

The phenakistoscope was an optical illusion machine that was essentially an early attempt at animation. The animations were drawn in a series around a record-like disc, which also featured a series of evenly-spaced slits. By turning a handle on the machine, the disc would rotate, and when the viewer peered through the slits at a mirror reflecting the disc, the drawings on the disc gave the illusion of fluid animation.

The machine was first conceived by a Belgian physicist, Joseph Plateau, in 1839, who was inspired by the work of Euclid and Newton.

Here are two examples of gif-animated versions of  phenakistoscope discs. More can be viewed here. 


An excellent soundtrack to these mesmerising images can be found in Savage Imagination – the frankly fantastic new album by Takako Minekawa and our beloved Dustin Wong.

Takako Minekawa and Dustin Wong – She He See Feel

Buy Savage Imagination by Takako Minekawa and Dustin Wong

And if you like that, then you will love this Shugo Tokumaru piece from 2013!

Shugo Tokumaru – Katachi