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History of the Kaleidoscope

The kaleidoscope is a unique creation that makes magic with light and mirrors. Though often considered a child’s toy, it is also a simple optical device with technical applications for designers and pattern-makers. A tool for designers, kaleidoscopes like the Allen & Michelle Crandell Stained Glass Wheel produces ranges of color and patterns used to create rugs, stained glass, jewelry, architectural patterns, wallpaper, woven tapestries, and ideas for painters.

The kaleidoscope was invented by Sir David Brewster, a Scottish scientist, in 1816, and patented (GB 4136) in 1817. He named his invention after the Greek words, kalos or beautiful, eidos or form, and scopos or watcher; kaleidoscope means the beautiful form watcher. Brewster’s kaleidoscope was a tube containing loose pieces of colored glass and other pretty objects, reflected by mirrors or glass lenses set at angles that created patterns when viewed through the end of the tube.

David Brewster however did not see much monetary benefit from this invention. Later in the early 1870’s an American, Charles Bush (1825-1900) improved upon the kaleidoscope and started the kaleidoscope fad. Bush was granted patents in 1873-1874 for improvements to the invention including kaleidoscope boxes, objects for kaleidoscopes (US 143, 271), and kaleidoscope stands. Bush was the first to mass manufacture the “parlor” kaleidoscope in America.

The ‘parlor’ phase, during the Victorian age, is when kaleidoscopes became very popular. To this day collectors still search out Bush’s kaleidoscope, made with a round base and a rarer four footed version.

Even today the kaleidoscope is a booming business for avid novices and collectors, as well as children. Many baby boomers remember receiving a toy kaleidoscope, like the Brass Medium Wheel Kaleidoscope with Curved Wood Base by BMWD as a kid. It was not until the late 1970s that a renaissance in kaleidoscope artistry began. In 1980 a first exhibition of kaleidoscopes helped fuel in interest in the item. Today there are hundreds of great kaleidoscope artists and makers. At we bring the best selection from toys to expert collections. Indulge your fascination for light and color with a kaleidoscope today!