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probably made in Edinburgh

Postcard of Kaleidoscope.
© National Museums Scotland


This telescopic kaleidoscope (pictured here with its red leather case) was designed by David Brewster and retailed around 1820 by I. Ruthven, an Edinburgh entrepreneur.

The brass and silver kaleidoscope consists of an enamelled body tube, marked on the eyepiece 'I RUTHVEN/EDINBURGH'. The accessories include 13 silver and glass cells and two push-fit cell holders.

This kaleidoscope was the first toy to be a huge popular overnight success. Over 200,000 kaleidoscopes were sold within the first few months but Brewster saw little of the money that was made.

Record details

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Online ID: 000-100-102-824-C
Image Rights Holder: National Museums Scotland
Project: 0098: National Museums Scotland
Project description | View all records in project
Ref: National Museums Scotland  T.1985.20
Date: Around 1820
c. 1820
What: Kaleidoscope, telescopic
Who: David Brewster (Designer)
I. Ruthven, Edinburgh (Retailer)
Where: Scotland, Midlothian, Edinburgh
Description: Telescopic kaleidoscope designed by David Brewster, signed by I. Ruthven, Edinburgh, c. 1820
  • For the context, see Morrison-Low, A.D. & Simpson, A.D.C., 'A New Dimension: A Context for Photography before 1860' in Stevenson, Sara Light from the dark room : A celebration of Scottish photography. Edinburgh: National Galleries of Scotland, 1995, pp 14 
  • For the kaleidoscope, see Morrison-Low, A.D., 'Brewster and Scientific Instruments' in Morrison-Low, A.D. & Christie, J.R.R. (eds.), Martyr of Science: Sir David Brewster 1781-1868. Edinburgh: 1984, pp 58-65, 84-6 
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