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About Kaleidoscopes

Updated on June 5, 2010
A simple triangular kaleidoscope.
A simple triangular kaleidoscope.

Did you have a kaleidoscope when you were young? If you did it was most likely made from plastic, cardboard or tin and was a very simple 3 mirror system with some bits of plastic in a rotating chamber at the end. simple but very effective.

Although the modern kaleidoscope was invented by Sir David Brewster a sixteenth century Scot, the ancient Egyptians and Greeks are known to have shown interest in the kaleidoscopic effects of reflective surfaces. There is a group for enthusiasts of the kaleidoscope which takes its name from the inventor The Brewster Kaleidoscope Society.

There is also an online group for those interested in making their own kaleidoscopes, the KBKB

You may be surprised to know that there are many kaleidoscope enthusiasts worldwide from those with a passing interest to avid collectors and builders.

There are various types of kaleidoscope differing usually in the number of mirrors and the angle between the mirrors. From the basic and most common three mirrors arranged in a triangle to many variations of two mirror systems where the third side of the triangle is made from non-reflective material and the angle between the two reflective mirrors can be any angle which will equally divide 360 degrees. So you can use any of the following angles

                                45 degree - 8 fold symmetry - 4 point star
                                36 degree - 10 fold symmetry - 5 point star
                                30 degree - 12 fold symmetry - 6 point star
                                22.5 degree 16 fold symmetry - 8 point star
                                15 degree - 24 fold symmetry - 12 point star
                                10 degree - 36 fold symmetry - 18 point star
                                1 degree - 360 fold symmetry -180 point star

These two mirror systems produce mandala like images, though clever kaleidoscope artists manipulate them to produce three dimensional effects.

hand made copper foil stained glass kaleidoscope.
hand made copper foil stained glass kaleidoscope.

There are 4 types of kaleidoscope in normal use

The Teleidoscope, this often uses the 3 mirror system but there is no chamber of coloured particles, it is used like a telescope and whatever you point the scope at forms the image inside. You can get some amazing and disturbing images depending on what or who you point it at.

The cell scope is probably the one we are all most familiar with the “cell” is the bit on the end that contains the coloured items for creating the image, it may also be called the chamber or sometimes the object case. The cell can be dry with small coloured objects which tumble when it is rotated or it may be filled with oil which lets the objects float in front of the mirrors. The light may be allowed to come from the end or from the side of the chamber.

A modern variation on the cell scope is the “wand” kaleidoscope which was first produced in 1990 by Wildwood creative Products in collaboration with Cozy Baker (founder of the Brewster Society). In this type of scope the cell is replaced by a tube which may be 12 inches long filled with liquid and coloured particles and glitter. Though very simple the scope produces wonderful images like a mini firework display.

Wheel scopes not surprisingly have a wheel or multiple wheels which rotate at the end of the tube to make the image. Kaleidoscope artist these days go to great lengths to produce quite spectacular wheels containing all sorts of stained glass, dichroic glass, jewels and pretty much anything there imagination can come up with. Some artists use rotating cylinder in place of wheels.

Marblescopes use a glass marble at the end of the viewing tube, early ones where not very sophisticated and so produced very limited images, but many modern kaleidoscope artists make their own hand blown glass marbles, these are works of art in their own write and produce stunning images. Some marblescopes use more than one marble to increase the complexity of the image.

one of a kind stained glass kaleidoscope.
one of a kind stained glass kaleidoscope.

There are many artists producing kaleidoscopes in a variety of media from stained glass which I use myself, to polymer clay for astounding sculptural bodies for scopes. Others use their superb wood turning skills and beautiful varieties of wood to make very desirable scopes. Some artists produce highly sought after “one of a kind” unique scopes which can command prices in the thousands of dollars.

Take a look at these unusual Steampunk kaleidoscopes

Some artists produce limited editions for the keen collector and some artists produce scopes in small production runs bless their hearts, which means many more of us can be the proud owners of small works of art.

Can you make your own kaleidoscope? Of course you can. We have the wonderful internet at our fingertips so we can find all the instructions we need. There are also many different kits available from simple kits for kids to stained glass kits.

Go on, have some fun make a kaleidoscope.

Stained glass kaleidoscope kit.
Stained glass kaleidoscope kit.


Submit a Comment

  • Lamme profile image

    Lamme 7 years ago

    Wow KevCC, very impressive work! I love kaleidoscopes,there's something so intriguing about them.

  • KevCC profile image

    KevCC 8 years ago

    Yes all my own work, thanks Suki.

  • Suki C profile image

    Barbara C 8 years ago from Andalucia, Spain

    Did you make the examples here - they are just lovely :)

  • KevCC profile image

    KevCC 8 years ago

    It is a good word, I can see kaleidoscopic images just saying it.

  • mega1 profile image

    mega1 8 years ago

    Love that little airplane - love kaleidoscopes and even love the word!

  • KevCC profile image

    KevCC 8 years ago

    Hi Julie-Ann, thanks for the encouragement.

  • Julie-Ann Amos profile image

    Julie-Ann Amos 8 years ago from Gloucestershire, UK

    Wow this is great! Keep up the good work!