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  • Writer's pictureBetty Girardeau

Favorite Childhood Toys

The kaleidoscope. If you look up this toy on-line, you will find that the appeal of this so-called toy far surpasses just children. Kaleidoscopes range in price from hundreds of dollars to under ten. They are made of fine woods and metal to cardboard and plastic. I even found a magnificent one for sale on Etsy for $1800! The circular repeating patterns often have reminded me of stained glass rose windows in Medieval cathedrals. But actually this device wasn't invented until 1816. A Scotsman by the name of Sir David Brewster had been conducting experiments on light polarization by successive reflections between plates of glass. Based on common laws of light and physics, Brewster discovered that by arranging the mirrors at angles along with objects to be reflected, the viewer would see repeating circular designs, none of which are ever replicated no matter how often the tube is turned. He thought his "discovery" would be great help to the "ornamental arts,"as a device that creates an "infinity of patterns". As he wrote when applying for his patent (which, by the way, he never received, "Artists could accurately delineate the produced figures of the kaleidoscope by means of the solar microscope." He also thought that it would become a popular instrument "for the purposes of rational amusement". And so it did. The Kaleidoscope became quite the craze during the Victorian era. But I digress. It became a favorite of mine when my sister received one for Christmas one year. I have never seen another one quite like it. If I did, I would probably buy it. While it came with sets of various small things that could be placed in a container that fitted the ended of the tube, the owner was encouraged to create their own sets of objects to be reflected. I remember spending hours adding different combinations of objects and then holding the tube to the light to see what patterns resulted. My favorite combinations, though, usually included small pieces of colored glass. Different combinations of dry pasta was interesting, too. So were coins mixed with other things like pasta and/or colored glass, even small flowers. Maybe it's a good thing that I don't own a kaleidoscope now. I would probably waste too much of the day playing around. And, anyway, I can create the look with some of my photographs. But the magic isn't exactly the same. Kaleidoscopes are special.

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