Academy Museum Lands Huge Collection of Optical Devices From Before Movies Existed

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The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures has acquired one of the world’s largest and most comprehensive collections of optical prints, toys and devices that predate motion pictures, the Academy announced on Tuesday.

The Richard Balzer Collection, which consists of more than 9,000 items related to image display, was assembled over more than 40 years by Balzer, an author, documentary photographer and consulting firm CEO who died in 2017. His collection was donated to the Academy Museum and the Academy’s Margaret Herrick Library by his wife, Patricia S. Bellinger, who joined the Academy Museum’s Board of Trustees in early 2020.

In a press release announcing the donation, the Academy Museum said that the collection includes “magic lanterns, magic lantern glass slides, prints, praxinoscopes, figurines, paintings, peepshows, shadow puppets and theaters and more, dating as far back as China’s Ming Dynasty.”

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The materials will be used as the basis for one of the museum’s inaugural exhibitions, “The Path to Cinema: Highlights From the Richard Balzer Collection.” When the museum opens in April 2021, the exhibition will be housed in the Special Collections Gallery on the third floor of the museum’s Saban Building.

“The magic of the movies begins with a sense of wonder at seeing still images come to life,” exhibitions curator Jessica Niebel said in a statement. “No one was more dedicated than the late Richard Balzer to the marvelous history of pre-cinema.”

In addition to the praxinoscope with animation strips pictured above, here are additional items from the Richard Balzer Collection:

animation disc for Living Pictures Optical Illusion Phenakistiscope
animation disc for Living Pictures Optical Illusion Phenakistiscope

Animation Disc for Living Pictures Optical Illusion Phenakistiscope, Lebende Bilder, Print on paper with hand coloring, c. 1840, Germany.

Casler-Lumiere Kinora and Reel
Casler-Lumiere Kinora and Reel

Casler-Lumiere Kinora and Reel, L. Gaumont et Cie. Wood, glass and metal with a photo reproduction on paper and metal reel, c. 1900, France.

Magic Lantern, Johann Falk
Magic Lantern, Johann Falk

Magic Lantern, Johann Falk, Steel, paint, transfer print on ceramic, brass and glass, 1895, Nuremberg, Germany.

Peacock Sciopticon
Peacock Sciopticon

Peacock Sciopticon, produced by the Pettibone Brothers Manufacturing Company, Metal on wood base, America c. 1895.

All images from the Richard Balzer Collection, gift of Patricia S. Bellinger. Photos by Joshua White/JW Pictures, © Academy Museum Foundation.

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