A kaleidoscope is, at its heart, a symmetry machine. Every kaleidoscope, from the simplest to the most complex, uses a prism of mirrors to generate symmetric patterns of light and color from asymmetric objects. It may be that the essential joy in looking into a kaleidoscope comes from the amazement of discovering symmetry in objects where none is expected.
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A kaleidoscope consists of a mirror system to create symmetry, a body (to protect the mirrors) and an objective (which introduces color and texture into the image seen through the mirror system). The number of mirrors (as well at the angles at which they meet) may vary (two- and three-mirror systems are most common) and thousands of objective designs are possible. Optical Wonders kaleidoscopes use objectives consisting of
•two wheels mounted on a shaft, producing patterns that do not repeat (because the wheels turn independently), or
•a cylinder mounted on a shaft perpendicular to the mirrors, resulting in a three-dimensional image, or
•a chamber with tumbling glass and metal objects, producing the ultimate in randomness of image.
T he kaleidoscope was patented in Scotland in 1816 by Sir David Brewster (1781 - 1868), and reached its peak of popularity during the Victorian era. Kaleidoscopes of that time were often made by professional optical instrument makers and were of very high quality. They could often be found in Victorian parlors, intended as objects of amusement for adults. During most of the twentieth century, kaleidoscopes were relegated to the status of toys, so that many people today regard them as only for children. But in the last several years, the creation of quality kaleidoscopes has enjoyed a resurgence.
A nyone who picks up a carefully made kaleidoscope, old or new, and spends the time to view the world through it, will find it a universally appealing experience.