Gifs before gifs

We all love gifs - those highly entertaining movable feasts that are so popular on Tumblr. Here is one, but it has a history that predates the internet. You are looking at a gif of a phenakistiscope, a 19th-century revolving paper disk imprinted with a series of drawings, which was spun so as to produce a moving image. The device was invented around 1840 by Joseph Plateau. Dancing couples, jumping monkeys, acrobats, and figures jumping into the mouths of lions: Plateau’s stroboscopic disks produced highly entertaining mini-movies, like our modern gifs, be it over a century and a half before animation films were first made. When we look at a gif on Tumblr, let’s remember that the technique of producing such moving images made up from a small batch of individual pictures dates back to a pre-digital world - to the days before movies, photography and digital cameras.

Gif: this is the source of the 21st-century gif of a 19th-century phenakistiscope presented above. Check out some (real moving) examples here, here, here and here.