Peep Egg Viewer
| How it works | What
became of it
Sources | Back
to Optical Toys
Peep egg viewers, also called alabaster eggs, were hand
viewers used primarily as
souvenirs near the turn of the century. They are slightly larger than regular
chicken eggs, which is likely why they were called peep eggs.
The peep egg is related to the peep show.
Looking through a peep egg was an activity only single persons
could enjoy, but large crowds of people would often show up to see
a peep show. Peep shows traveled from town to town, and were
one of the most popular forms of entertainment available. These shows were often
made up of little more than a room
with three walls, and a fourth wall with a small hole in it.
People would line up in front of the hole and wait their turn to
peep through it; on the other side would be a scene of something
fanciful and imaginative.
How it works:
The peep egg is only a viewer; it does not create
any illusions of motion. There is a lens at top that
slightly magnifies an image painted onto a small piece of
translucent alabaster stone. Light goes through the stone
from the bottom end to illuminate the picture; if one covered the
bottom end with a hand, nothing but darkness would be seen.
Some peep eggs have two or three different images that can be
displayed by turning a small lever or handle.
What became of it:
The peep egg was quite popular from the turn of
the century to the early 1900s, but the peep show had been around
from the 17th century until then. They both operated on the
same principle--looking into something to see a fanciful imaginary
or real, hand-painted image. The difference was in the
number of people who were peeping at once. Peep eggs were to
the peep show as television is to a theatre. When peep eggs
were invented, people could take the peep show home with them.
When the peep show began to lose popularity around
the turn of the century, the peep egg became a souvenir item in
many places. The image printed on the alabaster stone would
often be a picture of a famous location in a particular city or
Interview with Dr. Ralph Wileman, July 24, 2000