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Nekes Collection of Optical Devices, Prints, and Games
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Biographical / Historical Note
  • Administrative Information
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Nekes Collection of Optical Devices, Prints, and Games
    Date (inclusive): 1700-1996 (bulk 1740-1920)
    Number: 93.R.118
    Creator/Collector: Nekes, Werner, 1944-
    Physical Description: 45 Linear Feet (75 boxes, 1 flat file folder)
    The Getty Research Institute
    Special Collections
    1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100
    Los Angeles 90049-1688
    URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10020/askref
    (310) 440-7390
    Abstract: German filmmaker. The collection charts the nature of visual perception in modern European culture at a time when pre-cinema objects evolved from instruments of natural magic to devices for entertainment. Most of the items date from the mid-18th century to the early 20th century.
    Request Materials: Request access to the physical materials described in this inventory through the catalog record   for this collection. Click here for the access policy .
    Language: Collection material is in French, German and English.

    Biographical / Historical Note

    Already a collector in his early childhood, Werner Nekes turned his interest to film and cinema history when he reached his twenties. While he was a student of linguistic philology and psychology in Freiburg and Bonn in the mid-1960s he worked on his first film. Between 1969 and 1972 he taught at the Academy of Visual Arts in Hamburg.
    While doing research for an article on thaumatropes, he began to collect devices, prints, and books related to pre-cinema technologies and entertainment. Ten years later, when he finally found an original set of thaumatropes in Cologne, he had assembled a broad range of material concerning anamorphosis, panoramas, camera obscuras, peepshows, metamorphosis, shadowgraphy, and optical illusions along with a supporting library.
    In the early 1980s he taught first as visiting professor at Wuppertal and later at the Academy of Art and Design in Offenbach. Some years later he worked as a consultant for the pre-cinema galleries of the Deutsches Film Museum in Frankfurt and co-founded the North Rhine-Westfalia film office, as well as the International Center for New Cinema in Riga.
    In this period he also designed and installed a room-sized walk-through camera obscura in a former Wasserturm, which had been turned into a museum in Mülheim a. d. Ruhr. In 1992, in the same museum, he exhibited his pre-cinema collection in the exhibition Von der Camera Obscura zum Film. In 1993 he organized the exhibition Schattenprojektionen and directed the Internationales Schatten-theaterfestival in Oberhausen.
    Since 1965 Nekes has directed more than 70 films (see his filmography in Appendix 1) including a series of documentaries that demonstrate how early optical devices, prints, and other objects contributed to the development of popular entertainment as well as to the evolution of cinema technologies. In these documentaries (available in the Getty Research Library on videotape) he used the material from his own collection, a portion of which was acquired by the Getty Research Institute in 1993.

    Administrative Information


    Open for use by qualified researchers.

    Publication Rights

    Preferred Citation

    Nekes collection of optical devices, prints, and games, 1700-1996, bulk 1740-1920, Research Library, The Getty Research Institute, Accession no. 93.R.118

    Acquisition Information

    This collection, acquired in 1993, is a portion of the larger collection of optical devices, prints and games assembled by the German experimental filmmaker Werner Nekes.

    Processing History

    The collection was initially rehoused by Hillary Brown. In 1995-1997 it was processed and cataloged by Isotta Poggi. The collection was re-boxed by Alan Tomlinson in April 1999. The finding aid was edited by Jocelyn Gibbs in 1998-99. A large portion of the collection was included in the exhibition Devices of Wonder: From the World in a Box to Images on a Screen, 2000 at the J. Paul Getty Museum.

    Digitized Material

    Biedermeier cards in Series II.A. were digitized in August 2017. Click here to view digitized material: http://hdl.handle.net/10020/93r118b10 

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The Nekes collection of optical devices, prints, and games charts the nature of visual perception in modern West European culture and the rise of popular artifacts which used movement and tricks of visual perception to amuse and astonish. The items date from circa 1700 to the early 20th century, with the bulk dating from the mid-18th century to the early 20th century. The collection contains rare items such as a French camera obscura, circa 1750, as well as popular images, such as 19th-century magic lantern slides, paper silhouettes and greeting cards with moving parts. Other items include an 18th-century peepshow, peepshow prints, over 100 megalographs, a camera lucida, a Lorrain mirror, a zograscope, anamorphosis watercolors accompanied by a cone viewer, and circa 20 collapsible Engelbrecht perspective theatres.

    Arrangement note

    Arranged in three series: Series I. Prints, circa 1700-1996; Series II. Cards and small printed items, circa 1750-1980; Series III. Artifacts, 1700- circa 1980

    Indexing Terms

    Subjects - Topics

    Animation (Cinematography) -- Instruments.
    Drawing instruments
    Optical instruments
    Popular culture -- Europe

    Subjects - Titles

    Optical devices collection (Getty Research Institute) Prints collection (Getty Research Institute)

    Genres and Forms of Material

    Engravings -- Europe -- 19th century
    Engravings -- Europe -- 18th century
    Magic lanterns
    Lantern slides
    Flip books
    Optical illusions
    Optical toys -- 1700-1900
    Montages -- 1700-1900
    Miniature theaters
    Advertising cards -- 1800-1900
    Camera obscuras
    Card games -- 1700-1900
    Camera lucidas
    Educational toys
    Physionotrace works
    Cast shadows
    Educational games
    Stereoscopic photographs
    Prints -- Europe -- 18th century
    Prints -- Europe -- 19th century
    Vues d'optique
    Stereoscopes -- 1700-1900


    Spooner, William, active 1831-1854
    Riley Brothers, Ltd.
    Nekes, Werner, 1944-
    Shénan, J. E.
    S. W. Fores (Firm)
    Imagerie Pellerin (Épinal, France)
    Hogarth, William, 1697-1764
    Liebig's Extract of Meat Company
    L. Saussine (Firm)
    Campe, Friedrich, 1777-1846
    Boilly, Louis, 1761-1845