Megalethoscope, ca. 1870

Value (2005) | $4,000 Auction$6,000 Auction

Now, we know from the inside of the cover of the piece that it's a megalethoscope. You have some family history with this piece. Can you tell us about that?

My father left it to us from his father. My grandfather, Giuseppe, came over, uh, late 1880s, so it's been in the family since then. But it was put away since maybe the Depression. Because he died in 1926, and then just about three years ago, before my father passed away, he opened it up. It was in our cellar for years. It was a "do not touch, do not look at" thing, you know. And then he showed it to me, and I was just amazed at, you know, what they had way back then. And that was the first time I saw it all those years.

In the mid-19th century, when photography was very new, it boomed quite quickly, and soon it went from being a small industry to a very large industry. And people could have photographs of their relatives and of famous places, and they could have huge collections of photographs. So inventors kind of scrambled for different ways for people to view these. And this is really the Cadillac of viewers.


It was invented by Ponti, circa 1870 or so, 1866. And it's in this incredible walnut case. And what it does, it takes albumen photographs, large-format albumen photographs, photographs that are specially treated, that light can pass through them, and then even pinholes are put into the backs of them... As well as, there's a coloring added to many of them to give special effects when lights pass through them. The viewer allows you to look from this end, and when you place the photo in, you can either look at it (if it's backlit) a night view, or if it's daytime, we can open these hatches.


So it's really an attempt to put you in the scene, both in day and night. It's quite a contrast. And the viewer itself had other different whistles and bells that allowed for partial rotation, it allowed for different kinds of focusing mechanisms. It was quite a complex viewer. Many of them were sold with an original table that it would be set on. And then the light, of course, would have been, at the 19th century, would have been a kerosene lamp. It's got a few condition problems. The back needs to be replaced, but otherwise it's still there. It could be brought back to life. But a viewer like this in the current market, we're talking $4,000 to $6,000.

Uh-huh. Wow.

So it's a fantastic piece and really rare. The individual photographs you can find, but the viewer is extremely rare and it's a great thing, and I'm delighted that you brought it here for us.

Okay, you're welcome. Glad I brought it.

Appraisal Details

Gary Piattoni, Inc.
Evanston, IL
Appraised value (2005)
$4,000 Auction$6,000 Auction
Providence, RI (June 18, 2005)
19th Century
Metal, Walnut, Wood

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