What was this optical apparatus called?

This apparatus entered Iran about 120 years ago (in 1900) after the king of that time had a visit from an exhibition in France.

It was used for showing pictures (non-motion ones) and had some round outlets through which the observer could watch the pictures. Its intended use was entertaining, especially the kids.

When the kids heard the call of the apparatus-man, they ran happily towards him, circled around him and stood in line eagerly to watch the pictures after paying some small amount of money.

The pictures could be photos from European cities, famous actors and actresses, different animals, etc. While the observer was watching through the outlet, the apparatus-man explained each picture in an exciting manner and mesmerized the observer by his stories, so they wished they could visit those places some day in the future.


Later, other personal devices were invented like the "View-Master" which were somehow a modern version of that apparatus.


The device had two handles on its top and the showman could go to another pictures by turning/ twisting those handles. The pictures were different yet had the same theme (for example; there were all photos from different beautiful landscapes in Paris). The showman explained each picture and then went to another one.

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This is a drawing of the inside part of that device according to definitions I found in Persian websites. Sorry for my bad drawing.

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  • 6
    If you're on Chrome, simply right-click on these images and select "Search Google for image". I get results like "peep show", "raree-show"
    – NVZ
    Apr 27, 2016 at 19:28
  • 2
    Devices like "ViewMasters" are generically known as "stereoscopes", but I hesitate to post that as an answer because your images have three eyepieces (or ocular lenses), which tells me there's something more going on.
    – Dan Bron
    Apr 27, 2016 at 19:28
  • @NVZ, I didn't know that Chrome has this option.:) I use iPad, I couldn't find that option " search google for images" ( I use safari).
    – Soudabeh
    Apr 27, 2016 at 19:43
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    @DanBron - I agree with your comment: It might be a kinetoscope, even if most kinetoscopes seem to have eyepieces on the top rather than on the front.
    – Graffito
    Apr 27, 2016 at 19:52
  • 2
    @Soudabeh If three people can use the three eyepieces independently, then the device is definitively not a stereoscope.
    – Dan Bron
    Apr 27, 2016 at 20:06

2 Answers 2


Wikipedia page, linked here, shows a list of images related to peep-show (also known as peep box, raree show, or Perspective View). All images (except the sketch) tagged in the question can be seen in this link.


  1. a display of objects or pictures viewed through a small opening that is usually fitted with a magnifying lens.

  2. a short, usually erotic or titillating film shown in a coin-operated viewing machine equipped with a projector.

So there's a high chance that people will take it to mean the second definition.

Peep-show on Wikipedia:

A peep show or peepshow is an exhibition of pictures, objects or people viewed through a small hole or magnifying glass. Though historically a peep show was a form of entertainment provided by wandering showmen, nowadays it more commonly refers to a presentation of a sex show or pornographic film which is viewed through a viewing slot.

Your linked first image is seen in the Wikipedia article I linked. It's captioned "Peep show in Golestan Palace"


It may also be called a raree-show, which doesn't come with the negative connotation usually.

In those days both "peep show" and "raree show" were used to mean the same device without it necessarily implying a porn-related meaning.

a small display or scene viewed in a box : peep show; broadly : an unusual or amazing show or spectacle

Your second image is actually from a book cover. "Refashioning Iran - Orientalism, Occidentalism and Historiography. Author: Tavakoli-Targhi M.

So, it was called "peepshow", but now it has a negative connotation, so better to call it "raree-show" now.

  • 2
    Thanks for your answer, @NVZ. If I use "peep-show" while I'm speaking about this apparatus to a foreigner, wouldn't they think that it is used for pronography? Actually, a number of this apparatus has been again located in some famous places in Tehran to revive the old memories for people. Many tourists visit them too. :)
    – Soudabeh
    Apr 27, 2016 at 19:38
  • Please see this, @NVZ. brightbytes.com/collection/peeps1.html. It seems that it was really called "Peepshow" in that time without negative connotation. :) –
    – Soudabeh
    Apr 28, 2016 at 4:29
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    @Soudabeh I don't understand why this got so many downvotes.
    – NVZ
    Apr 28, 2016 at 5:03
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    @Soudabeh Because I cannot change the name of an old device. It was mainly called a peep-show, as my google search suggests. An alternative name to avoid the negative connotation was raree-show. And haven't I explained it as well? I don't understand some people and their random down votes.
    – NVZ
    Apr 28, 2016 at 5:16
  • 3
    Someone is provoking mass-downvoting. I chose to simply delete my answer rather than join in the melee.
    – Hot Licks
    Apr 28, 2016 at 11:52

I might call it a praxinoscope, although the Farsi term seems to be shahr-e farang. In Hindi the word sandook is used.

From the description and historical timing, it would seem to be some kind of pre-film animation device - see Precursors of Film :: Modern Era on Wikipedia. Look at praxinoscope and zoetrope as well.

The praxinoscope represents a refinement on the zoetrope. The slits are replaced by a set of mirrors that spin in the center of the drum. (the animation book, Kit Laybourne, 1998)

The praxinoscope functions by using rotating mirrors to give the illusion of movement, and the shahr-e farang is an adaptation of that technique.

The praxinoscope is one of several different types of pre-film animation devices involving rotational drums or disks to give the illusion of motion. "Peep shows" and "magic lanterns" of various types predate this specific era, and you've specified that the apparatus came to the King from an exhibition in France, and the presence of the lenses indicates a newer invention; the discovery of the theory of persistence of vision/the thaumatrope in 1824 led to a number of rotational animation devices in the 1930s, including

Strobostrope (Austria)

Phenakistoscope (Belgium)

Zoetrope (Britain)

and following that

"...in 1832 Joseph Plateau created the Anorthoscope and Phenakistiscope; in 1833 Simon Stampler developed the Stroboscope; in 1853, Franz von Uchatius invented the Kinetiscope [sic] which projected moving drawings; in 1861 Samuel Goodale patented a hand-turned stereoscope device which rapidly moves stereo images past a viewer;[8] and in the same year Coleman Sellers II built the Kinematoscope - a series of stereoscopic pictures on glass plates, linked together in a chain, and mounted in a box."

In common usage, I have heard zoetrope used to reference rotational animation devices in general, even though they don't all function the way a "true" zoetrope does.

This design project documented in the Cairo Observer seems to have the best description I can find of the way traditional shahr-e farang function, though therein and elsewhere they are referred to as alternately "peep boxes", "peep show boxes", and "sandook".

  • I meant to point out that "kinetoscope" technically refers to a film device, which would not have been invented for two more decades. Apr 28, 2016 at 8:29
  • Also, technically, stereoscopes use the difference in vision angle between the viewer's two eyes to create illusions of spatial depth. Since the device doesn't have two lenses next to one another, it isn't operating on the same optical principle, and thus is most likely to be a zoetrope or similar device, for reasons stated above. Apr 28, 2016 at 8:41
  • Thanks for your answer, @Gregory Allen. I asked my father, he told that about 12 separate pictures were shown by that apparatus. The theme was the same but the pictures were different ( Such as pictures from beutiful landscapes in France or Iran). The showman explained each picture and then went to another one. Any idea now?
    – Soudabeh
    Apr 28, 2016 at 9:26
  • Yes. It seems that the term is "shahr-e farang" in Persian. It seems to be a type of stereoscope, honestly. The Persian wikipedia lists it as [fa.wikipedia.org/wiki/…. I seem to be finding references as "peep box" or "stereoscope" in English in various places. Still a little unclear on usage whether "stereoscope" is technically correct, but it seems to be the best common usage. "Shahr-e farang" or "shahre farang" consistently comes up with the exact type of image viewer (slide viewer?) you have described. Apr 28, 2016 at 11:03
  • 1
    Excellent! I added some notes about "sandook" and why I believe it to be a form of praxinoscope. Apr 28, 2016 at 18:59

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