In a later treatise, the scientist even considered the ways in which artists or designers might employ his invention. By that point, Brewster had created a telescopic variation of the kaleidoscope capped with a clear lens that allowed viewers to isolate a particular object in their environment and tessellate it. At a time when everything was produced by hand, Correia noted, Brewster believed his design could be an invaluable aid in rapidly replicating an image. (Correia personally found, however, that using the kaleidoscope is slower than repeating images by hand—perhaps the reason that Brewster’s suggestion never took off among artists.)
Although the kaleidoscope craze eventually faded, the object itself never disappeared. “One of the things that’s really striking about the history of the kaleidoscope is that it’s the only device of its kind that’s still in constant production,” noted Groth. What has (mostly) disappeared are the precise scientific instruments that Brewster intended when he patented the design in 1817. The kaleidoscopes we typically encounter today are more akin to the knock-offs, made from cardboard and meant as nothing more than childrens’ toys (though a niche group of craftspeople and collectors, under the auspices of the Brewster Kaleidoscope Society, keep the luxury market alive).
But the kaleidoscopes of Brewster’s own hand can still be found, preserved in glass cases at museums. “They’re so high-quality and so beautifully made, by instrument-makers rather than toymakers,” Groth noted. “When you put the lenses on and turn them, they’re exquisite still.”