Showing Ghosts Everywhere

October 31, 2019

We join others who have encountered J. H. Brown’s Spectropia, or, Surprising spectral illusions: Showing ghosts everywhere, and of any colour in wanting to share some of its images, and Halloween presents an apt opportunity.

Cover of Spectropia (1865).

Our copy is the “fourth edition first series,” as published in London by Griffith and Farran and in Brighton by H. & C. Treacher, 1865.

As the introduction explains, “The following Illusions are founded on two well-known facts: namely, the persistency of impressions, and the production of complementary colours, on the retina.” Specifically, the directions call for the reader/viewer to “look steadily at the dot, or asterisk … while counting to twenty,” then look at a “white sheet hung on the wall” of a room “not totally dark.”

From J. H. Brown, Spectropia (London and Brighton, 1865). Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Call number: CA 17874.

Illustrations of the “spectres” in our copy bear the attribution “Designed by J. H. Brown, and Published Dec. 19th.1863, by Griffith & Farran, St. Paul’s Church Yard, London.” Here are some samples:

Spectropia (1865), spectre V.
Spectropia (1865). Skeleton enrobed in purple, with staff..
Spectropia (1865), spectre XIII, witch in green and purple.

The Wellcome Library has made available a digitized version of this London edition of 1865. And an edition published the year before in New York and featuring similar plates but a different cover (as held in the Duke University library) has been digitized and made available through the HathiTrust Digital Library.