You might not know this, but back in the 1700s there was no iPhone, and therefore — shockingly– no Instagram. It may also surprise you to know that the English were once forward looking, inventive and curious as a nation, and so they came up with their own way to grungify the views they saw on vacation, and (probably) their breakfasts.
The gadget was called the The Claude Glass, and was actually invented by a Frenchman, Claude Lorrain, around a hundred years earlier. The Claude Glass was an oval-shaped convex mirror with a blackened reflective surface, and used to view the scene behind you over our shoulder. There was just one “filter,” which gave a pleasing, low-contrast rendering of the scene, and the convex glass drew in more of the scene, rendering it with something like a fisheye effect.
Like Instagram on the iPhone, the Claude Glass could only be viewed by a couple of people at a time. Sharing was also clearly an issue. Due to the inexplicable lack of Twitter back in the 19th century, you’d have to hire a painter to spend hours or days rendering the image, and then there would only be one copy. This is starting to make the iPad 1 look fast.
But what this really shows is that humans have been fascinated by manipulated images since forever. Also: rumors that Facebook is interested in a $1 billion acquisition of the Claude Glass are unfounded.
Tintern Abbey in the UK has a webcam pointed at its own Claude Glass 24/7, and you can see it in action here. I can’t tell you how much I love this marriage of 400-years-apart technology.