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This Victorian Trade Card is believed to be the first colour lithograph illustration showing the concept of television.

Entitled: 'Concerts and Opera at Home' the card shows people with individual receivers listening to a live concert with what appears to be a lens projecting an image onto the wall. This is clearly an illustration of the simultaneous transmission of both picture and sound, the likes of which would not become a reality until some 100 years later.

The card is from a series which depicted future technological developments as imagined at the time called 'One Hundred Years Hence' — a title which would seem to make this particular illustration all the more remarkable. Such trade cards were used from the mid 1870s until the end of the nineteenth century as a form of product advertising. They usually came in vivid colours, with interesting or humorous illustrations on one side, and merchant and product information on the other.

Earlier prophetic black and white sketches were made by a French caricature artist called Albert Robida.

In 1869, Robida — a contemporary of Jules Verne — published an illustration depicting a man at home, reclining in an armchair watching a 'televised' performance of Faust.

In 1879 George du Maurier's cartoon entitled 'Edison's Telephonoscope' showing a mother and father watching an image upon their wall of their daughter playing tennis in Ceylon, appeared in 'Punch' magazine. The image also showed that they were able to speak to their daughter via telephone.

Although the cartoon of Edison's 'Telephonoscope' was purely speculative, the American inventor Thomas Alva Edison did however capture one of his assistants, Fred Ott, sneezing on camera, which was then copyrighted as 'Record of a Sneeze' on 7th January 1894 (click on the Edison movie for larger view).

But whilst scientists and photographers the world-over had been trying to invent the movies for years, television had its own definite requirements, and these were not the result of a single discovery, but of successive and independent developments.

On 25th August 1900 at the Paris Exposition, a set of trade cards entitled 'In the Year 2000' (En L'an 2000) were sold as souvenirs. At least 50 different cards have since been identified from the series, one of which entitled 'Correspondance Cinema-Phono-Telegraphique' depicts an invention of the 20th century which closely resembles television or some kind of video device.

Perhaps more significantly, at the very same Paris show, Mr Constantin Perskyi read a paper to the International Electrcity Congress in which he described a device called 'Television'. According to all known records, this was the first time the word had ever been used.

Another illustration by A. Robida from Scribner's Magazine, Vol. XVI, No. 2. August, 1894

©2009 Paul Pert

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