See how vintage Spirograph toys made it easy for anyone to draw amazing geometric designs

Vintage Spirograph designs

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About Spirograph, the now-classic toy that was introduced in 1967

The Spirograph makes it possible for everyone from kindergarten age up to create millions of colorful, highly intricate, geometrically perfect designs by an entirely new drawing technique. The art of Spirography is based on the interrelationships of various-sized gear tooth wheels, rings and racks.

The artist inserts a pen in any one of various holes in a selected gear wheel or rack and then moves that unit around the inside or outside of a ring held in a fixed position. The precise meshing of the gear teeth produces startlingly beautiful extraordinarily intricate designs in infinite variety. – From The Post-Crescent (Appleton, Wisconsin) November 26, 1967

See how vintage Spirograph toys helped everyone draw amazing geometric designs - 1967

Spirograph: The hot new toy of 1967

One of the most unusual of current Christmas gift offerings revolves around the new art of spirography.

Engineers have been working on the interrelationship of geared wheels since the age of Ptolemy, but Denys Fisher, a British electronic engineer, was the first to visualize the meshing of gear teeth as the basis for a new art form. His invention, the Spirograph, makes it possible for even kindergartners to create a multitude of colorful, geometrically perfect designs.

The Spirograph artist inserts a pen in any one of various holes in a selected gear wheel or rack and then moves the unit around, either the inside or the outside of one of the rings. The gear teeth control movement, so that even the very young artist can achieve complicated epicyclic curves and other unusual designs.

Vintage Kenner toys - Spirograph c1970

Spirograph: With a sophisticated toy, you can make a million striking designs — for practical use or just for fun (1967)

By Alden P Armagnac, Popular Science (September 1967)

Revolving gear wheels of an ingenious new drawing set, for children and grownups, too, enable you to make more than a million different ornamental designs. Since it’s done mechanically, no artistic talent is needed to create handsome decorations in black and white or colors — ranging from simple figures to fantastically intricate patterns.

Vintage Spirograph box cover from 1969

Called the Spirograph, the sophisticated toy is more than a plaything. You can apply its designs to homemade lampshades, Christmas cards, and outlines for embroidery.

Professionals have actually used the Spirograph to design fabrics for dresses, patterns for plates, and ornaments used in printing. But for most people, it will be enough to enjoy the fun of making the designs that the set produces in fascinating, endless variety.

It works like this. You put the tip of a ball-point pen through a hole in a little plastic gear wheel. Then, with the pen, you roll the wheel around the inside of a plastic gear ring that you’ve fastened with pushpins to a sheet of paper on a baseboard.

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1967 Spirograph toy designs

Magically, as the wheel turns, the pen traces ornate curlicues. Sooner or later it returns to its starting point, completing a perfectly symmetrical figure — perhaps an oval, a star, a ring of interweaving lines, or a flowerlike design with 12 to 105 petals.

Roll the wheel around the outside of a ring or a gear rack, and you get other figures. To make still more, a ring itself (which has pen holes, too) can be rolled around a wheel, another ring, or a rack. Including these, the set’s designs range in overall size from less than half an inch to more than a foot.

How Spirograph works

A Spirograph set provides two gear rings, two gear racks, and 18 gear wheels of varying size; four ball-point pens (black, green, red, blue); drawing paper, baseboard, pins; instructions, and illustrated samples of designs.

Vintage Spirograph comic strip ad from 60s 70s

Designs change with gears. Each ring-and-wheel choice yields a different kind of figure. In the set’s 96-tooth ring, its 32-tooth wheel makes a design with three “points” or prominences; its 50-tooth wheel, one with 48 points. To vary a figure’s size and shape further, each gear wheel gives a choice of spirally arranged holes in which to insert the pen.

Thus the set will make thousands of different basic or continuous figures, which can be drawn from start to finish without lifting pen from paper. But that’s only a beginning.

Built-up patterns and elaborate composite patterns may be built up by combining as many as dozens of the basic figures in many ways.

For example, a figure — say, an elongated oval — may be drawn repeatedly at different angles, starting a notch or two farther around the ring each time. Variations of a figure may be superimposed, by using successive holes in the same gear wheel and positioning each start at the same angle, or at a progressively advancing one.

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Vintage Spirograph toy ad from 1970

Wholly different figures may be combined with pleasing effect — for instance, the seven-pointed ones that can be made with four different wheels. Counting all these combinations, the number of possible patterns must far exceed the maker’s conservative claim of one million. Probably a confirmed Spirograph addict could spend the rest of his life happily doodling designs without ever repeating himself.

While most figures are delicate traceries of fine lines, bold bands of solid black or color may be drawn, too. In some figures, lines crisscross so closely as to merge into a ring-shaped stripe. Bands of other shapes result if, instead of tacking down a ring, you rock it gradually by hand along a tacked-down rack while making a design.

1967 Spirograph toy

Except for this one touch of freehand, all designs are mechanically made and, therefore, reproducible. When a pattern especially takes your fancy, you can repeat it exactly–or try it over again in other colors.

Fun for math buffs, too. You needn’t have a bent for math to enjoy the Spirograph — but if you have, it will fascinate you all the more. 

From the gear ratio of any ring and wheel, a math buff can figure out how many points a design will have. And he can predict just how many times the wheel must roll around the ring to complete the figure — a help in telling when to change colors, so as to distribute them symmetrically in a multicolored design.

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Vintage Spirograph pattern guide

To mathematical pros, all the Spirograph’s basic figures are a kind they call trochoids. The combustion chamber of the promising new Wankel engine has the shape of a trochoid, resembling one made by rolling the 96-tooth Spirograph ring around the 72-tooth wheel. Naval architects have used trochoid curves to apportion ships’ displacement.

Spirograph toy is a new version of an old idea

Precision machines called rose engines have long served to engrave ornamental designs for paper money and engine-turned watch cases. Hand-cranked toy versions, with a moving pen, go back to the Victorian era.

But it remained for an English engineer, Denys Fisher, to devise the Spirograph’s simple gear-within-gear scheme, and take advantage of modern plastics to mold the gear wheels accurately and inexpensively.

First marketed in England, the Spirograph set was voted the “educational toy of the year.” Now, priced at about $4, it is being introduced by Kenner Products Co., Cincinnati, in U.S. stores, and Americans will have their chance to use it or play with it.

Vintage Spirograph toy box cover

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Get Spiromania! Retro TV commercial from 1973

“Groovy designs – super designs – you make them all with Spirograph… get the fever – the fabulous fever of Spiromania!”

YouTube video

16 design examples & instructions from the Spirograph booklet

Fascinating fun for everyone. No limit to the designs you can make. You hold the pen and actually draw the patterns.

Spirograph wheels, rings and racks mesh perfectly. Use different combinations to make beautiful designs shown in the full-color Spirograph booklet or make your own. An educational, award-winning toy. As advertised on TV!

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