Magic Lantern
Slide Show

Glass lantern slides, projected by magic lantern projectors, created a public sensation at the 1851 world's fair in London's Crystal Palace. By the turn of the century, lantern slides had found lucrative markets in advertising, religious and science education, children's toys, and popular entertainment. On rooftops, advertisements projected onto giant screens attracted the attention of passing pedestrians. In classrooms, lecture theatres, church halls, and missions at home and abroad, slide-illustrated sermons and lectures played to spellbound audiences.

Lantern slides ran the gamut from simple monochrome or hand-coloured photographic and hand-painted images, to mechanical slides which were manipulated by projectionists to animate the scene. Viewers sat entranced as donkeys bucked their riders into the mud, ocean steamers pitched on moving waves, and moving kaleidoscopes of colour filled the screen.

Sources of illumination were as varied as the slides, and ranged from low-powered candles, oil and kerosene lamps, to gaslight, acetylene, limelight, and the brilliant but hazardous carbon arc lighting. By the time incandescent electric light came to dominate the lantern scene in the early decades of this century, motion pictures were making steady inroads in the popular entertainment field. By the 1930s, compact 35mm slides became common, and fragile glass lantern slides lost still more ground. By the 1950s they were almost completely obsolete.


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