Magic Lantern Slides
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Pictures Before Movies

Thrilling Images of Life Around The World

General CusterIn the days before black and white movies, magic lantern slides were popular as shows in the towns and villages of the new and old worlds. The images projected unto a large screen or hung sheet presented a fascinating view of life around the Victorian world. Audiences thrilled to see the slides of British or American soldiers (like the famous General Custer before the Battle of Little Big Horn) or of the fighting against the Boers in South Africa. They were amazed at the bushmen from Borneo or strange looking animals in Australia.

Hand Painted Slides

Spencer on Camel in EgyptSome of the lantern slides were painted by hand to add color to what was then a very drab and hard life in the frontier farming towns and villages. This form of entertainment was quickly overtaken by black and white silent pictures and then sound movies. Lantern slides owed their existence to the photographic pioneers of the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.✞

Daguerreotypes and Tintypes

USA Lantern SlideThe earliest popular form from 1839 were known as daguerreotypes which were made on polished copper plates. Thousands of photo shops sprang up to provide portraits and family pictures using this process. This was followed by a less expensive method of capturing an image on tin plates called tintypes and later glass plate negatives called ambrotypes backed with black paint, paper or cloth to give a positive image.✞

English and American Sized Slides

Japan EmperorThere were two sizes of magic lantern slides commonly used and two types of projectors lit by oil and later electricity. The English version used three and one quarter inch square plates and the American five inch by three and a quarter inch format. The P. L. Spencer Collection, like the one above of the Emperor of Japan, is of the English type and size and includes many hand colored as well as black and white images of exceptional quality. There are 2,300 magic lantern slides in the P. L. Spencer Collection.

"Magic Lantern Slides"
by Ron Meacock © 2017

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