- A wonderful magic lantern
Before DVDs and VHS and 8mm film, and fragile – nay, potentially EXPLOSIVE – 35mm nitrocellulose film, there were hand-painted glass slides and the magic lantern.
This lensed ‘projector’ of images shone a beam of light – provided by candles, gaslight or even electricity, through a slide, then a lens, and threw an image against a white painted wall or even a sheet. The magic lantern was first devised in a crude form in the 17th century, but it’s heyday came in the Victorian Era. They were used by churches to give moral or religious instruction, by political speakers to influence audiences, and by itinerant projectionists to entertain. Well-to-do households used sets of slides and a magic lantern in the same way as today you are asked to sit through a video of the lastest holiday in Spain or Turkey.
Although magic laterns lingered on until the start of WW2 in rural areas (some of the last ones even offering stereoscopic images), they quickly disappeared whenever cinemas appeared on the scene. The few examples of magic lanterns that still exist are real collector’s items, and are pieces of pure sculpture in polished brass and carved wood. This one is at Beamish Open Air Museum in Northumberland.