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In the 1660s, a man named Thomas Walgensten used his so-called “lantern of fear” to summon ghosts.
In the late eighteenth century several showmen used the lantern to produce horror shows. These were known as “Phantasmagoria” shows. A variety of horrific images were projected to frighten the audience, examples being ghosts projected on smoke to give a frightening appearance and images that would move around the walls. Often the projector was behind a translucent screen, out of the view of the audience. This greatly added to the mystery of the show.
The Magic Lantern, is it had become known in Victorian England, became a popular form of entertainment, well before the advent of the moving picture.
Over the period of a little more than 200 years the Magic Lantern developed from basic projectors such as the Sturm Lantern, capable of producing small, dimly lit images to the magnificent Triunials, manufactured by such firms as J H Steward, W Butcher and Son, or W C Hughes.
In the hands of a consummate showman these fabulous machines could produce huge, brightly coloured, wonderfully animated entertainments for hundreds of people.
In the 1870′s and 1880′s there was a full flowering of the lantern industry, companies such as Carpenter and Westley, Newton and Bamforth produced lanterns and slides for every occasion and location. In the 1880′s and 1890′s up to 28 firms were engaged in the production of lanterns and slides in London alone.
Slides where numbered and fitted into a set show of events, and often accompanied with stories and dialog designed to bring the ‘static’ images to life!
Poor pavement artists where often used to convey moral tales, and images of London screevers where shown across the country and abroad. These images where especially popular with the temperance movement who would demonstrate the woes of alcohol on the poor working man.
Photographs of pavement artists would also be popular in places like New York, where they were seen as being “exotic.”
Even with the arrival of the moving picture (Cinema) the Magic Lantern Show would remain popular until the 1930’s
The slides illustrated here where made of glass and measure approx. 3inch (8cm) square. They were often hand-coloured, and in the days of black and white photography, the sight of coloured, projected images would have been a real treat.
Researched by Philip Battle
Related blog: Magic lantern slide-Restored (2011)
Related blog: New acquisition–Magic lantern slide (1890)
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