Tag Archives: slides

Digitization and Cyanotypes

Our Artist in Residence, Lawrence Malloy, is currently working on a project to digitize some (maybe all, but there are thousands) of our magic lantern slide collection. Using some of these images Lawrence is creating beautiful artwork inspired by the collection such as this stunning cyanotype print.


More or Lawrence’s work can be found here or follow him on twitter @lawrencemalloy

Hidden Histories: Junior Praestantia Lantern

Image - Junior Praestantia Lantern

Junior Praestantia Lantern
Photo by Esther Lie

A significant amount of work has been carried out recently on documenting and researching our magic lanterns and slide collections, and it therefore seemed appropriate to reflect this in the 2013 Hidden Histories display. While this Junior Praestantia Lantern might not be as visually interesting as some of the other lanterns in our collection, it demonstrates specific aspects of the history of these instruments and the heritage of the University.

Magic lanterns are considered a predecessor to the modern slide projector. They function by using a condenser lens to focus artificial light (e.g. candle light, limelight or later electric light) onto a glass slide, the light rays then passing through an objective lens system which projects an enlarged version of the slide’s image onto a screen or wall.

Image - Lens Arrangement in A Magic Lantern

Lens Arrangement in A Magic Lantern
Source: http://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/magiclantern/optics.html

The historical development of these instruments dates back to at least the 17th century, with the Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens often being cited as a key figure in their invention. The peak of their production was during the second-half of the nineteenth century. They provided a popular form of entertainment in both public and domestic settings. Combining slide projection with live narration, music and other special effects, magic lanternists delivered highly successful entertainment spectacles, including phantasmagoria (gathering of ghosts) shows. Slides could have moving parts, and the use of two lanterns in conjunction with pairs of slides could produce ‘dissolving’ (transforming) effects.

It was this ability to produce projection effects that in the days before moving film would have appeared miraculous to audiences that gave magic lanterns this moniker. In scientific or educational settings however it was more common to refer to them as optical lanterns, or simply lanterns. After the moving picture was introduced in the late nineteenth century the popularity of magic lanterns began to decline, but in educational settings their use continued for longer; we think that the use of magic lanterns continued in the Biology department at the University of Leeds until as late as the 1960s. They provided a convenient way of displaying images to a large audience. Ready-made educational slides featuring a wide range of topics could be ordered from catalogues, or lecturers could have them specially produced using images of their own work.

This particular lantern previously belonged to the collection of the Museum of the History of Education which used to exist at the University of Leeds. Before this it was used in lessons at Thornton School in Bradford. It was sold by the Riley Brothers, also of Bradford, who sold lanterns, slides and readings from the 1880s until 1914. The Riley Brothers also gave Bradford its first ever cinema performance on 6th April 1896, at the People’s Palace theatre, on the site where the National Media Museum now stands.

Praestantia Lantern Advert, Ashburton Guardian, 2nd May 1894

Praestantia Lantern Advert, Ashburton Guardian, 2nd May 1894

‘Praestantia’ is a Latin term used to denote superiority and excellence. While this lantern has previously been dated to 1914, models of this sort were available earlier than this, as evidenced by this newspaper advert from 1894. The advert also shows that it was targeted towards schools and churches, rather than professional entertainers or lecturers in larger educational establishments like Universities, who would use larger lanterns with more complex features.

Educators in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were growing increasingly interested in the value of sensory perception in aiding the process of obtaining and retaining knowledge, and the use of visual aids was common. In school classrooms, a popular way of incorporating these was to give each pupil a lantern slide and ask them to prepare a talk about it, which they delivered while the image was projected. This activity therefore also helped develop oral communication and presentation skills. It was also thought the element of fun provided by this hybrid of entertainment and education would be conducive to learning. This “school-room” method contrasted with the “lecture-room” method, where the slides served as accompanied the instructor’s lecture. In churches, lanterns were used during services or Sunday school classes, to display biblical stories and hymn lyrics, and to warn people of the dangers of various ‘immoral’ activities. They were also popular with travelling missionaries, who could use illustrations on lantern slides as a way of overcoming language barriers.

One of the main reservations schools and small institutions had about using lanterns was the cost involved, and this is addressed in the advertisement above, which emphasises low-prices and the ability to hire equipment or pay in monthly instalments. Other concerns included the need to train teachers how to use this new technology. However, as mentioned in a previous blog post, we think that the particularly successful use of lanterns by professors at the University of Leeds and its predecessor the Yorkshire College may have inspired primary and secondary schools in the area to take up the use of this educational tool with an unusually high level of enthusiasm.

Currently displayed alongside this lantern are two c.1880 rack and pinion turning slides by Newton & Co, London. These coloured slides would have been used to teach pupils and public audiences about phenomena such as the rising and setting of the sun. Turning the handle rotates one sheet of painted glass over the other, moving one part of the slide’s image in relation to the rest and allowing such phenomena to be demonstrated ‘in action’.

Newton & Co rack and pinion slide, c.1880

Newton & Co rack and pinion slide, c.1880
Digitised by Liz Stainforth


Anon. “How to Utilise the Magic Lantern; Some Valuable Hints for Teachers”, The Review of Reviews, May 1890, pg.404

Riley Brothers, “Advertisment: Improved Praestantia Lantern”, Ashburton Guardian, Volume XV, Issue 3268, 2nd May 1894, p.3

Greenacre, D., “Optical Systems in Magic Lanterns”, http://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/magiclantern/optics.html

Newton & Co, “New School Lanterns for Class-Work”, in Newton & Co, Catalogue of Lantern Slides Part II., London, 1906, p.901

Lucerna: The Magic Lantern Web Resource, “Organisation: Riley Brothers, slide manufacturer and dealer”, http://www.slides.uni-trier.de/organisation/index.php?id=1000433

San Diego State University, “Peabody Magic Lantern Collection, Online Presentation”, 2010, http://library.sdsu.edu/exhibits/2009/07/lanterns/index.shtml

Special Collections, J.B. Priestly Library, “The Joseph Riley Archive: Collection Description”, University of Bradford, 2008

University of Leeds Museum of the History of Education Catalogue

Visual Studies Workshop – Exhibition Monograph, “Travels in the Limelight: Projections of the World Through the Magic Lantern, 1880-1930”, in The Magic Lantern Bulletin, Vol. 8, No. 1, April, 1988, pp. 9-12 (http://library.sdsu.edu/pdf/scua/ML_Bulletin/MLBvol18no01.pdf)

Yorkshire Film Archive, “Film No. 3428, Bradford Town Hall Square. Context.”, http://www.yfaonline.com/sites/yorkshirefilmarchive.com/files/node_pdfs/node_7615_context.pdf

For a bibliography of further reading on the use of magic lanterns in education, see The Magic Lantern Bulletin, Vol. 8, No. 1, April, 1988, p. 7. (http://library.sdsu.edu/pdf/scua/ML_Bulletin/MLBvol18no01.pdf)

Further reading on the Riley Brothers:

Copeland, D.M., “Joseph, William, Herbert, Arnold and Bernard Riley”, Who’s Who of Victorian Cinema, http://www.victorian-cinema.net/riley, 2013

Gordon, C., By Gaslight in Winter: A Victorian family history through the magic lantern, London: Elm Tree, 1980

Further blog entries on our lanterns and slides:





Leeds a Leading Light in Lanterns?

The lanterns in the Museum’s collection date from the early 20th century, and were once used for teaching. It was thought that using visual aids would improve memory retention in students, and lanterns and slides provided a convenient way of producing images and displaying them to a large audience. In educational and scientific settings magic lanterns were more commonly referred to as ‘optical lanterns’.

More interesting still, a short article in the Review of Reviews (1890) reveals that Leeds may have been quite pioneering in its uptake of the magic lantern for use in lectures. The article, entitled ‘How to Utilise the Magic Lantern; Some Valuable Hints for to Teachers’, cites ‘The Optical Lantern as an Aid to Teaching’ by C.H. Bothamley, which gives details about the use of the lantern in classrooms at the Yorkshire College, now the University of Leeds. Bothamley refers to Professor Miall (then Professor of Biology), who promoted the use of the magic lantern for teaching students, and was able to demonstrate its successful use even in day-lit rooms. According to this article, “In the Yorkshire College almost every department has its lantern”, used to illustrate lectures on a range of “widely different subjects”. The educational slides in the Museum’s collection are representative of this variety, covering a wide range of topics, including the sciences, engineering, history, art, architecture, industries, geography and travel.

The optical lantern was of particular value to subjects such as biology and engineering because lectures on these subjects were highly dependent on illustrations. Furthermore, in science lectures, small specimens could be easily viewed by a large audience if they were projected using a lantern. Microscope attachments meant that even micro-organisms and microscopic structures could be seen. For example, in the Department of Textile Industries at the Yorkshire College, lanterns were used to display micro-photographs of fibres. Some specially designed scientific lanterns featured an open space in front of the condenser, so that live scientific experiments could be conducted and projected. There was also a second optical system that projected light upwards before projecting it forwards. This allowed specimens in flat dishes to be projected. Special ‘tank slides’ were used for displays requiring liquids, such as crystallised solutions, or to show creatures like tadpoles swimming in water.

The aforementioned Review of Reviews article states that “The example of Leeds has been followed on a smaller scale, but with very gratifying results, in several High Schools in the district” (Review of Reviews, 1890, p404). However, it is unclear if these examples are indicative of the wider use of lanterns in teaching primary and secondary level education. While the use of the magic lantern in school was much written about in education journals of the late nineteenth century, Elizabeth Foster has cited an article in The Teachers’ Aid that highlights “the lack of progress which was made in realising in schools the full potential of photography and projection”. Reasons given for this lack of progress include the conservatism of the teaching profession, the unwillingness of publishers and photographic firms to engage with the school market and the reluctance of teachers to embark on the necessary learning associated with the technology.

Nevertheless, the museum’s collection does contain some slides and equipment that once belonged to local secondary schools. The Carpenter & Westley astronomical slides, which were the subject of the ‘Shedding Light’ post, were used at Bradford Grammar School to teach pupils about planets and the solar system, and the Newton & Co. rack and pinion slides may have been used for similar purposes. These have now been digitised (see below) and we hope to eventually make them available throught the University’s Digital Library repository.

This post is adapted from an excerpt of the now completed magic lantern and slides object history files by Kiara White and Liz Stainforth.

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National Media Museum: Magic Lantern Research Trip

Tri-unial magic lantern, Source: http://www.nationalmediamuseum.org.uk

It was an illuminating start to the New Year for us. Continuing the project to find out more about our magic lantern and slide collections, we recently paid a visit to the National Media Museum in Bradford. After booking an appointment at the Insight Collections & Research Centre there, we were able to look at magic lanterns from Museum’s extensive collection, which included both British and European examples, as well as biunial and even triunial lanterns. These large professional models (see picture) would have been used in professional theatre shows, as the ability to quickly switch between lenses enabled the lanternist to move between slides seamlessly or to produce fading and dissolving effects. We also saw some of the biggest slides ever produced, constructed for lanterns at the Royal Polytechnic Institute in London, which had some of the most famous lantern shows in England during the nineteenth century. Sadly, the lanterns for these slides were probably destroyed so they can no longer be projected.

Newton & Co Catalogue of Lantern Slides

Newton & Co Catalogue of Lantern Slides

However, while incredibly interesting, these objects are slightly tangential to our project. We went principally to find out if there were any catalogues, company information or research sources relating to our lanterns, particularly the Riley Brothers model, c. 1913 and a lantern by Newton & Co., c. 1905. The library at Insight holds various books on the history of magic lanterns, and so it is worth a visit for anyone wishing to do research in this area. And we did find further information relating to Newton & Co. lanterns, and the use of them in classroom teaching, which is interesting considering our lanterns’ background as part of the History of Education collection. As for the Riley Brothers, although they were a Bradford-based company, there was surprisingly little information relating to them at the museum, although we did learn that they were predominantly a distribution company. As such, Riley Brothers didn’t produce their own lanterns but would often add their logo to models manufactured by other companies. Perhaps this, in part, accounts for the lack of information available from catalogues and contemporary sources.

Most of the lanterns and slides held by the National Media Museum were donated by the Kodak Museum which was located in Harrow, London, between 1927 and 1985. While about 500 of the rarest or most fascinating slides – such as hand-painted mechanical slipping slides – are well-catalogued, this is not the case with the vast majority of the collection. They hold an estimated 10,000 slides which have not been catalogued by the Kodak Museum or the National Media Museum. Furthermore, it seems as though this is the case with most slide collections. Therefore, although the inventory we have been creating is basic, by the time we have completed it ours may be amongst the better documented collections in the country!

We were slightly disappointed to find no lantern slides on display in the main galleries. As we discussed with the Collections Manager Toni Booth, displaying lantern slides is of course dependent on having the right lighting, which is difficult to balance with conservation. But it has been done, and the possibilities for exhibiting slides from our collection is an avenue of research we would like to be pursued in the future.

By Liz Stainforth and Kiara White

Beneath the scratched surface of a glass-plate we see…


The word bewildering springs to mind when contemplating the variety of objects found among the numerous departmental collections around the University. The scope of subjects represented thus seems limited by imagination alone! However, one constant can be found among them all, for wherever the Museum goes it finds glass-plate magic lantern slides…in their thousands. Lift a stone, and you will find them there. Already the Museum has over three thousand of these glass-plate slides and easily double that amount could be collected again.


Bladderwort. Taken as a photographic hortus siccus

Recently the Museum provided a unique show and tell for the Light Night event at the Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery. Making use of our collection of magic lanterns, their glass-plate slides and many other connected objects from the collection, the event ran through the evening up until ten o’clock. It gave our Director Claire, and Taskforcer Liz Stainforth the chance to demonstrate how magic lanterns worked, their long history and how they were used for science teaching in the University. Liz and fellow Taskforcer Kiara White put all the exhibits and text together for the night, which proved a great success—bravo Liz and Kiara. The display materials and texts will live on as we plan to use them in the renewal of our permanent displays in and around the Philosophy Department. On the night everyone enjoyed the slides…evoking curiosity in all who saw them. Perhaps this is why there are so many to be found around the University, everybody likes then and so nobody likes to throw them away.

Claire and Liz busy during Light Night

So, of late much thought has been put to the subject of how best to use the extraordinary collections of glass-plate slides not just in the Museum but also across the campus. It’s anticipated that digitization will be a part of a final strategy but the vast number involved will undoubtedly prevent a complete digitization of the collections. Nonetheless, Claire tells me that the British Dental Association has had success in getting substantial funding for conservation and digitization of their glass-plate slide collection, so hope springs eternal. Liz, whose PhD tackles issues around the virtual and the real within the cultural sector, is well placed to guide the Museum towards an intelligent solution on this. Until then, the Museum has started digitization on a small voluntary scale, largely aimed at scoping out what might be involved in a more expansive project but also to start highlighting some of the treasures within.


The fleeting moment captured thus, speaks of a summer afternoon and the amateurish interests that motivate some scientists

The images featured here are some of that scoping project’s first results. They all come from a box of slides that once belonged to the nineteenth-century Quaker boys’ school at Bootham in York. Even among this general teaching collection, which we might reasonably expect to be of limited relevance to a HPS Museum, we find wonderful material and unexpected insights. Beyond the literal record, somewhere between the degrading wet-collodion, the corroded and scratched surfaces and the passage of time, the glass-plate slide reveals another more evocative characteristic. It seems that with some slides the endeavor to capture a subject literally—photographically—has instead recorded something perhaps closer to the imaginary than the literal. Where the irregularities of the chemicals used to develop a slide invoke emotive responses in the viewer, producing sometimes ghost-like and shadowy images, sometimes sun burnt and glaring. Where the blurred and fogged images suggest movement and passages in time. Where depth of field seems to bring into focus as much a thought or idea than a subject.


Removed from it’s ‘function’ and it’s ‘place’ the glass-plate slide speaks of aesthetics and the senses.

I can  understand perfectly why on Light Night people were drawn to the curious slides illuminated on the Museum’s light box. Perhaps it was this other characteristic at play, surprising the viewer, catching them off-guard, holding the eye longer than usual. Perhaps it is this that constitutes the magic in the lantern slides. Certainly for me, slides such as ‘Young Blue Tit’ do so much more than depict ornithological subjects! They speak of a time, even an afternoon, like they speak of the preoccupations of those that took them. Similarly, the remarkably beautiful abstractions found among the botanical subjects seem communicate a message so subtly and intimately to the eye that we almost believe these are our own memories and ideas.

Beneath the scratched surface of a glass-plate we see…the magic caught on a lantern slide.