Published 31st May 2019
If you were to guess at which genre of entertainer the highest paid performer in the theatre was in the 19th century, the answer might be a surprising one.
Even at the height of variety and vaudeville in the Victorian period it was not the comedians or singers that people flocked to see; instead the highest paid and most popular performer was the Magic Lantern projectionist.
Looking at lantern slides, it is easy to understand the fascination with Magic Lanterns. A skilled projectionist could take a set of two slides and magically transform a scene from day to night. Similarly, with the use of simple slipping or lever slides, they could produce the first forms of animation. Even more complex mechanical slides can produce staggering effects that are equally as captivating now as they were more than 100 years ago.
Collectors of lantern slides are eager to obtain finely produced examples by such makers as Carpenter & Westley. With the recent discovery of Sir Franklin's lost ships, HMS Terror and HMS Erebus, polar exploration related items have increased in value. An example of these highly prized magic lantern slides is a set of six exploration slides by EG Wood that depict the mysterious undiscovered Polar Regions, which very few people would have seen in the 19th century.
Many lantern slides were produced with wonderful colours and images and it is known that several Royal Academy Artists were employed by manufacturers to paint scenes in oil on glass for slides, though most frustratingly they did not sign their work!
Collectors from Magic Lantern Societies worldwide are always eager to obtain some truly magical examples with the rarest subject and highest quality slides selling for several thousand pounds at auction.
Magic Lanterns was written on Friday, 31st May 2019.