Wednesday, November 25, 2020
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Magic Lantern

Magic Lantern

Magic Lanterns were popular at the end of the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th - before moving pictures displaced them in many contexts.

Buried deep in the bowels of the basement we found a huge number of magic lantern slides. These covered a wide variety of topics ranging from views (eclectic combination of Cathedrals of England, Norwegian scenery, Llandudno and Ireland) and stories.

Some subjects were serious:

HMS Highlander which sunk the German cruiser Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse

German Cruiser Kaiser Wilhem was in fact an ex passenger liner requisitioned for war service and outgunned by HMS Highflyer off the coast of West Africa in 1914. There is some dispute over whether it was actually sunk by Highflyer or scuttled by the Germans recognising their position - but in any case it went down 26 August 1916. Sorry that the reproduction here is probably not as good as it would look projected on a screen during the 'Great War'.

Other subjects were more domestic - though this picture titled 'Begonia in Doulton pot' would have benefited from colour.

Begonia in Doulton Pot

Before colour processing (like Technicolor) all that could be done for colour pictures was hand tinting black and white ones and then printing using the same systems are used for books. To be honest, I am not sure how this slide was produced but the effect would have been stunning on a big screen. It is titled 'Ireland, Meeting of the Waters'.

Tinted picture of river and bridge

Perhaps surprisingly, there were also adverts. I show below a couple of examples and an extract from the readings to go with Birds Custard slides.

Birds Custard Magic Lantern Slide  showing chickens looking a a Bird's Custard pack and a sign saying 'No eggs required' Sub title 'Indigation in the farm yard.

Cook's head with angel wings coming out of it and 'Birds Custard Powder' written on them

Readsongs for Magic Lantern Slides presented by Alfred Bird & Sons.. the following reading which form a humorous description of the the four subjects supplied by them. They respectfully ask that the description applying to each slide may be read out aloud whilst the picture is on the screen. A. B & S would suggest that the slides should not immediately follow one another, but that they would be more successful and acceptable if shown at intervals in the course of the entertainment.

'Farm-yard indigation' For some time past there has been a growing impression amongt the fowls that a marked falling-off had developed itself in the demand for Eggs.... [chickens discuss what the problem is] However, no satisfactory conclusion was arrived at, but... enraged fowls discoved that BIRDS CUSTARD POWDER was the real cause of the waning prosperity.' 'The cherub cook' represents the dream of a perplexed lady who, after exhausting he invettive resourses in the production of sweet dishes...[discovered Birds Custard Powder].'

It was not just Birds who advertised on screen (eat your heart out Pearl and Dean), Woodwards Gripe Water was also advertised.

Magic Lantern Slide with baby and slogan 'The Children's Remedy'

Woodwards dates back to the mid nineteenth century and at the time of this slide probably included 3.6% alcohol - stronger than some beers though taken in pretty small quantities.

Wearing a dust mask and glasses, it struck me that I was probably the first person to see these slides for 90 years or so.

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