Magic Lanterns and Glass Slides

So much of our work at the IDHH is focused on photographs, but so often we overlook the history of photography in the 20th century- specifically how photographs and the camera became the way we documented our everyday life.

In celebration of the darkest time of the year and the lights of the winter holidays I want to highlight  lantern and glass slides from Mount Prospect Library’s “Dimensions of Life in Mount Prospect”, The Museum of the Grand Prairie through the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s “Teaching With Cultural Heritage”, and Highland Park Historical Society’s “George D. Rice Collection”.

Magic Lantern. C.1900. Mount Prospect Public Library. Dimensions of Life in Mount Prospect. Permission to display given by Mount Prospect Public Library.

The Magic Lantern was an early projector.  Originally invented in the 16th century, projectionists would move painted glass slides behind the lens to create performances and shows.  Only lit by candle light, the projection was weak. In the 19th century, small kerosene lamps were mass produced and replaced other, more dangerous illumination methods. Kerosene in part popularized lanterns and put them in churches, schools, homes, fraternal societies and more in the hands of amateur projectionists.

This Magic Lantern from Mount Prospect Public Library’s is a German import from the early 20th century.  With 37 glass slides, it projected scenes onto a wall, and included crayons for creating personal slides for new projections.

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Magic Lantern. C.1900. Mount Prospect Public Library. Dimensions of Life in Mount Prospect.Permission to display given by Mount Prospect Public Library.

Mount Prospect Public Library’s “Dimensions Of Life in Mount Prospect” includes photographs and descriptions of artifacts from residents of Mount Prospect from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. With artifacts ranging from horse-hair mittens, to glass soda pop bottles, the collection shows how the early days of Mount Prospect and the northwest suburbs of Chicago were influenced by its German heritage and American identity before World War II when the village suburb’s population exploded.

The Museum of the Grand Prairie (formerly known as The Early American Museum) has a large collection of painted glass slides that children could use with toy lanterns.

Slide 1
Magic Lantern Slide: Five Men. C. 1850. Museum of the Prairie, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “Teaching with Cultural Heritage”.
Magic Lantern Slide: Ships along the Coast. C. 1850. Museum of the Prairie, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “Teaching with Cultural Heritage”.
Magic Lantern Slide: Boys on pigs and donkeys. C. 1850. Museum of the Prairie, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “Teaching with Cultural Heritage”.

These awesome images would be projected on screens, showing sequences and small cartoonish and kitschy ethnographies and scenes of the everyday from ambiguous places.

Compare these slides to the glass lantern slides from the George D. Rice Collection at the Highland Park Historical Society.

Glass Slide: Ships in Glacial Waters. C.1900. Highland Park Historical Society. George D. Rice Collection. Permission to display given by Highland Park Historical Society.
Glass Slide: “A Walking Loaf of Hay”. C. 1900. Highland Park Historical Society. George D. Rice Collection. Permission to display given by Highland Park Historical Society.
Man_Sitting_on_the_Front_Stoop_of_a_House
Glass Slide: Man Sitting on the Front Stoop of House. C. 1900. Highland Park Historical Society. George D. Rice Collection. Permission to display given by Highland Park Historical Society.
Group_of_Men_Standing_Near_a_Bale_of_Hay
Glass Slide: Group of Men Standing Near Bale of Hay. C. 1900. Highland Park Historical Society. George D. Rice Collection. Permission to display given by Highland Park Historical Society.

For more photography, the IDHH is always open. You can find more from Mount Prospect Public Public Library’s “Dimensions of Life in Mount Prospect” Artifacts from the Museum of the Prairie via University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s “Teaching with Digital Heritage” at the links above and more on Highland Park Historical Society’s “George D. Rice Collection” on the IDHH and on their website.

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