Magic Lantern Merriment in Special Collections



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Home >> Special Collections & University Archives >> New Notable >> Magic Lantern Merriment in Special Collections

Special Collections is proud to announce the completion of processing for the Homer and Betty Peabody Magic Lantern Collection! Generously donated by Homer and Betty Peabody, the collection documents the development of magic lantern technology and glass slides as well as its diverse usage.  At over 80 linear feet, this collection contains forty-two magic lanterns and approximately five thousand glass slides! This extensive and exciting collection took over six months to fully process, and we are overjoyed to finally release this collection to public access.

The magic lantern has a long and varied history as a scientific and optical instrument. Invented in 1658 by Christiaan Huygens, a Dutch scientist, the magic lantern could project images from glass slides onto walls and other surfaces.  Although initially used for education and religious instruction the magic lantern was later used for entertainment purposes.  Early lanternists conjured ghosts for wealthy and royal audiences and by the late eighteenth century, traveling lanternists held entertaining shows in public taverns and barns.  Gradually, entertainment, advertising, and propaganda became major contenders with religion, education and science as primary lantern uses. The lantern's ability to adapt to so many different types of usage made it standard optical equipment in homes, churches, public spaces, and academic institutions throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
The collection’s varied assortment of lanterns ranges from whimsical toy lanterns to large industrial professional lanterns.  The Glass Slides series consists of seventeen sub-series, each representing the varied lantern uses and slide themes.  This series includes stunning photographic vistas from the geography and travel slides, fanciful hand-painted and chromolithographic caricature and comic slides, graphic medical slides, entertaining and delightful narrative slides, as well as informative narrative slides and much, much more.  The collection also represents the wide variety of slide types, including mechanical slides, such as single and double slipping slides, rackwork slides, and lever slides; hand-painted slides, photographic slides, vivid chromolithographic slides and many others are also included.  The Personal Papers series documents the Peabody’s fascinating collecting interests and activities, and also includes rare original lectures and readings that accompanied lantern shows.  Also search the catalog for many of the collection’s related published materials, including a manual for operating sciopticons, and Kircher’s Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae (1671), which contains the first known printed image of a magic lantern!

Magic lanterns and slides are ideal primary sources for exploring the history of imaging, the history of entertainment, and the history of education. Scholars and students in a multitude of disciplines-- including Theatre and Performing Arts, Music, Graphic Design, Media History, Advertising and Communications, Women’s Studies, Africana Studies, and American History-- can use these pictorial treasures for a wide range of topics in social and cultural research.

In Spring 2012, Special Collections will be mounting a spectular exhibit in the Love Library Donor Hall showcasing this extraordinary collection, called "Sources of Wonder: The Homer and Betty Peabody Magic Lantern Collection." In addition to numerous examples of actual lanterns and over 150 carefully selected slides, this colorful exhibit will feature cases on lantern mechanics, slide formats, and slide themes such as entertainment, education, advertising, and propaganda. A timeline of optical and imaging history, as well as a Valentine's Day magic lantern show, are both tentatively planned. Look for this eye-popping exhibit beginning January 18th, but in the meantime, peruse our fantastic online exhibit.

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Special Collections & University Archives Contact

Location: SDSU Library & Information Access, Love Library Room 150
Phone: 619.594.6791

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