The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library owns a large collection of magic lanterns and glass lantern slides. The magic lantern, a precursor to the slide projector, was a popular education and entertainment device in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Lantern slides illustrated stories and events from literature, poetry, and history. The nature of slide projection and the ability to simulate the illusion of moving slides created the perfect avenue for visual storytelling. This ability to create “moving pictures” made magic lantern slides, a popular and informative form of entertainment. Below are two examples of how stories were shared using lantern slides.
A. D. Handy Stereopticons and Supplies produced a set of slides based on the 1830 ballad The Spectre Pig by author and poet Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894). The popular ballad described the butchering of a pig, who then comes back from the dead to exact revenge on the butcher who killed him. This set was one of hundreds of lantern story sets produced by lantern manufacturers.
In 1906 Joseph Boggs Beale (1841-1926) created a slide set called the Mr. Spurt and his Auto series . The story follows the adventures
of Mr. Spurt as he purchases and drives an automobile. The slide set images were
reproduced in Ford Times in June 1946 in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Ford Motor Company. Beale was one of the most prolific lantern slide illustrators of his time and worked for The C.W. Briggs Company.
Although decades have passed since the use of magic lanterns, slides and even slide projectors, a fascination with the technology, wonderment, and artistry of the lanterns and slides exists today. There are several magic lantern publications, thousands of lanterns and slides in museum collections across the world, and a society dedicated to the collection, preservation, and study of magic lanterns.
To learn more about magic lanterns and to see the slide sets, visit our online exhibition, Illuminating Brotherhood: Magic Lanterns and Slides from the Collection.