Lantern Slides and Their Magical Mechanical Patterns

Here’s an animated post about an old form of entertainment technology that continues to mesmerize people.  Learned societies are dedicated to the study of the long history of projecting images on walls (or sheets of fabric).  Collectors amass magic lanterns and slides, sometimes storing them in the original wooden boxes.   The Cotsen collection has some remarkable Victorian catalogues of magic lantern paraphrenalia that ioffered all the kinds of slides that could be purchased for home viewing in the parlor.  The slide below is one of several kinds of the mechanical types that were available.  But you can see the effect it creates thanks to a gif…

full view

Cotsen 38582

Above is a hand-operated mechanical magic lantern slide. We might describe it as “kaleidoscopic” but it’s technically not a kaleidoscope, It’s a chromatrope. The device doesn’t contain a cylinder with mirrors that reflect an image in order to create the changing patterns. Instead, the slide is in fact 2 painted slides. As one turns the brass and wood handle, the brass rim rotates the 2 slides in opposite directions creating repeating designs.

Many companies were creating mechanical magic lantern slides it the late 19th Century and early 20th Century. Judging by its condition, our chromatrope slide was probably made in the 20th Century, but it reveals no indication of its manufacturer.

Regardless of who made it, our mechanical slide is a great example of a chromatrope with a very simple, but stunning visual pattern.

See for yourself by clicking the image below! And there are more magic lantern slides on the Cotsen virtual exhibitions page…


click the image in order to view a moving .gif

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