Magic Lantern Slides of  Avant-garde Soviet Children’s Books: Marshak, Lebedev, Chukovskii, Konashevich, and More…

A hand-colored slide of an illustration by Vladimir Konashevich for Kornei Chukovskii’s Tarankanische, a poem about a cockroach who wants to rule the world manufactured by Edward van Altena.

Thanks to a generous gift from Sibylle Fraser, Cotsen now has a delightfully mysterious group of magic lantern slides of illustrations from some of the most famous Soviet picture books of the 1920s.  No book is reproduced in its entirety, but there are samples from  Samuil Marshak ‘s Vladimir Lebedev’s Tsirk [Circus} and Bagazh [Baggage] illustrated by Vladimir Lebedev, Kornei Chukovskii’s Moidodyr [Wash ‘em Clean] illustrated by Yuri Annenkov, published by Raduga, and Chukovskii’s Tarankanishche [Cockroach] illustrated by Vladimir Konashevish, to mention just a few.

The title page by Yuri Annenkov for Chukovskii’s Moidodyr.

The glass slide for the first page of Lebedev’s first set of illustrations for Samuil Marshak’s Bagazh followed by the color-printed page from the book.

The glass lantern slides were produced by photographer Edward van Altena (1873-1968) at his studio on 71-79 West 45th Street in New York City, but there is no hint on the slides for whom he made them.   The photographs might have been taken as documentation of a private or institutional  collection of 1920s Soviet children’s books, but it seems much more likely they were used for lectures by someone.  The superb reproduction of the artwork would have been perfect for educational purposes, and slides were stored in the kind of case sold to lecturers.

Copy stand photography, on the other hand, is not the kind of work usually associated with van Altena, a minor celebrity in the history of photography.  Over the course of his long career, which began at age 15, were the song slides, or hand-colored magic lantern slides for sing-along entertainment between films in vaudeville theatres, a market he and his partner John Duer Scott dominated from 59 Pearl Street between 1904 and 1919.  Whether the subjects of Scott and van Altena song slides were sentimental or surreal, their production values were superb. The Princeton Graphic Arts Collections holds some wonderful examples.

After the dissolution of Scott and van Altena, the partners went their separate ways.  When van Altena moved into the premises at 71-79 45th Street and how long he did business there I was not able to discover.   The Soviet picture books he photographed were published during the 1920s, but they could have been shot in the 1930s or even into the 1940s, when glass slide technology was on its way out.  He seems to have had plenty of work, judging by the examples held in the archives of the Garden Society of America, Wintherthur, the Yale University Divinity Library, the Eastman Museum, Theodore Roosevelt papers, Brooklyn Historical Society (to mention a few), and for sale on the Internet.   The trail goes cold in the 1940s, after which he seems to have disappeared as a professional photographer.

Many thanks to Sibylle Fraser, for this most unusual and intriguing gift to the collection.  Perhaps it will inspire a researcher to try and learn more about who was preaching the gospel of the Soviet avant-garde’s great creators of picture books for children.

Sources consulted included Terry  Bolton, “Outstanding Colorists of American Magic Lantern Slides, Magic Lantern Gazette, 26:1 (Spring 2014), 3-23, Elizabeth Carlson, “Five Cent Fantasies: Photographic Experimentation in Illustrated Song Slides,” History of Photography, 41:2 (May 2017), 188-203, and Encyclopaedia of the Magic Lantern, co-edited by David Robinson, Stephen Herbert, and Richard Crangle (London: Magic Lantern Society, 2001).

Alphabet Panoramas of Comical Characters from France

I never get tired the alphabet panoramas in the collection, even though it seems like they are a dime a baker’s dozen. I have a soft spot for mid-nineteenth-century French ones, especially those falling in the category of a children’s book for all ages, from nine to ninety, where the illustrators simply couldn’t resist caricaturing everybody and everything.

The first one, La fantasmagorie. Fantasmagoria, caught my eye because the illustrations imitate magic lantern slides with their solid black backgrounds.  The cover title shows the a man in a wig operating a magic lantern projector, flanked by a Pierrot and a dancer.  The style of the binding with the gilt ribbon around the title panel looks very French, but the publisher is the London firm, Darton and Hodge.

The subjects are not familiar London types  but a magician popping out of a box.

This is such a bad baby that the devil carries it off in a basket, a trope I’ve never seen in an English book.  But it survives in prints about St. NicholasWith lungs like those, it might grow up to be a tenor.

The animated dentures are simply peculiar…

  And of course, there is a Parisian celebrity.

Cotsen 6522

The second alphabet panorama, Grandpapa’s Book of Trades.  Les petits métiers de Grand Papa, was issued as part of the same series,”Amusing Alphabets,” a literal translation of “Alphabets amusants”  in the Paris editions.   According to Lawrence Darton, the bibliographer of the Darton publishing houses, the foundering Darton and Hodge firm may have tried to liven up its offerings by issuing all thirteen of the bi-lingual titles.  The colophon of Plon in Paris at the end of the panoramas suggests that the French editions were imported and new cover title labels slapped on the English ones.Pity the poor men of science, who get no more respect than a hairdresser.

Of the two foreigners depicted in this alphabet, it is hard to say who comes off better, Italian performers or the Kabyle man, a member of the Berber tribe who emigrated to France after Algeria’s conquest.

The author and illustrator are not forgotten.  Perhaps the “Imagier” is a self-portrait of the A. Cordier who signed the picture of the Italians.  It’s the only information about any of the artists who worked on these two panoramas.