Magic Lanterns - Types of Children Slides - The Lantern Image


Christmas scene on Toy Magic Lantern slide showing Toy Magic Lantern on table


    19 & early 20 th. Century Toy Magic Lanterns
    Laterna Magica have a long and complicated history without a real true inventor.
.Toy Magic Lantern on cover of Children book
In many film history books the Magic Lantern is labeled as the forerunner of cinema, this however is only partly true. At first, the lantern is an optical projection device with his own reason for existence.

Laterna Magica are able to project moving images by the aid of techniques that are not (with some exceptions) used in cinema today. In addition, the magical moving images of the lantern where conjured-up by his major accessory, the slide, projecting true physical movement. Film shows 'still' images in animation by illusion.

Often, The German Jesuit Athanasius Kircher is credited being the inventor of this device as a result of scientific research. Some of the earliest images, depicting Magic Lanterns, are indeed illustrated in Kircher's 'Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae', 1671, but many earlier images became well known in recent decennia.

The most disputable early image is dated round 1420 and published by Giovanni da Fontana. Even if we disregard this image, a series of Magic Lantern drawings are preceding the optical incorrect images in Kircher's important work, 'The Great Art of Light and Shadow'.

Indeed, Toy Magic Lanterns have a long line of obscure predecessors, e.g. The Phantasmagoria.
Lanterne Carrée by Lapierre (first model).
Preceding the spectacular Phantasmagoria ghost projections, French Revolution and later, the optical fully-developed Magic Lantern originated during the 1650s. Christiaan Huygens is one of those early pioneers who developed the lantern with an optical configuration as we still know it today.

More than 200 Years before the invention of photography (1828 - 1839) the forerunner of the modern projector used hand-painted slides (often with movable effects) to conjure-up "... pictures in glass to make strange things appear on a wall, very pretty" as can be read in Samuel Pepys diary. (1666)

In the early 19th. Century, itinerant 'Galantee' showman, traveling with Magic Lanterns, walked from town to town bringing the wonders of the lantern to their audiences. New mechanical developments, such as 'dissolving views' became very popular later in the 19th. Century. Subsequently the toy lantern for domestic use became popular, still using hand painted slides.

With the improvements of printing techniques on glass, mass produced slides became possible and the toy lantern became an optical entertainment for children and their parents. Besides Chromolithography on glass, photographical slides where frequently used. Perhaps the first mass produced tin toy lantern was the 'Lanterne Carrée' by Lapierre with cylindrical feet, seen right.
CDV Lapierre
Rare 'Carte-deVisite' photographs
.Carte-de-Visite - Boy & Magic Lantern

. Collection H. Koilski
'Carte-de-Visite' photographs, a most popular field in photo collecting, seen as a unique ephemera item for the Optical Toy collector.

This rare Carte-de-Visite depicts a boy posing with a Lapierre 'Carrée' Magic Lantern. Such props are very rare to appear in portrait photo's. A close-up of this Magic Lantern can be seen when moving the cursor over the Carrée depicted above.

Visitors of this page are invited to send JPG scans of early 19th. Century photographs depicting optical toys or other rare items. Please send images to
Thomas Weynants for including this kind of ephemera in Visual Media pages.
Click for more Pre-cinema or Photo ephemera.

Perhaps an interesting question is the reason behind this photograph.
Do we see a boy with his favorite toy from his home or is the carrée lantern only a prop from the photographers studio chosen by the boy (or his parents) to embellish the portrait?

No matter the answer, in both cases, as far as I know, the use of a magic lantern in a portrait photograph is extremely rare. In comparison, the use of stereoscopes in 19th. Century photographs is frequently seen. The most plausible explanation for this is that the Toy Magic Lantern marks the end of a long history in pre-film projection techniques with the aid of various types of Magic Lanterns.
The stereoscope on the other hand became shortly after the the first World exhibition in Crystal Palace (1851) an extremely popular novelty. The stereoscope is often credited as being the 'television' of the 19th. Century. The late 19th. Century slogan "No home without a stereoscope" is exemplatory for this statement. Commercial broadcast of television only started at the end of the 1920s.

It's interesting to notice that the mechanical television system used from the early 1920s was based on ideas by Paul Nipkow who patented his theoretical findings in 1884. This is 11 years before the general accepted official birth of cinema and shortly after the real developments of cinematic techniques and apparatus' by the chronophotographers such as Jansen, Muybridge and Marey.
.Children projecting a Chromatrope with Toy Magic Lantern
The most common toy lanterns today are those produced in France (Lapierre, Aubert) and Germany (Schoener, Bing, Planck). Very popular among collectors are the French polychrome toy lanterns and those in unusual shapes such as the Buddha, Eiffel Tower, auto, factory, etc.

Today however, these lanterns became very rare. Unlike collectors, the toy lantern is best known to the general public by the common French and German black lantern as seen in the postcard image on the left.

This presumable Belgian trading postcard shows three children playing with a Toy Magic Lantern projecting a chromatrope. Suchlike postcards proof the popularity of the Magic Lantern at the end of the 19th. Century. Mouve mouse over to see rear.
Domestic Magic Lantern fun with Peepshow projection.
Due to the popularity of the 'Toy Magic Lantern', the device is frequently depicted in books, engravings, postcards and on the slides themselves as can be seen on top of this page.

The wonderful lithograph, right, depict a domestic Magic Lantern show. It's very interesting to see all the family members in the darkened room where this optical home projection takes place. The projected image on the screen shows a Harlequin demonstrating his Rarekiek, Dutch word for

The illustrated Magic Lantern is an important source for studying the history and use of the device. In 1993, David Robinson compiled a unique book on this ephemera subject:
'The Lantern Image: Iconography of the Magic Lantern, 1420- 1880'.

The frequent use of photographical Magic Lantern slides diminished his Magical charisma and by the end of the 19th. Century the original Magic Lantern evolved into the modern slide projector.

However, centuries before the dawn of cinema, the Magic Lantern with his accessories was able to conjure-up a myriad of wonderful images and special effects, prior to today's virtual media.
19 & early 20 th. Century European Toy Magic Lantern slides

Hand painted Toy Magic Lantern slide showing children playing (attributed to Lapierre - ca. 1845)


  The two long slides above and below depicts typical 19th. Century hand painted slides for children, attributed to Lapierre. Preceding suchlike toy slides, this long panoramic format was also used in 18th. Century historical slides as seen in the collection of the 'Huis van Alijn'. Mostly, these slides have no protecting tape tape to prevent cutting.

The toy slides however marked the end of the hand painted slides so the above image is more rare compared to the subsequently hand colored slides over a printed outline. Following the latter, the more recent slides are fully printed without any handwork.
Although wonderful in color, these latter mass produced chromolithographical slides show minor quality, especially when projected.
Hand painted Toy Magic Lantern slides showing children playing (attributed to Lapierre - ca. 1845)
Spooky Scarecrow

Hand painted Toy Magic Lantern slide depicting spooky scarecrow (probably German? ca. 1860)
The above and two subsequent types of Toy Magic Lantern slides always have a protective paper or tape border to prevent children from cutting in their hands. The French circus slide in the middle depict a typical late Lapierre example which often show a green paper border. These type of slides are very common and often found in France and Belgium. German chromolitho slides are often protected with a red border. Obviously, exceptions and replacements with more recent protective borders are often found.
All these mass produced slides exist in different sizes to fit the different formats of the Magic Lanterns.

Hand colored Toy Magic Lantern slides over a printed outline showing circus acts (French, Lapierre - ca. 1880)
Decalcomania or Chromolitho slides

Chromolitho Toy Magic Lantern slide showing early experiments in aviation (German, ca. 1900)

Lid of box containing the series of the above early aviation chromolitho Toy Magic Lantern slides (Bing, Germany, ca. 1900)

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