Magic Lantern Stories Digitised At Bristol University

By 24 Hour Museum Staff | 15 June 2007
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colourised Victorian photo of two men fighting outside a wine merchants with several onlookers

From Christmas in Paradise, produced in the 1890s to illustrate the virtues of temperance. © Bristol University Theatre Collection

A rare series of 19th century picture stories that entertained audiences before the invention of the video camera has been restored and put online for 21st century viewers.

The University of Bristol’s Theatre Collection is the proud owner of seven sets of hand-tinted magic lantern slides dating from between 1880 and 1900 – part of a collection of more than 400 such slides that have now been catalogued and digitally preserved on the Theatre Collection website.

Some of the evocative story titles include Christmas in Paradise, Rare Metal: A Story of City Life, The Life Boat, Nellie’s Prayer, The Matron’s Story, Little Jim, and Scrub, the Workhouse Boy.

“Though there was a huge market for magic lanterns and slides in the 19th century, they eventually fell out of favour after the invention of moving pictures,” said Jo Elsworth, Keeper of the Theatre Collection.

“Few lanterns and slides survived which makes this archive even more precious. We are delighted to have been able to conserve this remarkable collection and make it available to a 21st-century audience.”

colourised Victorian photograph of a refectory

© Bristol University Theatre Collection

Other slides within the archive are predominantly black and white reference slides covering subject matters from the history of art to geography, dating from around 1910-1950.

The magic lantern was the predecessor of the modern slide projector, with the slide being sandwiched between two sheets of square glass. An oil lamp and lens allowed the images to be projected onto a screen.

Itinerant projectionists plied a thriving trade in Victorian times, travelling around the country with their magic lanterns putting on shows in towns and villages.

Scripts to accompany the slide stories are available in the Theatre Collection’s reading room or can be purchased from the Magic Lantern Society.

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