Magic lantern made by J H Steward, late 19th century.
4 0 c m
actual image size: 24cm x 32cm

Magic lantern made by J H Steward, late 19th century.

© National Media Museum / Science & Society Picture Library


A magic lantern is an early form of slide projector. It consists of a light source inside a container, somewhere to place the slide and a lens at the front to project the image from the slide. A skilled projectionist could move the slides very quickly, making the screen images appear to move. This example had three separate lenses, which made it posible to create many special effects which added drama to the presentation. Magic lantern shows began towards the end of the 17th century but only became more widespread in the 19th century with the improvement in lamp sources. The shows could range from simple didactic presentations (a favourite topic was the demon drink) to sophisticated shows using double or triple lanterns to produce moving and disolving images on the screen.

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