The Laterna Magica is alledged to have been first described by Giambattista della Porta in his 1558 treatise, Magiae naturalis although like so many inventions of the western world, it may actually have been invented centuries earlier by the Chinese. For a public used to live entertainment, the Magic Lantern provided a striking alternative with the projections of a variety of images made onto screens, walls or curtains, or in the case of Phantasmagoria … even onto smoke.

a Magic Lantern courtesy of Wikipedia

In relatively modern times, with the advent of film photography, the Magic Lantern became a popular way to tell stories and moral tales. Inevitably, the advance in developing series based Magic Lantern shows led to the motion picture with the new technology gradually gaining favor. The Magic Lantern, while a cultural treasure, is now a collectors item and special event rather than mainstream entertainment.

Still, the Magic Lantern can be used where film cannot. I was reminded of this yesterday when opening my mail upon returning home. I had a package, a gift, from friend Terry Borton of the Magic Lantern Show. Terry knew of my interest in the American chestnut and provided this most unusual Magic Lantern slide used for scientific lectures. He very graciously provided me this beautiful slide of what is labelled Castanea vesca. L Var Amer. Chestnut. The top reads Stereoptician Preparations of Woods, by Romeyn B. Hough, B.A., Lowville, NY. In this case the slide is in fact a very thin slice of chestnut – something not possible with film.

Magic Lantern slide of Castanea vesca

The above image is a photograph of the slide showing the detail present on the slide fixture. The below is a transparency scan which shows the actual image as it might have appeared projected on the wall of a classroom. Terry Borton informs me that there may have been slides for twenty five or so species and that these were likely used in a classroom environment for teaching.

Magic Lantern slide of Castanea vesca