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Parts Of A Magic Lantern

magic lantern diagram

1) Chimney. Tall chimneys were only used to provide an updraft for oil burning illuminants

2) Slot for slides. These were always placed between the illuminant and a focus lens

3) Focus Knob

4) Focus lenses. In early lanterns 1 lens was used later 3 were introduced.

5) Door. Adjustments to the illuminants were made through here

6) Inspection window usually fitted with tinted glass to avoid glare

7) Carrying rail usually made of brass.

Lantern design varied according to materials it was made from and its intended use. Lighting systems were interchangeable. Main illuminants were :-

1) Oil burning lamp where a powerful illuminant was not necessary (e.g. entertaining at home)

2) Lime light. Lime produces a brilliant light if heated to a high temperature a combustible gas (often hydrogen) and oxygen could achieve this.

3) Carbon arc

4) Electric filament bulbs were eventually to supersede all other illuminants but were only found on later lanterns

Tinplate Lanterns

tinplate lantern
tinplate magic lantern

These lanterns were at the cheaper end of the market this particular model sold for 17/- the body was made of tinplate but usually the lens housing was brass. 

Lanterns of this design were often used in homes, here an oil burning illuminant is in use as seen from the tall chimney to provide an updraft of air. In earlier lanterns often a bent chimney was used which had the advantage of preventing light escaping into the room. 

Three tinplate magic lanterns

Russian Iron Lanterns

If a lantern is using hyrdogen and oxygen as an ignition source for the limelight a by product of this combustion is water in the form of steam. This had the problematic effect of causing the lantern body to rust. To overcome this probem a galvanised metal known as Russian Iron was developed . It is grey in colour and highly resistant to rust

lizars russian iron lantern
lizars of Glasgow lantern
russian iron magic lantern

The photo shows a lantern made by Lizars of Glasgow. The body of the lantern is of Russian Iron.In the photo the praraffin burner is removed. When placed in the lantern a tall chimney to create an updraft was added ( as shown in the illustration from the shop catalogue

Wood Bodied Lanterns

wooden magic lanteren by Newton

The most expensive magic lanterns in Victorian times were those with wooden bodies. These were fine examples of the cabinet makers art. The lanterns were usually made of mahogany  or polished walnut (or even teak for tropical climates). The example shown here is a lantern made by the London firm of "Newton & Co." This particular lantern is somewhat unusual having a chimney of polished copper rather than the traditional "Russian iron". The convoluted shape of the chimney helped disperse the intense heat of the lime light burner illuminant

mahogany magic lantern
wooden Tyler Magic lantern
Reynolds and Branson Lantern
phoenix lantern
MAWSON SWAN & Morgan Lantern
homemade lantern

Children's Toy  Lanterns & Slides

Today almost any invention that is used by grown ups is often reproduced in scaled down form as children's toys. In Victorian times too the magic lantern was reproduced in toy form, although we must regard this from our modern perspective, as a very hazardous plaything.One cannot imagine toys today having oil burning illuminants or strips of glass however toy magic lanterns and slides  were produced by many of the magic lantern companies in the past. One of the most prolific of these early  toy lantern and slide makers was Ernst Plank of Nuremberg.Toy slides were often cheaply produced often without a cover glass so the image has usually become damaged through misuse.There seemed to have been ,no standard format for the slide size and although most of the slides tended to be made of long thin strips of glass, some more durable circular slides were produced also.

E rnst Plank lantern
oriental design lantern
Toy magic lantern
Toy lantern collection
round , circular toy lantern slides
round toy slides

Some Magic Lantern Oddities

biunial lantern

Co-joined set of lanterns  designed to create precision special effects 

street lantern

The very rare street lantern this was hung on lamp poles and projected advertising material onto the pavement.

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