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Dead medium: The Magic Lantern
From: (Bruce Sterling)
Dead medium: The Magic Lantern
Source(s): Peck and Snyder's Catalog (aka "Price List of Out & Indoor Sports and Pastimes") 1886, reprinted 1971 by Pyne Press (LC# 75-24886, ISBN 0-87861-094-4)

Mssrs Peck and Snyder offered at least 47 distinct varieties of magic lantern (as well as the Polyopticon and the Megascope, intriguing variants of magic lantern technology). The large variety of Peck and Snyder's own product rose from clever recombination of the magic lantern's basic elements: the body, the base, the reflector, the condenser, the lens tube, the smoke-stack and the lamp. The materials could be cheap japanned tin, or luxuriant brass; the lenses cheap or precise; the lamps powerful and dangerous, or weak and relatively safe.

Some few magic lanterns were imported: "Wrench's Celebrated London Make Magic Lanterns", the "Favorite German Lantern," and the "New Style French Magic Lantern."

The following sample excerpts from Peck and Snyder advertising copy will show how these manufactured variants addressed different purposes and different demographic slices of the magic lantern media market. My commentary is in (((triple parens))).

(((The Professional's Model)))

Electro Radiant Lantern, No. 10. The construction of this lantern is such as to especially commend it to exhibitors. (...) A set of Achromatic Object Glasses, as used in No. 10 Lantern, is made up of four lenses of the finest and most accurately ground *Crown* and *Flint Glasses,* a *concave* lens of *Flint* with a convex lens of *Crown* glass are paired in cells and placed at the proper distance apart in the focusing tube. The effect on the screen is to bring out a very sharp and well-defined image, free from blurred edges, prismatic color, etc., which invariably accompany the use of plano, or concavo- convex lenses. (...) It accommodates slides of all makes now in vogue and is thoroughly well-adapted for dissolving effects.

((("Dissolving effects" or "dissolving views" required the use of dual magic lanterns, projecting two images into the same circle on the screen. With "a simple mechanical arrangement," two different projected images could apparently dissolve into and emerge from one another. This impressive gimmick led Peck and Snyder to sell their magic lanterns, including the No. 10, in matched pairs. As the unknown copywriter rhapsodized, "The most beautiful effects that can possibly be produced... The effect is indescribably impressive."))

(((The Art Model.)))

(((The Electro Radiant Sketching Lantern pursued an application for the artists' market. It was essentially identical to the No. 10 model, but came without any bundled lanternware.)))

"Artists can save many hours of work and attain great accuracy of expression by using in connection with our Sketching Lantern a photographic negative of the subject to be produced. (...) The picture may be thrown onto the paper or canvas, anywhere from miniature to twice life size. (...) The sketching may be done by a boy or girl, saving the artists' time and talent (...) If the artist is not a photographer, an arrangement can generally be made with some photographer to furnish at a low figure a negative plate."

(((The Kid Media Model. Note the free-and-easy attitude toward child employment.)))


This Lantern was designed Especially for Youths, not only for its remarkable effects on the screen, but also for its limited effects on the pocket. (...)

With a No. 3 Lantern a boy may amuse a party of friends, or he may, by charging a small admission fee, earn considerable for any object he may set his heart on. (...) An ingenious boy will have tickets of admission, programmes, music of some sort and numberless little devices to heighten the theatrical, magical and mysterious effect. (...) All devices he will execute himself, filling leisure hours in writing out his tickets and programmes and making other arrangements to make his exhibition a success. (...) Parents and friends should not ignore the instruction and other beneficial effects, and should by all means make their young people owners of a Lantern.

(((The No. 3 cost only eight dollars. The very similar No. 4 model was sold without a smokestack or chimney burner for a mere six dollars, though this must have increased the fire hazard considerably.)))

(((The Luxury Model)))

THE IMPROVED TRIPLEXICON, 100 CANDLE POWER. Price Complete in a Strong Wooden Box, $35.00

The chimney, which connects with the flame chamber, is made in two parts, one sliding into the other, telescope fashion. This allows of the most exact regulation of the current of air supplied to the flame to effect perfect combustion. (...)

The body of the lantern (...) may be handled as comfortably, after being two hours in operation, as at the beginning of the exhibition. The reservoir, which will hold enough oil for two and a half hours' work, is *completely* out of reach of the heat. (...) *Particular* care has been taken in the mounting of the lenses to allow for their expansion by heat, thus avoiding the liability of breakage (...) a brilliance and clearness of outline to be surpassed only be the best limelight stereopticons.

(((To the modern skeptical eye these oily assurances of comfort and safety conjure up dire vistas of soot- blackened parlors, badly scorched boy-entrepreneurs, and audiences explosively drenched in sheets of flaming kerosene.)))

I believe this to be a complete list of Peck and Snyder's magic lantern models as offered in the 1886 catalog:

The Electro Radiant No. 2, 2A, 2B, 2C, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, and 10.

The New Improved Duplex Magic Lantern, Nos. 1 and 2.

Magic Lantern 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20, 21, 22, 26, 30, 32, 36, 38, 40, 42, 44, 46, 48.

Wrench's Celebrated London Make Magic Lantern. Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8.

The Favorite German Lantern.

New French Style Magic Lanterns Nos 814, 815, 816, 817, 818, 819.

The Improved Triplexicon.

The Gem Magic Lantern.

The wonder of it is that Peck and Snyder must have had a great many competitors. This catalog offers only a glimpse of what must have been an enormous market.