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Dead medium: the Magic Lantern

bruces@well.com (Bruce Sterling)

Source(s): THE HISTORY OF MOVIE PHOTOGRAPHY by Brian Coe, Eastview Editions, Westfield NJ, 1981, ISBN 0-89860-067-0

Brian Coe was (is?) the Curator of the Kodak Museum in Harrow, Middlesex. He was also narrator of an 8-part BBC television series, "Pioneers of Photography." Coe's HISTORY OF MOVIE PHOTOGRAPHY boasts many high-quality color illustrations of museum-quality hardware. It has a great deal of highly detailed dead-mediana concerning "the bewildering diversity of optical toys which flooded the laboratories and drawing rooms of the early nineteenth century." Truly a wonderful book.

The following, reproduced from Coe's book, is the complete text of a playbill for a travelling American magic lantern show, circa 1880. The playbill is apparently designed for poles, columns or door lintels,.as it is very long and narrow. It has a wide, spreadeagle variety of lavish circus fonts in different sizes. Empresario, Mr. B. A. Bamber. Price of the show, ten cents. (((my remarks in triple parens)))

5th ANNUAL TOUR

================

B. A. BAMBER'S

---GREAT----

DIME SHOW

New Attractions and Better Than Ever Before

Travels, Art, History.

Astronomy, Fun, Electricity.

(((a dashing woodcut of the balding, heavily mustached B.

A. Bamber)))

GRAND STEREOPTICAL

DISSOLVING VIEWS

SCENES IN MANY LANDS

FROM GREENLAND'S ICY MOUNT, TO INDIA'S CORAL STRAND

THE WONDERS OF THE WORLD.

THE BEAUTIES OF THE WORLD.

Read Carefully Every Word of the Following Programme

PART I.

THE PLANETARIUM

Will be exhibited and explained. This is an instrument (lately invented) for showing the Planets of the Solar System in their annual motion around the Sun; it also shows their relative size and distance from the Sun, the cause of Tides, Eclipses, Change of Seasons and Signs of the Zodiac. This part will be a lasting benefit to all who desire to know more about the wandering stars that reflect the Sun's light upon us by night. After this instrument has been exhibited Telescopic Views of the larger Planets will be reflected upon the canvas.

PART II.

NATURAL SCENERY

Comprises Views of the most Prominent Objects of Interest in both the Old and New World. All cannot travel and see these places, but whoever attends this Entertainment will see them reflected on canvas with a glow of beauty never to be forgotten.

PART III.

THE ILL-FATED SHIP

Comprises a series of Paintings, showing the sunshine and shadow of a Sailor's life.

SCENE 1. -- Ship at dock in Liverpool Harbor, passengers leaving their native country.

SCENE 2. -- Just out of the harbor, sailing on the blue waters of the Irish Sea.

SCENE 3. -- A Storm arises, which rapidly increases the furling and reefing of sails.

SCENE 4. -- Height of the Storm, rolling on the boundless deep and struck by lightning.

SCENE 5. -- Horrible calamity at sea; ship on fire; most on board perish in the flames.

SCENE 6. -- The few who make their escape on a raft are now afloat on the wide Ocean.

PART IV.

The Highland Lover's Courtship for Marriage Showing how it is done, also the result which usually follows; a caution to those about to embark on this kind of a ship.

PART V.

STATUARY

A Magnificent Collection of Statuary from the Centennial Art Gallery will be exhibited, besides other noted works of Sculpture, the beauty of which cannot be described; they must be seen to form any idea of their real beauty and grandeur. Among the many we mention "Flight of Mercury," "Ophelia," "Evening," "Forced Prayer," Council of War," &c, &c.

PART VI.

MISCELLANEOUS

These embrace a large collection of Paintings, Artistic Gems, Dissolving Views and Transformation Scenes, which have been procured at great expense, and for faithfulness in perspective and beauty in design, they stand unrivalled. The whole will be enlivened with

NUMEROUS COMIC SCENES

Electricity Without Extra Charge

A very fine Galvanic Battery is provided for any who may wish to try it. This is an excellent remedy for Rheumatism, Neuralgia and Headache. Be sure to come before the show begins if you want to try it.

Positively Everything Advertised on this Bill will be Shown

REMEMBER, THE PRICE OF ADMISSION IS ONLY *10* CENTS FOR ANYBODY AND EVERYBODY

Doors Open at 7 O'Clock. Begins at 8 O'Clock.

(((Travels, Art, History, Astronomy, Fun & Electricity -- Bamber's Dime Show was entertainment shovelware to rival CD-ROM. First a weird gizmo (the so-called planetarium, presumably an orrery). Then astronomical slides, no doubt accompanied by a proto-Saganesque cosmic narrative from Bamber. Then telepresence -- "all cannot travel," but a virtuality is beautiful and cheap. Then a melodramatic disaster -- the repeated mentions of "rolling," "sailing" and "reefing" strongly suggests these so-called "paintings" were partially animated. Magic lantern slides were often quite mechanically complex.

(((A bit of mild bawdry and ethnic humor in part four. Then the statuary -- their placement in the show seems odd and anticlimactic, unless the statuary included female nudes, which might make sense as the children have probably left by this time. Then, "miscellaneous" or basically the leftover contents of the professor's trunk from the previous four tours, with a bang-up ending of eye-boggling "dissolving views.")))

(((Bamber also boasts an interesting sideline in voltaic placebo snake-oil -- "Electricity Without Extra Charge." People can be impressed by gadgets, entertained by gadgets, forced to laugh or weep by gadgets. The truly daring charlatan can even cure the sick by gadgets. The "magic" of the magic lantern was closer to the healing magic of the witch doctor than we might credit today.)))