All about magic lantern slides (1)
MANUFACTURING THE SLIDES
The use of shadows (silhouettes) was otherwise known already
prior to the introduction of the Magic Lantern. In the first stage also Athanasius
Kirchner used jumping jacks, cut out letters, devil's heads and even living flies in his
primitive magic lantern, just for the purpose of creating silhouettes. This conception,
placing black, non-transparent pictures on a transparent bottom layer, was probably also
applied with the first lantern-slides.
Glass was mainly used as a bottom layer, but the painting was also carried out on oiled paper. At first only silhouettes were painted with black paint, but very soon paints in different colours were also applied. Of course, the use of transparent colours was indispensable; Naples Yellow, Prussian Blue and carmine, just to mention a few, were most appropriate for this purpose. By way of protection, a layer of transparent lacquer was spread over the paint; at a later stage they made use of a second glass, i.e. a cover glass, as well (also see: Le Petit Chaperon Rouge, Little Red Riding Hood).
The light sources of the very first magic lanterns were very weak: a candle or a little oil-lamp. The designers succeeded in showing the pictures better by painting the part of the glass plate left around the painted figures with black paint, thus preventing the light from shining through. Originally the slides were made by the lanternists themselves. Also the instrument makers and opticians producing and selling magic lanterns, mostly painted the accompanying slides themselves. Later on this occupation developed into a trade apart. Painters were specially educated for making the hand-painted pictures in companies which were receiving orders from the manufacturers of magic lanterns. It was a kind of work requiring utmost accuracy, for the slightest errors were magnified mercilessly. Although there are real masterpieces among these hand-painted pictures, in spite of that it occurred very seldom that an artist signed his piece of work.
Around 1820 the magic lantern and -slide industry started developing favourably. Philip Carpenter, partner of the British company Carpenter and Westley, worked out a technique to produce slides machine-made. The outlines (contours) of the figures to be painted, were graved into copper plates, thereafter the areas were coloured by hand. This period marks the transition of the hand-made production of slides to mass-production in the industrial era.
In Germany hand-painted slides were made by Liesegang in Dusseldorf, Talbot in Berlin and Unger & Hoffmann. The London companies of Newton & Co and E.G. Wood applied modern production methods resulting in a sales-figure between 150.000 and 200.000 slides.
As themes often horror images (the devil, death) and 'topics
of the day' as well as historic events (the Great Fire of London in 1666) were used, but
'naughty stories' also proved to be most popular (indeed, there is nothing new under the
With the introduction of the glass-negative enabling the production of 'photographs on glass' , the use of decalcomania for slides was not negatively effected. Printing off in colours was not yet possible at that time. Only during World War II the decalcomania-technique gradually had to make room for the photographic colour-slide, the same as we still know to day.
Decalcomanias were mostly supplied 'ready for use' , mounted
on glass, but there were also sheets of transfers on the market intended for
do-it-yourselfers. Merkelbach & Co in Amsterdam also sold a special paint-box for
colouring slides containing 10 tubes of transparent paint and 3 brushes suitable for 100%
self-painting or touching up any damaged slides.
The subjects they dealt with were quite different. Most favourite were the 'living figures' , some sort of 'tableaux vivants' with which full stories were depicted. The living beings are playing against a decorated background, but likewise in the open air. Especially bible stories were performed in this way, complete with a living ox and donkey, and put in a European landscape.
Famous works of art, masterpieces (sculptures and paintings) as well as illustrations from books or periodicals were depicted too. Many series were dedicated to far away countries and towns, in those days it was often the only possibility to view an unknown foreign country. Spending holidays abroad or TV-programmes were yet unknown at the time.
In catalogues published after 1900 we can also find
'photograms'. These were finely finished drawings which had been multiplied photographic
ally by means of contact printing. It looks as if editors did not worry that much about
the original artist's copyright. Almost everything that was fit to publish in books,
magazines or newspaper, could serve as a subject for a series of lantern-slides.
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Last update: 29-05-2021.