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Photographic lantern slide collection

Identifier: L07

  • Staff Only

Scope and Contents

Lantern slides have their origins in optical projection devices dating to the seventeenth century, yet their widespread use did not begin until after the advent of the wet collodion photographic process by Frederick Scott Archer in the late 1840s. As the nineteenth century progressed, lantern slides with photographic images quickly became popular forms of public and private education and entertainment. The Photographic Lantern Slide collection is a source of visual imagery that spans the world in historical, architectural, cultural and agricultural subjects. It represents one of the most popular categories of lantern slides, travel destinations. It is international in scope, with scenes varying by locale, as indicated in the container listing. Many of the slides in this collection represent the sacred spaces of the Jewish, Buddhist, Christian and Muslim religions. Popular tourist destinations and historic sites are also prevalent, as are scenes of working people, housing structures, rural agriculture and transportation methods. Documentation pertaining to this collection is limited to information affixed to the slides. Studios, manufacturers and retailers are identified on printed or handwritten labels, and some slides bear dates ranging from 1902 to 1929. The hand colorists known as “the Misses Griffith” are identified on a number of slides, yet in most instances, the photographer who took the picture and the date of the negative’s creation are not indicated. Nonetheless, the collection documents the products of a number of photographers, manufacturers, retailers of optical supplies and hand colorists. The collection is especially notable for its number of hand-colored lantern slides. The bulk of photographic lantern slides sold in the United States in the early twentieth century were black and white, products of the wet collodion or a gelatine photographic process. Hand coloring required additional skilled labor, space and tools, and delayed the mass production of the slides. Its relationship to painting on china and glass meant that women often performed the skilled labor. Transparent oil paints, aniline dyes or watercolors were most frequently used in the process, the slides sometimes baked in an oven to set the paint layers prior to subsequent pigment applications. While the earliest hand-colored slides required the painter’s experimentation with different pigments and dyes, by the early twentieth century, paint manufacturers produced sets of colors specifically designed for slide lantern use.[url=#_ftn1][1][/url] Once the photographic image was ready for assembly, the binders often applied a gummed opaque paper border (called a mask) to the glass negative and then topped it with a clear glass cover. They then placed the two pieces of glass into a binding clamp and bound them together with gummed paper tape.[url=#_ftn2][2][/url] Slides could then be individually sold or grouped into thematic sets, placed in grooved boxes, and distributed. Originally housed in the wooden boxes associated with glass negatives, the majority of the slides bearing the labels of individual manufacturers and studios, the Photographic Lantern Slide Collection is representative of such commercial sales. In the early twentieth century, various American companies sold thematic slide lecture sets. The Keystone View Company (1892-1963), founded by the amateur photographer B.L. Singley in Meadville, Pennsylvania, was one of the largest commercial suppliers.[url=#_ftn3][3][/url] The McAllister family was another leader in the magic lantern business, establishing operations in Philadelphia by 1846 and in New York by 1866. Trading under the name McAllister-Keller Co., Inc. from 1917, the company continued to offer lantern slides and other supplies until 1942.[url=#_ftn4][4][/url] The photographer John Duer Scott and the colorist Edward Van Altena joined forces to create a New York-based business in 1904. Riley Optical was a British company specializing in slide and lantern manufacturing, which opened a New York branch by 1895. Williams, Brown and Earle primarily sold laboratory supplies and optical equipment, but also produced lantern slide sets. The manufacturers, retailers, photographers, studios or colorists identified in this collection are: Beseler Lantern Slide Company, 131 East 23rd Street, New York Brown and Dawson, Stamford, Connecticut Detroit Publishing Company, Detroit, Michigan C. H. Graves Company, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Misses Griffith (colorists), New York, New York A. D. Handy, Boston, Massachusetts Joseph Hawkes, 108 Fulton Street, New York, New York Milton R. Holmes (photographer), Pennsylvania W. C. Ives, New York, New York Keystone View Company, Meadville, Pennsylvania Chas. W. Kimble, Trenton, New Jersey T. H. McAllister-Keller Co., Inc., New York, New York Moore, Bond & Company, Chicago, Illinois William Herman Rau, 1324 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Riley Optical, New York, New York John Duer Scott (photographer), New York, New York Scott and Van Altena, 59 Pearl Street, New York, New York Underwood and Underwood, Washington, D. C. Edward Van Altena, 71-79 West 45th Street, New York, New York Williams, Brown & Earle, Inc., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania In most instances, the maker’s identification labels do not distinguish professions of the named entities, although the Misses Griffith are clearly indicated as hand colorists operating out of New York City. The street addresses listed above reflect identification printed on the commercial paper labels. In some instances, additional research revealed city or state of operation. Slide lantern manufacturers also sold instruction manuals and mass-produced kits intended for amateur photographers, teachers, organizations, and educational institutions. Such kits included light sensitive lantern glass, clear cover glass, gummed paper masks, binding tape, and grooved wooden boxes for safe storage. Museums, schools and universities frequently created their own lantern slides for educational use. Photographic clubs emerged in American cities, offering lantern slide lectures and organizing slide exchanges. The slides in this collection that lack manufacturer, retailer or studio labels may be the products of such non-commercial endeavors. Lantern slides created a new way to view both commercial and amateur photography. While the earliest photographic methods required an intimate viewership, the projection capabilities of the magic lantern allowed for a sizable audience. In the United States, the greatest impact of lantern slides was as a didactic tool and a form of entertainment.[url=#_ftn5][5][/url] Photographic lantern slides reached the peak of their popularity during the first third of the twentieth century, and dramatically impacted the development of animation technologies as well as visual-based education methods in fields such as anthropology, art history, and geography. As new photographic films emerged in the 1930s and 1940s, magic lantern shows became a rarity and ultimately obsolete. [url=#_ftnref1][1][/url] John A. Tennant, ed. The Photo-Miniature: A Magazine of Photographic Information 7:83 (Nov. 1907), 501-539. [url=#_ftnref2][2][/url] Hasluck, 129-132. [url=#_ftnref3][3][/url] Shepard, “The Magic Lantern Slide,” 105. The company was purchased by the Mast Development Company in 1963. [url=#_ftnref4][4][/url] David Robinson, et al., editors. Encyclopaedia of the Magic Lantern (London: The Magic Lantern Society, 2001),181-2. [url=#_ftnref5][5][/url] Shepard, “The Magic Lantern Slide,” 91.


  • Created: 1902-1929
  • Other: Date acquired: 00/00/1995

Conditions Governing Use

Fragile materials served by appointment.  Gloves required.  The contents of this collection may be subject to copyright.  Visit the United States Copyright Office's website at for more information.

Biographical or Historical Information

The history of the lantern slide has its origins in seventeenth-century optical viewing devices which came to be known as “magic lanterns”. The earliest slides for magic lanterns consisted of hand-painted images on glass, projected by itinerant showmen to amuse their audiences. In 1849, about ten years after the invention of photography, lantern slides began to be produced photographically. Rapid improvements in photographic reproduction methods and more effective projection illuminants sparked the increased popularization of magic lantern slides. In the United States, magic lantern shows were especially popular in formal education settings. From the 1850s, following the lead of the Philadelphia-based Langenheim Brothers, a growing number of slide manufacturers retained stock collections of negatives from which lantern slides could be produced, assembled into thematic boxed sets, and sold to consumers, including universities, companies, clubs and other social organizations. The vast majority of these commercial lantern slides were black-and-white positive images, created with the wet collodion or a dry gelatine process. Slide lantern photographers made either “contact” or “reduction” prints. They made contact prints by placing a negative over a piece of light-sensitive lantern glass and then developing the image by exposure under controlled light. For a reduction print, the photographer affixed the negative to a window with a clear view, and photographed the illuminated negative directly onto the light-senstive lantern glass with a camera. After the completion of the photographic process, slide makers often affixed a paper border to the lantern glass, covered it with a clear piece of protective glass, and then bound the glass “sandwich” together with tape. The paper borders often bore printed identification of the commercial studio. Less frequently, manufacturers employed professional colorists to apply pigment washes to the lantern glass image prior to labeling and binding. In the 1930s and 1940s, less expensive film-based transparencies replaced glass lantern slides. Commercial glass lantern slide firms and photographic studios disappeared or adapted to the new medium of 35 mm slides. [1] John Barnes. Catalogue of the Collection. Part 2: Optical Projection, The History of the Magic Lantern from the 17th to the 20th Century (St. Ives, Cornwall: Barnes Museum of Cinematography, 1970), 27-29. [2] Elizabeth Shepard. “The Magic Lantern Slide in Entertainment and Education, 1860-1920.” History of Photography 11: 2 (April-June 1987), 91. [3] Paul N. Hasluck. Optical Lanterns and Accessories: How to Make and Manage Them, Including Instructions on Making Slides (London: Cassell & Company, Ltd., 1901), 133-139.


19.73 Linear Feet

37 boxes

Language of Materials


Arrangement Note

The slides have been issued inventory numbers; for item level description see printed document with the collection.

Method of Acquisition


Other Descriptive Information


Photographic lantern slide collection
Susan Klinkenberg; Keli Rylance
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the USF Libraries - Special Collections Repository

4202 East Fowler Ave.
Tampa FL 33620-5400 US