Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Upcoming Magic Lantern Convention

“Come One! Come All!” barks the broadside advertising the upcoming evening of Magic Lantern entertainment at Cambridge’s iconic Brattle Theatre. On July 12 at 7:00 PM the doors will open and at 7:30 an evening of amazing lantern shows will unfold. Come watch images dance across the screen as lanternists use a 19th century biunial magic lantern to create an unforgettable evening of entertainment. It is a show not to miss. Tickets are available through the Brattle Theatre at  www.brattlefilm.org
There is still time to register for the three-day convention, packed with talks, shows and demonstrations of different visual entertainments from the 18th to the 20th century. If interested in registering, please contact Richard Balzer at dickbalzer@gmail.com

In conjunction with the upcoming Magic Lantern convention I have decided to include more items on my site. I thought I would start with some peepshow related items. I have posted a new page of peep eggs, these small, alabaster egg-shaped souvenir viewers from the 19th century, often sold as keepsakes at popular attractions of the day. The peep egg, with a small viewing lens, displayed between one and three pictures. Some had a single view. Others had a rotating spindle with one, two or three images, and some had images on two surfaces and “pretty colored stones” on the third. I am also posting a series of magic lantern slides in which there is a peepshow. These are some of my favorite slides. Finally I have long ignored the folding peepshow on my site. Descendants of the “Engelbrecht peep shows”, 18th century views looked at in a box these 19th century views are attached and fold out for your viewing pleasure.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Magic Lantern Society of the US & Canada's 16th International Convention

The Magic Lantern Society of the US & Canada will be holding its 16th International Convention in Boston from July 10-13th

The convention will be held at the museum that houses the Richard Balzer Collection. There is a terrific program, over two and a half days, including magic lantern shows and presentations about the history of the magic lantern and other forms of visual entertainment. 

Come hear about 18th century shows in Venice and Phantasmagoria performances in Madrid. Come learn about the great 19th century traveling show, “Théatre Mécanique Morieux de Paris. Come learn about the Pilgrims Progress Panorama and be entertained by stories about the Great Snazelle, magician and magic-lantern showman. There will be an exhibition of magic lantern material and an auction, open to all who attend. 

There will be the world premiere of the new documentary about Magic Lantern Society member Terry Borton. The film is titled “A Magic-Lantern Life: The Story of the American Magic-Lantern Theater” and on Saturday night, there will be an evening of Magic Lantern Entertainment at the iconic Brattle Theatre in Cambridge. Starting at 7:30pm five lantern showmen will each give fifteen minutes shows. Open to the public, this will be an evening not to be missed!

For more information about convention attendance and registration please contact Richard Balzer at dickbalzer@gmail.com

Wednesday, January 1, 2014


How many incredible things can you see in four days? Who knows but in four days in the Netherlands I saw more than I could have imagined. It started with a visit to Amsterdam’s world famous Rijksmuseum, which has been closed because of restoration work for ten years. As well as seeing some Rembrandts and Vermeers I wanted to see a recently mounted show of eighteenth century Dutch magic lantern slides and was going to be shown around by the shows curator, Tristan Mostert. Tristan proved an engaging and very knowledgeable host. He showed me through the area of the museum for special collections, where, tucked away in a small room we came upon a group of 18th century wonders including: two bulls eye lanterns, two walls of slides, and three diafanoramas (painted glass scenes on different sheets of glass). 

Just behind us the images were being projected on a wall so visitors could not only look at the objects but also see how they would have been viewed.
When I was finally done looking at the slides Tristan asked, what else I would like to see. I asked him to show me eight of his favorite items in the museum and explain why he liked them. Tristan is a historian by training, and as we wandered around the museum he selected several pieces of historical significance, most of which I would not have noticed. By the time he explained the historical importance of the piece, what it was doing in the particular room and why he found it interesting, I was thoroughly captivated. It was one of the most enjoyable museum visits I have ever had.

The next morning I set out early and was first in line at the Van Gogh Museum. I had been warned how crowded both the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh would be but both were virtually empty when they opened at nine. I had no sense of crowds until 10:30 and by then I had soaked up about as much as I could. It was a great treat. I saw many images I was familiar with and many more that I wasn’t, a wonderful way to start the day.

Next was a trip to Scheveningen to the home and museum (Nico’s Tooverlantaarnmuseum) of Henk Kranenburg. The museum is housed on the ground floor and the minute you enter you feel the warmth of the place, cabinets full of lanterns, and optical toys line the entrance hallway. Next you enter the large museum room, which is also home of the forty-seat theatre. There are prints from floor to ceiling, decorating the fourteen feet walls. At the top of the walls there are shelves full of lanterns. There is also a second level balcony where Henk generally performs his shows, surrounded by six lanterns, boxes upon boxes of slides and a sound system where he whips up the wizardry.

 Henk asked what would I like to see and I said I would love to see some of his early slides. He disappeared upstairs and began bringing down boxes.  There were a great number of 18th century slides and among them a few stunning Musschenbroek slides. For any serious collector of magic lantern slides viewing 17th or 18th century slides produced by the Musschenbroek family firm of Leiden is a big treat both because of their age and their artistry. Henk asked if I’d like to see them projected. I nodded. It was such a treat to see them projected.
Later we looked at other unusual slides including an eight-part, Polytechnic-size dissolving set of slides depicting a woman’s dream of her life. In all that time we never got to slip slides, chromotropes, lever slides, and regular dissolving views. I could hardly believe it when Henk said he’d been collecting for only thirteen years. He has created an impressive collection.
Early in the evening we moved upstairs for a sumptuous lamb dinner prepared by Henk’s partner Robert te Pas. After dinner I took the tram and train back to Amsterdam. It had been a wonderful day.

The next morning I set off by tram & train to Zeist where I was met by Margreet Wagenaar. I met Margreet and her husband, Willem Albert, who died in 2011, thirty years ago and last visited their home 20 years ago. Willem Albert was one of the great magic lantern showmen and after many years taking his show on the road built a theatre in his house.

Margreet had planned the entire day. Her daughter, Elisabeth, was only available for a couple of hours to project some slides and she soon arrived with her own son. I said I’d fancy seeing some of their Musschenbroek slides and what Elisabeth fetched from the attic was truly staggering. Elisabeth projected a large number of amazing slides over the next hour.
 We paused for lunch and then Margreet drove me to Utrecht. We were met by her son, Joost (who I first met when he was a teenager). He is now a judge in Utrecht. He was kind enough to take us on a walking tour of the architecturally rich city.
Margreet and I returned to her house and headed up to the attic, passing the study that is home to one of the few known Musschenbroek lanterns, and a beautiful eighteenth century peepshow before making our way up the stairs to the attic so I could dive into the shelves and shelves of slides. I almost never tire when looking at slides but it was all too much. After an hour and half I knew I had reached my visual limit. I had begun to stare at the vast shelves holding thousands of more images.

Soon we were off for Kortenhoef to see Annet Duller’s magic lantern show to be held in the barn onthe land of her cousin, Pieter Dekker. The barn is generally used for the restoration of antique, flat-bottomed fishing boats but it proved to be a wonderful site for a magic lantern show.  The area nearest the large green doors leading into the barn was turned into a receiving hall with food and drinks laid out. Beyond that, a larger space bordered by the thick-planked walls held sixty chairs,  arranged in front of a white muslin screen stretched across poles.  An English biunnial lantern sat in the middle of the audience. Annet, a natural storyteller, held everyone's interest with her slides and her stories. The room was full of oh and ahs as well as laughter greeting her stories. It was a great end to a great day.

My last day was a change of pace. I wasn’t going to see another magic lantern collection. Instead I was going to spend the day with an old friend, Ruud Hoff, who had moved out of Amsterdam several years ago. He drove down from Friesland to pick me up and drive me back up to see his partner, Dian, and their home in Pietersbierium.  On our way out of Amsterdam we passed by a concert hall featuring a huge mesmerizing photograph of Nelson Mandela plastered across its side. I told Ruud I’d like to stop and get a picture. He kept driving saying he was the person who took that picture June 16, 1990 during Mandela’s first trip out of South Africa as a free man and would show me the original at his house.

We drove for more than an hour and half until the landscape flattened out.  We left the highway and passed through a series of small towns. Franeker was one of the towns where we stopped to visit the world’s oldest working planetarium. The one room planetarium was the work of Eise Eisinga, who completed his living room planetarium in 1781. We walked into the living room and looked up to the ceiling to be greeted by celestial skies. It was utterly amazing, not only because it was it an accurate depiction of the known planetary system, but because it also represented an accurate system for keeping track of the calendar and time.
After that we went back to Ruud’s. Ruud is a collector and showed me around his collection of Kodak cameras. The day and evening passed quickly and at about 9pm he drove me back to Amsterdam. I thanked him for the day and watched as he left me for the long drive back home.
By the time I walked down the three flights of stairs in the building at which I was staying, got back on the tram and headed out to Schiphol Airport, I was tired. Not only was my mind full of happy 

memories but my hands were clutching a few 18th century slides including a Musschenbroek lever slide.

I have just put a page of 18th century slides up on my site.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Collection has a tumblr!

We're delighted to introduce our tumblr as another way to enjoy the collection.

New animated gifs are added every monday evening.

Thursday, August 15, 2013


In my last post I wrote about ghost projection and mentioned the great fascination at the turn of the 19th century with a particular type of magic lantern entertainment that called up apparitions. In England, the shows were called Phantasmagoria and in France Fantasmagorie. I was incredibly lucky to recently find this fabulous small broadside (6” x 9”) c.1799 advertising Étienne-Gaspard Robertson’s Fantasmagorie show held in the Convent des Capucines. Robertson’s shows were a great success, starting with his first show in Paris in 1798. At the end of 1798 he moved to more spacious and atmospheric quarters in the Convent. He gave his first show there on January 3,1799 and continued at that location until 1803.
The broadside cleverly contains the visual power of a striking wood engraving and bold
text proclaiming a show that will produce Apparitions, Specters of Phantoms and Ghosts. What’s more, the assembled patrons will witness, as the broadside proclaims, “experiments with the new fluid know by the name of Galvinism whose application gives temporary movement to bodies whose life has departed.” (This was based on the work of the Italian physician, Luigi Galvani who applied electrical current to frog’s legs, which seemed to stir life in dead frog).
Robertson’s patrons entered the convent and moved through rooms where they might see the experiment in Galvinism, peepshows and optical illusions before being seated in a darkened room. They must have been startled when images appeared as from nowhere onto the screen. Often these figures would not only get larger but they would seem to leave the screen. The lanternist and lantern were hidden from view behind the screen. The lanternist could make the image increase in size by moving the lantern, which was on rails, further back from the screen. Music added to the effect and Robertson employed the Franklin Harmonica. Benjamin Franklin invented a form of the glass harmonica, a musical instrument that uses a series of glass bowls of various sizes and musical tones are made by means of friction. The glass harmonica produces an eerie piercing sound which you can feel in your chest and must have helped create just the right atmosphere for the spectral images appearing on the screen.

For more information on the history of the Fantasmagorie read Laurent Mannoni’s excellent book: The Great Art Of Light and Shadow 

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Ghost Projection

A year ago I made a post about Pepper’s Ghost.  It began with, “Who has not been scared and at the same time excited by a ghost story or the inexplicable appearance of an apparition. Fascination with ghosts and the afterworld have gripped audiences for centuries. Our appetite for such titillation seems insatiable. Ghost shows are nothing new. Writers, magicians, and lanternists have long used the popular fascination with ghosts and apparitions for their advantage. From its earliest inception the magic lantern has employed ghost figures to frighten and to entertain audiences. Some of the very earliest magic lantern images in the last part of the 17th century were of ghosts and demons.  Calling forth such figures reached a new height in the late 1700s and early 1800s largely due to two showmen and their shows. The Fantasmagorie shows, popularized by Belgian showman Éttiene-Gaspard Robertson  and the Phantasmagoria shows of magician Paul de Philipsthal, called forth apparitions onto the screen. Their shows ingeniously employed rear projection. The lanternist was hidden from the audience behind the screen. In a darkened room the images would appear on the screen as if from nowhere. By moving the lantern, the figure could be made smaller or larger such that the ghosts would appear and then menacingly approach the audience.”   

A recent purchase of the book Aufschlüsse zur Magie aus geprüften Erfahrungen über verborgene philosophische Wissenschaften und verdeckte Geheimnisse der Natur (1790) by the German writer Karl von Eckartshausen has brought me back to the idea of the appearance of phantoms and ghosts. Eckartshausen wrote about a wide range of topics including alchemy, mysticism, and magic. In this book he describes how to create a ghost illusion and the first print illustrates the ghost figure hovering over a pedestal. The second illustrates how Eckartshausen employed a hidden magic lantern to project an image off a mirror to create the effect.
I can’t resist including two more engravings from Eckharsthausen’s book although they are not of a ghost projection, but rather of what must have been a remarkable trick. Eckhartshausen would, he states, take someone for an evening stroll and at some point would turn toward a wall and mysteriously and probably frighteningly, a figure would appear on the wall.  The print illustrates the trick at the moment of the projection. The other engraving shows the lantern that was employed and was hidden under his coat. You can see the ingenious plunger used to extinguish the light and the carrying stick used to light the lantern. If it actually worked it must have been wonderful.

 Now back to the tale of ghost projection. Éttiene-Gaspard Robertson certainly was aware of the work of Eckartshausen and created his own ghost effects. The image below is the frontispiece from Robertson’s Mémoires Récréatifs, Scientifiques Et Anecdotiques (1831) and shows the impact of the appearance of apparitions on an audience.  The second illustration from a book published in 1811 shows a ghost projection with the lanternist hidden behind the screen.

For at least a half-century following the Robertson’s first shows the Phantasmagoria was a big part of lantern entertainment. The two broadsides, one for a German shows, another for a Russian show illustrate the spread of these entertainments.

Those wanting to learn more about ghost shows and Phantasmagoria entertainment should read Mervyn Heard’s book Phantasmagoria, The Secret Life of the Magic Lantern.

I have put a number of prints and broadsides relating to the Phantasmagoria on my web site. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Joseph Boggs Beale

Joseph Boggs Beale’s artistic work might not have seemed significant to me were it not for the fact that a large part of his career was spent in the employ of the firm of C.W. Briggs (lantern slide makers) producing drawings to be reproduced as lantern slides. I had a number of Beale slides but only one of his drawings, a romanticized scene seemingly extolling the virtues of capitalism with a prosperous boss and his busy workers. I had the lantern slide produced from the drawing and I liked having both the original drawing and the slide. I did not know until last year when I had the opportunity to buy some other Beale drawings that this drawing was from a temperance series called “A Drunkard’s Reform”. The drawing was not meant, as I had formerly imagined, to be about the rewards of capitalism but rather the return to honest labor and promotion to foreman of a man almost ruined by drink. I have grown in my appreciation of Beale’s work and been fortunate enough to add several pieces to my collection in the last two years.
Who was Joseph Boggs Beale (1841-1926)?  He was, a largely unremembered Philadelphia artist who worked in the last half of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century.  He worked for a variety of publications including Frank Leslie's Weekly, Harper's, and the Daily Graphic before going on to work for C.W. Briggs. Between 1881-1915 he made more than 2000 drawings which were reproduced as magic lantern slides. His drawings, and the slides that were produced from them, covered an amazingly wide view of American life. His work included Bible Stories, Popular Literature, History, Temperance, Folk Tales and Comic Scenes.  A partial list of his work would include Pilgrim’s Progress, Marley’s Ghost, Paul Revere’s Ride, The Life of Lincoln, Yankee Doodle, The Star Spangled Banner The Raven, Hiawatha, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, A Christmas Carol and The Night Before Christmas.
In 1940 Life magazine did a piece on Beale that served to mark a slight resurgence of interest in his work. The article referred to Beale as America’s foremost magic lantern painter, not that there was much competition or recognition for such a title. Terry Borton, the proprietor of the American Magic-Lantern Theater, has for the past twenty years tirelessly promoted Beale’s work and used slides based on Beale’s drawings for his magic lantern shows. Terry and his wife Debbie have finished the manuscript of a soon to be published book about Beale and his work entitled Before The Movies which will undoubtedly add greatly to the awareness of Beale as an artist of American life and history.
Although Beale worked well into the 20th century his artistic style is firmly planted in the 19th century with a kind of heroic grandiosity and unbridled optimism.  Some of Beale’s drawings seem overly sweet and others sadly capture a stereotyping common at the end of the 19th century. The best of Beale’s drawings catch grand figures  caught in melodramatic moments and are packed with detail. They are worth a look and my collection of Beale material is now up on my site.