‘Cinema’ was invented in the 1890s. The debate continues about precisely when and by whom but we can be certain that the Lumiere Brothers gave the first public demonstration of this technological marvel in March 1895. At the time, magic lantern shows were long-established as the big screen attraction for story-telling, often in colour and with special effects including the illusion of movement. The arrival of the cinematograph with real moving pictures must have been the equivalent of the invention of the internal combustion engine in a world of horse-pulled carts and carriages.
You would expect magic lanterns to have been completely replaced by movie projectors within a few years but lanternists and their machines adapted and found new markets and it suffered a very slow death indeed. The final resting places of magic lanterns and slides were churches and, ironically, cinemas. Hundreds of thousands of slides had been made by Church lantern slide departments and they continued to use them for Sunday School classes up to the 1950s and most cinema projection boxes in the 1960s still contained a very powerful magic lantern projector to show advertising and forthcoming attractions slides.
Those of you who are old enough to remember when British cinemas showed two films in their programme, yes two full-length features for the price of one ticket, will remember the static advertisements for the Chinese restaurant just around the corner and ice-creams and cigarettes available in the foyer. These adverts were printed on magic lantern slides. And then, there were the ‘coming next week’ slides, such as those shown.
Incredibly, I have seen magic lantern slides advertising the first Star Wars film and relating to NASA’s space programme!
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