Today’s lantern slide probably dates from the 1880s and shows a small town in Scotland called Inverurie, about 15 miles north of Aberdeen. It’s a nice enough image with some children playing in the street and not much else. The question is why does it and tens of thousands like it exist? The hand written label at the bottom tells us that it was produced by JV and that it is number 44469. ‘JV’ was James Valentine, a Scottish maker of lantern slides whose company is better known as one of the UK’s largest publishers of postcards in the mid twentieth century. The number is the negative photographic plate reference which, if they were numbered consecutively, gives an indication of the vast number of photos taken, to make into slides. Valentine’s must have thought that it was a commercially viable proposition to send photographers to almost every town and village in Britain, then manufacture slides for stock and list them in catalogues, in the belief that there would be sufficient demand to make it all worthwhile.
Inverurie had, to my knowledge, no special claim to fame at the time but, one hundred and thirty years later we have a high resolution view of the Market Square, with children watching the photographer, a gentleman doing something on the pavement and a named shop, ‘Peter A. Abel’ the pharmacist. The children are carrying cans, perhaps they had been sent to pick up the milk before going to school.
At first sight, this is a relatively uninteresting magic lantern slide, like thousands of others that have survived. However, for local and social historians, it’s a wonderful record of normal life in a small Scottish town in the late Victorian period.
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