I was in my local antiques centre a few weeks ago and discovered a box of Victorian magic lantern slides marked at £1 each. Most were worthless but two shouted at me to buy them, as I recognised the maker’s mark and, despite the poor light, could see that the images were interesting. Yes, this is another story of what ten minutes detective work on the internet can do.
The manufacturer’s logo in the top left corner of the slides is that of ‘York and Son’, one of the UK’s finest producers of photographic lantern slides, active mainly in the 1890s. The two slides have a printed caption identifying the lecture set that they came from, ‘The Rocky Mountains’, so the country is clearly Canada but the printed edge labels that would have identified the precise locations are missing.
The Magic Lantern Society has a ‘readings’ library, whereby members can download copies of original scripts that accompanied sets of slides. Unfortunately though, this one isn’t available.
The first slide is of a street scene and looks like something from a western movie ….. a dirt road, wooden shacks, horses and carts. It’s very sharp and with a magnifying glass you can read the shop signs, one of which is ‘S. T. Tilley, Stationery’. There is a reference to this shop on the internet and it was based on Carrall Street, Vancouver. The second slide shows a railway terminus and a quayside. One of the carriages has ‘Canadian Pacific Railway’ on the side (as you would expect in Canada) and it seems likely, therefore, that, as this is clearly the end of the line, it’s on the western side of the Rockies and is almost certainly Vancouver.
A little research on the internet shows that the CPR trans-continental line was completed in 1887 (after various political and financial scandals) and that the western terminus was, indeed, Vancouver.
The two slides are numbered consecutively, 36 and 37, and are, therefore, probably of the same place. So, the evidence suggests that they date from the 1890s and are of Vancouver. If you live there and know its history, perhaps you can confirm whether it is or isn’t and, if it is, is this Carrall Street? If so, these slides are a very rare, high-resolution, photographic record of the City in its early days. Finding such historical gems for £1 each is amazing and being able to identify the location, via the internet, in just a few minutes ….. truly remarkable.
A thought occurs to me. Whilst I find the detection process described here interesting and very satisfying, would others? Is what I do normal behaviour? My wife has posed this question more than once!