Victorian, large, heavy, glass, magic lantern projection slides evolved in the mid 20th century into smaller, lighter, 35mm photographic transparencies. Anyone over the age of fifty will remember them well, ‘though not necessarily fondly. They’re the photos that you took on holiday, sent away to be developed when you came home and then projected for your friends and neighbours, often upside down or back-to-front and which got stuck in the projector’s carousel.
In addition to millions of family holiday snaps, thousands of railway enthusiasts (men) took photos of steam engines, stations, diesel multiple units etc. during the 1960, 70s and 80s, most of which are still out there in cupboards and attics. Their colour is fading as we speak (unlike Victorian, hand tinted magic lantern slides) and kids and grand-kids are thinking “what the hell am I going to do with all these boring slides when Dad / Grandad has gone to the great scrapyard in the sky?”
I own a collection of tens of thousands of transparencies (too many to count) but I’m hoping my children won’t have that dilemma, as mine have a unique provenance. They came from the National Railway Museum (NRM) in York, England.
About ten years ago, the NRM put them into an auction to raise money for the refurbishment of the Flying Scotsman. I didn’t buy them at the auction but, a few months later, I purchased them from the person who did. They are high resolution, professionally taken photographs, dating from the 1940s to the 1980s of railway posters, paintings, locomotives, rolling stock, stations, drawings, portraits and all things railway-history related. My understanding is that they were in the ‘film store’ at the Museum and deemed to be surplus to requirement once they’d been digitised, hence their inclusion in the auction. Strangely, in preparation for the sale, they were put into sealed, brown, paper envelopes and described in the catalogue as negatives when they are, in fact, positive images. So, at the auction, no-one could see what they were bidding for and there was virtually no interest in them.
The copyright for most of the slides is currently owned by the National Railway Museum, which is why the images in this post are very low resolution and watermarked. I can’t reproduce them but can sell them, ‘though I have no intention of doing so. My advice to my kids is “wait until 2055, when they’ll be out of copyright, then consider your options!” It’s a strange world that collectors like me inhabit!