Sandi PullmanGlass lantern slides light up the past

I discovered Glass Lantern Slides when I catalogued about 350 for The Footscray Historical Society. I was blown away, as I had never heard of them before. The clarity was amazing. In some of them I could identify the plants. There were ones of pests, which were also mind blowing because they were so clear and showed the life cycle of the pests. Later I discovered many of them were photos from books.

Glass Lantern Slide Children in their new school garden at Lorguon. Burnley Collection

Glass Lantern Slide Children in their new school garden at Lorguon. Burnley Collection

Glass Lantern Slide projector courtesy Bob Kronbauer

Glass Lantern Slide projector courtesy Bob Kronbauer http://www.vancouverisawesome.com/

Glass Lantern Slides are much older than we think. They began before photography and go back as early as the seventeenth century, when the Magic Lantern (the projector) was used to project painted images on glass of drawings or paintings for children’s picture shows or for religious exhibitions. They were held up to a machine and lit up by candle light. As technology progressed the lantern projector was powered by Limelight (white light) which is produced by directing a very hot flame on a pellet of lime. An even brighter white light could be obtained by using oxygen and hydrogen. The projectionist had to be really careful as the lanterns had a tendency to blow up and burn down the local theatre or community hall.

Glass Lantern Slide Burnley Collection

Glass Lantern Slide Burnley Collection

Glass Lantern Slide Burnley Collection3

Glass Lantern Slide Burnley Collection

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Glass Lantern Slide Burnley Collection

Glass Lantern Slide Burnley Collection

 

The slides are a positive print of a photograph mounted on glass. Then a second piece of glass is put on top of the positive print and bound together by a strip of paper around the edge. This second piece of glass protects the print from scratches and dust making them almost indestructible unless you drop them and break the glass.

Glass Lantern Slide Lily pond Burnley Gardens

Glass Lantern Slide Lily pond Burnley Gardens

Most of them are black and white but there some exquisitely hand coloured ones like this one of the Burnley Garden Lily Ponds c.1900. It is also perhaps why when we look at them today, they are so remarkably clear if they have been stored in a dry place, like the garden too shed. Their only enemy is moisture – oh, and being dropped!

Glass Lantern Slide Children outside doing a Science Experiment Burnley Collection

Glass Lantern Slide Children outside doing a Science Experiment Burnley Collection

The Glass Lantern Picture Shows became really popular form of entertainment; they were the precursor of going to the movies for us today. The projector works just like the projectors we used for our Kodak shots of the family trip. You pop the slide in the slot, shoot it in and there on the wall or screen is the picture. However, I think the Glass Lantern Slide Picture Shows were probably a little more interesting than the family flicks as you usually had music, perhaps someone playing the piano, plus someone doing sound effects and telling the story.

Glass Lantern Slide Burnley Collection

Glass Lantern Slide Burnley Collection

Just recently in Melbourne the City Council put an exhibition of Glass Lantern Slides that originally came from Burnley School of Horticultural. Lex Nieboer a former student of Burnley found them realised their value and saved them. The pictures featured The Fitzroy Gardens, Exhibition Buildings and Carlton Gardens and Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne. These beautiful slides gave us peak into the past of our gardens look, and you may be surprised in instances not much has changed.

Glass Lantern Slide Hospital Gardens Burnley Collection

Glass Lantern Slide Hospital Gardens Burnley Collection

The ones at Burnley were used as a teaching tool, to show students different garden design and were the Power Point Presentation of their time. The Burnley Collections includes pictures of gardens from all over the world. We have pictures of the garden at Balmoral, history of the development of roses and lots of pictures of schools around Victoria with the students proudly showing their new gardens.

Today they are an excellent resource for people who are researching their garden. Because they are so clear, you can easily identify where garden beds where, what has and hasn’t changed in the garden, what plants were used and you can work out the approximate date by the type of clothes people wore.

Glass Lantern Slide Looking toward Oak Lawn, Burnley Gardens

Glass Lantern Slide Looking toward Oak Lawn, Burnley Gardens

I have stood where I think this photo was taken and over all it hasn’t changed that much; of course the Sequoia sempervirens (California redwood) and Quercus robur (English oak) have grown. What I noticed was that the lawn strip on the right of the photo is no longer there, funeral pines in front of the oak aren’t there (although we think they were planted in the 1870-80s so they must have still been small) and the Butia capitata (Jelly palm) is very small. It is about where the water damage is on the left hand side of the photo.

Glass Lantern Slide Hotham Walk Bridge Burnley Collection

Glass Lantern Slide Hotham Walk Bridge Burnley Collection

If you are in Melbourne and interested in coming to experience a Glass Lantern Slide Show, The Friends of Burnley Gardens are having a Glass Lantern Slide night using our slides to celebrate our 150th Birthday Saturday 23rd November, 2013. For more information log onto the Friends of Burnley Gardens web page. Also if you would like to see more, visit Melbourne Parks and Garden exhibition.

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Sandi Pullman

About Sandi Pullman

Sandi was a horticultural advisor to ABC TV’s Gardening Australia and has 21 years experience. She is a regular contributor to Vasili’s Good Gardening and Your Vegie Patch. She has also contributed to the Gardening section of The Age and to the Australian Garden History Society journal over the years. She is a founding member of the Friends of Burnley Gardens and now is volunteer garden co-ordinator for the Friends of La Trobe’s Cottage and is researching what plants were available from 1800 to 1854 to recreate an authentic garden of early Melbourne.

3 thoughts on “Glass lantern slides light up the past

  1. What a fabulous heritage resource to have! I love looking at those old photos – the one of the children doing soil science experiments is my favourite. And look at that school garden. Stephanie Alexander’s Kitchen Garden program has some catching up to do.

  2. I agree with Catherine. There is something magical about the clarity and seeming permanence of lantern slides. Sadly, in my experience, their relatively large size and the sense that they are outdated technology mean that many have been discarded, in the mistaken belief that more recent photographs provide the same information.

    I hope your slide night goes well, and introduces more people to the wonders of these old images.

  3. Hi Landscapelover
    Yes, I hope it goes well too. Especially if the chap who owns the projector does sound effects
    Cheers Sandi

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