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 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.
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.
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!
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.
In 2013, Melbourne 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 peek into the past of our gardens look, and you may be surprised in instances not much has changed.
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.
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.