A Lantern Alphabet


A rackwork slide is a mechanical slide where turning a handle at the side of the slide rotates one sheet of glass over another. The mechanism was used for a wide range of effects, from simple slides showing scenes like a windmill with the sails turning, through to double rackwork slides with two sheets of glass rotating in opposite directions, used for chromatropes and fountain slides.
Rain Effect
A form of effect slide where the slide includes a moveable curtain with slots cut in it. When the slide is projected in a biunial or triunial lantern and superimposed on the image from another slide, the effect is of rain falling on the scene being projected.
Many sets of slides were originally accompanied by a ‘reading’, such as a poem, story or lecture that explained the subject. Sometimes these were adapted from published books, and sometimes published by the slide producers for use with a specific slide set. The Society maintains the world’s largest library of slide readings – see the Slide Readings section of this site.
Ross Lanterns
The Ross company was one of the last British manufacturers of magic lanterns. It was active in the early years of the twentieth century, and produced a range of metal-bodied magic lanterns and epidiascopes that were used largely for educational purposes.
Royal Polytechnic
The Royal Polytechnic Institute in London’s Regent Street was the venue of some of the best magic lantern shows of all time. Using large specially-made hand-painted slides, with lanterns to match, shows were given during the middle years of the nineteenth century, frequently involving complicated dissolves and effect slides. A detailed history of the institution can be found in the Society’s book The Temple of Minerva.
Russian Iron
A type of black-finished sheet iron used for many of the cheaper lanterns in the last years of the nineteenth century and the first years of the twentieth century was known at the time as ‘Russian Iron’. The name derives from the ore used and the hammering process for producing the malleable sheet metal, which both originated in Russia.


Scientific Lantern
The Scientific Lantern has two major differences from the standard lantern. An open area in front of the condenser enables experiments (for example using Tank Slides) to be demonstrated and projected from there. There is also a separate optical system in which the light is projected upwards before being projected forwards, allowing objects in flat dishes (such as tadpoles swimming in a dish) to be projected.
An American name for the magic lantern, also used as a trade name by the Sciopticon Company in the UK.
Slide Carrier
For projecting standard 3¼ inch slides, a carrier is required to support the slide in the lantern. There were many designs, ranging from simple shuttle devices that move a slide sideways in front of the lens, to more elaborate patented mechanisms for exchanging two slides. A common design of the late 19th century was the Beard Eclipse carrier.
Slide Sizes
Early slides varied greatly in size, generally being hand-painted on strips of glass to suit an individual lantern. Gradually over the development of the Magic Lantern, especially in the 19th century, sizes became more standardised. From around the 1860s most slide production used standard sizes of 3¼ by 3¼ inches (83mm square) in the UK and the rest of Europe, and 4 by 3¼ inches (102 by 83 mm) in the USA. These sizes remained in use until the development of 35mm transparencies in the middle of the 20th century. Toy lanterns used smaller sizes of slide.
The type of slide where one sheet of glass moves over another to give an impression of movement, to show two states of a similar object, or to give a ‘quick change’ effect often with comic results.
Snow Effect Slide
This type of effect slide has a perforated strip of material which passes from a roller below the image position to another roller above it. When projected with the material moving it gives the effect of snow falling.


Tank Slide
A type of slide designed so that liquid objects can be projected. They frequently have a mahogany frame containing a narrow glass tank. Typically subjects would include the crystallisation of solutions and small creatures swimming in pond water.
The most elaborate type of magic lantern, with three separate optical systems usually stacked on top of each other in a single body. It enables sophisticated effects to be produced, such as dissolving from one view to another on two of the lenses, while a snow effect is produced from the third. They were made in the latter part of the 19th century, and were always expensive luxury items, now highly prized by collectors.
Transfer Slides
Mass-produced slides produced by the lithographic process, in which an image printed on transfer paper is attached to the slide glass using water or another solvent.
Tungsten Lamp
The form of illuminant which covers the standard incandescent light bulb.