OUR MAGIC LANTERN

This projector, together with a box of slides, was donated to our museum by the family of Rev. Harmon Denning, who moved to Sydney in 1929 and became a missionary with the Sydney City Mission, first at Glebe for 2 or 3 years, then at Redfern for about 20 years, until his retirement.

Rev. Harmon Denning

The hand-painted glass slides of “Pilgrims Progress” had been drawn and painted by Rev. Denning for use while working at Glebe and Redfern.

Photography was his hobby. He regularly blacked out the family bathroom so he could to develop and print his slides. Apparently many slides were also made by photographing pictures from books.

For most of his life he was involved with the Concord Baptist Church.

About Magic Lanterns

The magic lantern was invented in the 1600’s, probably by Christiaan Huygens, a Dutch scientist. It was the earliest form of slide projector and has a long and fascinating history. The first magic lanterns were illuminated by candles, but as technology evolved they were lit by increasingly powerful means.

The name “magic lantern” comes from the experience of the early audiences who saw devils and angels mysteriously appear on the wall, as if by magic. Even in the earliest period, performances contained images that moved—created with moving pieces of glass.

By the 18th century, the lantern was a common form of entertainment and education in Europe. The earliest known “lanthorn show” in the U.S. was in Salem, Massachusetts, on December 3, 1743, “For the Entertainment of the Curious.” But the source of light for lanterns in this period—usually oil lamps—was still weak and, as a consequence, the audiences were small.

Magic Lantern Slide

In the mid 19th century, two new forms of illumination were developed which led to an explosion of lantern use. “Limelight” was created by heating a piece of limestone in burning gas until it became incandescent. It was dangerous but produced a light that was strong enough to project an image before thousands of people, leading to large shows by professional showmen. Kerosene lamps were not nearly as bright, but they were so safe they could be used by children, leading to widespread use in churches, schools, fraternal societies, and in toy lanterns. By the turn to the 20th century, electric illumination was introduced, which spread the lantern even further

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