Magic lantern slides lighting up Sussex Saleroom


A large single owner collection of magic lantern slides are set to go under the hammer on Wednesday 11th April at Bellmans Auctioneers. With subjects including natural history, classical theatre and art, battleships, erotic nudes and late 19th century Asian imagery, the ten lot collection has estimates ranging from £60-600, and something to suit every taste and budget.

The magic lantern (Latin lanterna magica) is an early type of image projector which utilises pictures painted, printed or produced photographically on transparent plates usually made of glass. It was mostly developed in the 17th century and commonly used for entertainment purposes, although magic lanterns were increasingly applied to educational purposes during the 19th century and since the late 19th century, smaller versions were also produced as toys for children. The magic lantern was in widespread use from the 18th century until the mid-20th century, when it was superseded by a more compact version that could hold many 35mm photographic slides: the slide projector. The magic lantern was not only a direct ancestor of the motion picture projector as a means for visual storytelling, but it could itself be used to project moving images.

Since its opening in 1838, The Royal Polytechnic Institution in London became a very popular and influential venue with all kinds of magic lantern shows as an important part of its program. The magic lantern was used to illustrate lectures, concerts, pantomimes and other forms of theatre.

Magic lanterns and lantern slides are still popular with collectors and can be found in many museums. However, of the original lanterns created within the first 150 years of its invention, only twenty eight were known to still exist at the last count in 2009. Museums usually prefer not to use their slides for projections, but often provide video representations of the slides, so these extraordinary lots provide a rare chance to view the world through nostalgic eyes.

The entire auction is on view from Friday 6th April, and will be fully illustrated online from Tuesday 3rd April. Online bidding is available via For more information and to register your interest, please contact Bellmans Auctioneers directly on 01403 700858, or email