Thursday, October 30, 2014

Parlor Kinetoscope

Thomas Alva Edison, the Wizard of Menlo Park, was a prolific inventor with over 100 patents. He was one of the pioneers in developing and showing films in the 1890s. Before the Lumière brothers showed their first projected movie in 1895, Edison had opened his first Kinetoscope Parlor in New York where patrons could watch movies in a peepshow-like device. There were rows of machines and with the deposit of a coin, a motor would engage and through a viewing hole you could see the film. The Kinetoscope Parlor was an immediate success, but in less than a decade the Kinetoscope was overwhelmed by projected movies.

In 1897, Edison also patented and produced a table-top Parlor Kinetoscope to appeal to the burgeoning home entertainment market. Very few of these toys have survived through to today. I am fortunate to have one now and I have opened a whole new section on my site for Flickers which include Kinoras, Flip books, the Parlor Kinetoscope, and Mutascopes.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Magic Lantern Convention

The Magic Lantern Convention held in July in Boston was a great success. Eighty-five people, from seven countries and three continents, spent three days watching shows, listening to presentations, buying and selling items, sharing stories and meals. Although much of the convention was devoted to the magic lantern there were talks about a wide range of visual entertainments. One of the most intriguing was a talk by Jacques Prenez about seditious figures.

Another was given by an unexpected presenter, George L. Mutter, who only contacted me days before the Convention began, and shared an incredible group of 19th century stereo views to be seen with the assistance of 3-D glasses.

Still the majority of time was taken with a variety of talks and shows about the magic lantern. We learned about early lanternists in Venice, a district in Madrid where freak shows and phantasmagoria entertainment were offered, and we were treated to an in depth look at a 1890 catalogue of lantern materials produced by the Berlin firm, W. Hagedorn.

We had so many shows over the weekend. We were treated to amazing photographs of Mary Ann Auckland’s Canadian grandmother (top) and Dick Moore shared some stunning circus images (bottom).

Then there was the wonderfully creative show, The Arctic Theatre Royal (yes polar bear costumes and large windup panorama, presented by the Wonder Show from Providence. 

R.I. Mitsue Ikeda and her troupe of students, from Osaka University, treated us to a rear projection Japanese lantern show. No, no not done yet. How often do people get to attend a film premiere? We had the chance to watch the world premiere of “ A Magic Lantern Life: The Story of the American Magic Lantern Theater.

The convention was held in the midst of my collection and during breaks I showed participants different parts of my collection including an early 18thcentury magic lantern.

On top of all of this we had the dazzling display of Magic Lantern Entertainment at the Brattle theatre in Cambridge. The sold out theatre was alive with laughter, applause and audience participation during five shows on offer that evening. The night’s entertainment ended with Mervyn Heard giving a show entitled How Bill Adams Won the Battle at Waterloo. It was fun and turned history on its head.

It was decided at the end of the convention to hold the next International Convention in two years in New Orleans. There is plenty of opportunity to join the Magic Lantern Society and even get on the program in New Orleans. If you are interested in either finding out more details about the Magic Lantern Society of the U.S. and Canada or joining the Society please contact the Chairman, Ron Easterday, at


Some times it takes a while to learn what something “really” is and what its appropriate name is and even then, there are still unanswered questions. That process of discovery is one of the joys of collecting. Some ten years ago, I bought a wonderful18th century boxed set of glass views of a group of people watching a fireworks display.

I thought it was a rare set of glass peepshow views. It looked similar to paper sets of peepshow views made by the famous German printer, Martin Engelbrecht, in which a scene was printed on six different cards. When the views are placed in a peepshow box and the viewer looks at the scene through a lens, the scene appears three-dimensional and much more life-like than a flat painting, drawing or a print. I thought some type of rare peepshow would be used to view these glass transparencies. I held that view for quite a long time and even saw one or two peepshows that I thought might be used for such a purpose. I also saw a couple of exhibitions in which sets of these glass views were included and displayed in a way that gave credence to the idea that they were peepshow views.

The last few years my thinking about these incredible views began to change as I did more reading and began seeing references to things called Diaphanoramas and Diafanoramas. Some times the term Diaphanorama is applied to other sorts of visual entertainment but both terms are used when describing glass transparent views. I will use the term Diafanorama since it seems to refer exclusively to transparent glass views. This past May, when I went to Amsterdam, I learned more about Diafanoramas. There were three of them on display at the Rijksmuseum. They were set into the wall and displayed in a way that you might look at a set of peepshow views. However, Tristan Mostert, the curator of the show, told me of research that suggested that this was not how these images were viewed; in fact, these images were to be viewed as reflected in a concave mirror (often referred to in the 18th century as a burning mirror). A set of candles would be arranged behind the box to provide lighting and a concave mirror placed in front of the box, with the mirror turned toward the box. The image would be reflected in the mirror. The mirror view created a greater appearance of depth (much like the hidden mirror in the top of a vertical peepshow does). I didn’t have time while I was in Amsterdam to see the other Diafanoramas in the Rijksmuseum, but they are online. I also found there is a large collection of these views at the Rotterdam Museum, which I also visited online

Helmut Wälde has just written a very interesting article for The New Magic Lantern Journal (Vol 11, #9) on The Dutch Diafanorama. Wälde adds considerably to the existing knowledge about these glass paintings, how they were painted and what sorts of people owned them. His article focuses exclusively on Dutch examples. His research suggests a common format. Each set has four painted sheets of glass with the same measurements of width and height. I have in my collection a number of sets of transparent paintings done on two sheets of glass. Furthermore, my sets with more than two sheets of glass are different sizes, suggesting that there was not a common format.

Diafanorama seem to have begun appearing in the middle of the 18th century. They were an amusement mainly for the private entertainment of well-to-do families. There were, however, in the19th century public shows of both Diaphanoramas and Diafanoramas. I have two broadsides in my collection advertising such shows. One is a Russian broadside advertising a Diaphanorama (gallery of transparent pictures) on display in Moscow in 1834. Very recently I added another broadside advertising a 1833 Diafanorama entertainment in the city of Altenburg, Germany. The Altenburg show contained thirty different painted scenes, most of them painted by the famous Swiss painter, Franz Niklaus König. König began giving public shows of Diafanoramas in 1811. He built up a stock of different scenes and took his show on tour in the 1820s. Upon his death in 1832, Christian Stettler and a partner bought König’s collection and began making shows with the collection. This broadside advertises a show over two evenings. I hope over time to learn more about his shows. What size were the views? What size was the audience? Did the audience use a mirror to view the scenes?

Now that I am posting images and information on my collection of Difanoramas and associated broadsides, I have to decide where they belong within my web site. I considered placing them in the peepshow section.I have decided, at least for now, to put them in the Panorama/Diorama section because the Difanoramas have much in common with Diorama paintings. Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre opened his first Diorama in Paris in 1822. Scenes were painted on multi-layered panels of linen, with selected parts treated to be transparent. These multi-layered paintings were on a different surface and of a very different scale but like the Diafanorama, they were a form of entertainment that made the viewing of a painting a more three dimensional experience.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Upcoming Magic Lantern Convention

“Come One! Come All!” barks the broadside advertising the upcoming evening of Magic Lantern entertainment at Cambridge’s iconic Brattle Theatre. On July 12 at 7:00 PM the doors will open and at 7:30 an evening of amazing lantern shows will unfold. Come watch images dance across the screen as lanternists use a 19th century biunial magic lantern to create an unforgettable evening of entertainment. It is a show not to miss. Tickets are available through the Brattle Theatre at
There is still time to register for the three-day convention, packed with talks, shows and demonstrations of different visual entertainments from the 18th to the 20th century. If interested in registering, please contact Richard Balzer at

In conjunction with the upcoming Magic Lantern convention I have decided to include more items on my site. I thought I would start with some peepshow related items. I have posted a new page of peep eggs, these small, alabaster egg-shaped souvenir viewers from the 19th century, often sold as keepsakes at popular attractions of the day. The peep egg, with a small viewing lens, displayed between one and three pictures. Some had a single view. Others had a rotating spindle with one, two or three images, and some had images on two surfaces and “pretty colored stones” on the third. I am also posting a series of magic lantern slides in which there is a peepshow. These are some of my favorite slides. Finally I have long ignored the folding peepshow on my site. Descendants of the “Engelbrecht peep shows”, 18th century views looked at in a box these 19th century views are attached and fold out for your viewing pleasure.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Magic Lantern Society of the US & Canada's 16th International Convention

The Magic Lantern Society of the US & Canada will be holding its 16th International Convention in Boston from July 10-13th

The convention will be held at the museum that houses the Richard Balzer Collection. There is a terrific program, over two and a half days, including magic lantern shows and presentations about the history of the magic lantern and other forms of visual entertainment. 

Come hear about 18th century shows in Venice and Phantasmagoria performances in Madrid. Come learn about the great 19th century traveling show, “Théatre Mécanique Morieux de Paris. Come learn about the Pilgrims Progress Panorama and be entertained by stories about the Great Snazelle, magician and magic-lantern showman. There will be an exhibition of magic lantern material and an auction, open to all who attend. 

There will be the world premiere of the new documentary about Magic Lantern Society member Terry Borton. The film is titled “A Magic-Lantern Life: The Story of the American Magic-Lantern Theater” and on Saturday night, there will be an evening of Magic Lantern Entertainment at the iconic Brattle Theatre in Cambridge. Starting at 7:30pm five lantern showmen will each give fifteen minutes shows. Open to the public, this will be an evening not to be missed!

For more information about convention attendance and registration please contact Richard Balzer at

Wednesday, January 1, 2014


How many incredible things can you see in four days? Who knows but in four days in the Netherlands I saw more than I could have imagined. It started with a visit to Amsterdam’s world famous Rijksmuseum, which has been closed because of restoration work for ten years. As well as seeing some Rembrandts and Vermeers I wanted to see a recently mounted show of eighteenth century Dutch magic lantern slides and was going to be shown around by the shows curator, Tristan Mostert. Tristan proved an engaging and very knowledgeable host. He showed me through the area of the museum for special collections, where, tucked away in a small room we came upon a group of 18th century wonders including: two bulls eye lanterns, two walls of slides, and three diafanoramas (painted glass scenes on different sheets of glass). 

Just behind us the images were being projected on a wall so visitors could not only look at the objects but also see how they would have been viewed.
When I was finally done looking at the slides Tristan asked, what else I would like to see. I asked him to show me eight of his favorite items in the museum and explain why he liked them. Tristan is a historian by training, and as we wandered around the museum he selected several pieces of historical significance, most of which I would not have noticed. By the time he explained the historical importance of the piece, what it was doing in the particular room and why he found it interesting, I was thoroughly captivated. It was one of the most enjoyable museum visits I have ever had.

The next morning I set out early and was first in line at the Van Gogh Museum. I had been warned how crowded both the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh would be but both were virtually empty when they opened at nine. I had no sense of crowds until 10:30 and by then I had soaked up about as much as I could. It was a great treat. I saw many images I was familiar with and many more that I wasn’t, a wonderful way to start the day.

Next was a trip to Scheveningen to the home and museum (Nico’s Tooverlantaarnmuseum) of Henk Kranenburg. The museum is housed on the ground floor and the minute you enter you feel the warmth of the place, cabinets full of lanterns, and optical toys line the entrance hallway. Next you enter the large museum room, which is also home of the forty-seat theatre. There are prints from floor to ceiling, decorating the fourteen feet walls. At the top of the walls there are shelves full of lanterns. There is also a second level balcony where Henk generally performs his shows, surrounded by six lanterns, boxes upon boxes of slides and a sound system where he whips up the wizardry.

 Henk asked what would I like to see and I said I would love to see some of his early slides. He disappeared upstairs and began bringing down boxes.  There were a great number of 18th century slides and among them a few stunning Musschenbroek slides. For any serious collector of magic lantern slides viewing 17th or 18th century slides produced by the Musschenbroek family firm of Leiden is a big treat both because of their age and their artistry. Henk asked if I’d like to see them projected. I nodded. It was such a treat to see them projected.
Later we looked at other unusual slides including an eight-part, Polytechnic-size dissolving set of slides depicting a woman’s dream of her life. In all that time we never got to slip slides, chromotropes, lever slides, and regular dissolving views. I could hardly believe it when Henk said he’d been collecting for only thirteen years. He has created an impressive collection.
Early in the evening we moved upstairs for a sumptuous lamb dinner prepared by Henk’s partner Robert te Pas. After dinner I took the tram and train back to Amsterdam. It had been a wonderful day.

The next morning I set off by tram & train to Zeist where I was met by Margreet Wagenaar. I met Margreet and her husband, Willem Albert, who died in 2011, thirty years ago and last visited their home 20 years ago. Willem Albert was one of the great magic lantern showmen and after many years taking his show on the road built a theatre in his house.

Margreet had planned the entire day. Her daughter, Elisabeth, was only available for a couple of hours to project some slides and she soon arrived with her own son. I said I’d fancy seeing some of their Musschenbroek slides and what Elisabeth fetched from the attic was truly staggering. Elisabeth projected a large number of amazing slides over the next hour.
 We paused for lunch and then Margreet drove me to Utrecht. We were met by her son, Joost (who I first met when he was a teenager). He is now a judge in Utrecht. He was kind enough to take us on a walking tour of the architecturally rich city.
Margreet and I returned to her house and headed up to the attic, passing the study that is home to one of the few known Musschenbroek lanterns, and a beautiful eighteenth century peepshow before making our way up the stairs to the attic so I could dive into the shelves and shelves of slides. I almost never tire when looking at slides but it was all too much. After an hour and half I knew I had reached my visual limit. I had begun to stare at the vast shelves holding thousands of more images.

Soon we were off for Kortenhoef to see Annet Duller’s magic lantern show to be held in the barn onthe land of her cousin, Pieter Dekker. The barn is generally used for the restoration of antique, flat-bottomed fishing boats but it proved to be a wonderful site for a magic lantern show.  The area nearest the large green doors leading into the barn was turned into a receiving hall with food and drinks laid out. Beyond that, a larger space bordered by the thick-planked walls held sixty chairs,  arranged in front of a white muslin screen stretched across poles.  An English biunnial lantern sat in the middle of the audience. Annet, a natural storyteller, held everyone's interest with her slides and her stories. The room was full of oh and ahs as well as laughter greeting her stories. It was a great end to a great day.

My last day was a change of pace. I wasn’t going to see another magic lantern collection. Instead I was going to spend the day with an old friend, Ruud Hoff, who had moved out of Amsterdam several years ago. He drove down from Friesland to pick me up and drive me back up to see his partner, Dian, and their home in Pietersbierium.  On our way out of Amsterdam we passed by a concert hall featuring a huge mesmerizing photograph of Nelson Mandela plastered across its side. I told Ruud I’d like to stop and get a picture. He kept driving saying he was the person who took that picture June 16, 1990 during Mandela’s first trip out of South Africa as a free man and would show me the original at his house.

We drove for more than an hour and half until the landscape flattened out.  We left the highway and passed through a series of small towns. Franeker was one of the towns where we stopped to visit the world’s oldest working planetarium. The one room planetarium was the work of Eise Eisinga, who completed his living room planetarium in 1781. We walked into the living room and looked up to the ceiling to be greeted by celestial skies. It was utterly amazing, not only because it was it an accurate depiction of the known planetary system, but because it also represented an accurate system for keeping track of the calendar and time.
After that we went back to Ruud’s. Ruud is a collector and showed me around his collection of Kodak cameras. The day and evening passed quickly and at about 9pm he drove me back to Amsterdam. I thanked him for the day and watched as he left me for the long drive back home.
By the time I walked down the three flights of stairs in the building at which I was staying, got back on the tram and headed out to Schiphol Airport, I was tired. Not only was my mind full of happy 

memories but my hands were clutching a few 18th century slides including a Musschenbroek lever slide.

I have just put a page of 18th century slides up on my site.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Collection has a tumblr!

We're delighted to introduce our tumblr as another way to enjoy the collection.

New animated gifs are added every monday evening.