Lantern Slides

Lantern slides were the first projected images, dating back to the mid 17th century. Originally made with drawn images on glass, lantern slides became a hugely popular base for photography well into the 1900s before slowly being replaced by celluloid film slides.

Displayed through a magic lantern projector, lantern slides could be coloured in with paint or ink and were made by everyone from amateur photographers, to school teachers, to government agencies. 


Projector Magic Lantern, ca. 1900, glass; metal, Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Gift of Nicholas Morant, 2006 (104.41.1213 a-d)

This magic lantern has a small slit between the body and the lens where thin slides would be inserted.

Lit by an oil lamp, metal lanterns like this one would get very hot. The decorative feet helped to keep the lantern away from a table's top and prevent scorching.

Most commonly used for photography after the mid 1800s, lantern slides could also be made by hand, and could be made to move. 

More often made by entertainers for theatre settings, "slipping slides" were a precursor to movies and used two or more glass slides to create simple motions.


Spinning kaleidoscopes of colours, people jumping, eyes moving, rolling wheels, and chopping motions could all be achieved through the use of small gears and levers to expose or obscure aspects of the projected picture.

The Great Divide, n.d., Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Archives General File Collection (V8/5486/PS-2)

Fraser Canon, B.C., n.d., Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Archives General File Collection (V8/5486/PS-8)

After the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) established hotels along its route through the Rocky Mountains, the area saw more and more people visiting and exploring - most of them taking pictures. Glass negatives were a common medium for many of these photographers as their standard sizes were compatible with most cameras by 1890 and could be easily carried out into the mountains. Upon development into positives they could simply be made into lantern slides if desired.

The additional option to add colour to the slides also meant they could be used by companies like the CPR as marketing tools abroad, just as frequently as visitors could use them to dazzle their families.  


[Untitled], 1939, Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Jean A. Hembroff MacDonald fonds (V797/II/PS-29)

Not all lantern slides survived intact throughout the years. Sometimes it is possible for heat, moisture, or oxygen to access the image within its glass casing. Depending on the photographic and/or development process, these elements can affect an image differently.


Here are a few examples:


[Untitled], ca. 1930, Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Canadian Pacific Railway fonds (V782/PS-56)

The bubbles visible throughout this slide are likely a result of the photographic emulsion (the chemical layer that holds the image to the glass) becoming too hot and peeling away.

The large splotch in the middle may be a result of excess heat, but only to the point where the ink began to bleed within the emulsion layer.

Learn how lantern slides are made here!

Watch lantern slide shows here!