When the magic lantern met the microscope

Lisa Ashby

I admit to having a particular weakness for magic lanterns and their slides. There is also a burgeoning interest in camera Lucidas, but that is for another day. My entry to this year’s Quekex is about where the lantern meets the microscope.

Much has been written of the history of lanterns, microscopes and lucidas, it is not my intention to repeat any of this but to look at a couple of the items from my own collection. The earliest Watson catalogue I have is Microscopes, objectives and accessory apparatus 1884. This catalogue includes an advertisement for a Lantern Microscope, there are unfortunately no illustrations but as you can see this can be used to draw the projected image “more easily…than with any other apparatus.

1884 Lantern description1884 Lantern description

Despite this they are also still offering the lucida for sale.

1884 Camera Lucida1884 Camera Lucida

The items in my collection are shown below.

The first of my Watson catalogues that is of any help is the 14th edition, and although it mentions the lantern being described in the RMS Journal of 1885 this particular catalogue must have been issued after 1895 due to the subject matter of some of the lantern slides. Available was the “new lantern microscope, for class demonstrations”.

New lantern in 14th editionNew lantern in 14th edition

Ultimately this is a microscope stage with a prism, you attach a low power objective and can project your slide image onto a table or paper for viewing or drawing. I think that the image above may be overstating the size of projection you might get, but perhaps it is using the amplifier mentioned below.

Description of new lantern in 14th editionDescription of new lantern in 14th edition

As you can see you could buy the lantern with the fitting or for £3 3s you could buy just the stage element and attach it to any lantern.

So then I turn to the items in my collection starting with the smaller item. It has lived most of its life with me attached to a small magic lantern but its never sat quite right with me that the stage clips are pointing down, surely risking your slide dropping out?

Looking at the catalogues I first thought that I had a New Lantern Microscope but the more I look the less happy I am. Firstly there is the stage clip issue. Secondly with a 1″ objective as suggested I cannot get any image in focus at the sort of distances implied, let alone one that large. Lastly, in this position the name of Watsons is upside down; its fair to say that they were a firm obsessed with advertising and blowing their own trumpet would they have really accepted this?

If you replace the 1″ with a 2″ objective you end up with a projected image with a diameter of approximately 3¼″. The centre height of the objective was approximately 450 mm above the projection surface.

So although I can get it to work its still upside down and that got me thinking, perhaps I didn’t have a New Lantern Microscope, so what did I have?

In the same catalogue we also have the improved apparatus for showing horizontal objects or fluids

Horizontal microscope lanternHorizontal microscope lantern

I could have one of these but the description doesn’t match, I don’t have a glass stage nor a bar upon which to raise and lower my prism. It is however possible that I have an earlier or later model.

Using it with the stage horizontal and a 2″ objective you can project onto a surface at approximately 6 feet away from the slide and get an image diameter of 15 inches, but what lets me down is my light source which is nowhere near powerful enough.

Despite the differences in description my final conclusion is that this is indeed for horizontal projection, for this I really do need to replace the missing focus fitting.

My second item is the Lantern Microscope, which looks decidedly unbalanced,

Again the one from my collection is similar but not at all the same as the catalogue version. Mine has a chamber for a water tank to reduce the heat being passed through the apparatus and looks to be a more complicated design.

Lantern microscopeLantern microscope

Fast forward to 1906 and we get closer in design and this is now in a microscope catalogue rather than a lantern one. By the time we get to the 1909 microscope catalogue there is no mention of a lantern attachment which perhaps give an indication of the waning interest in lanterns.

Lantern microscopeLantern microscope

My one is currently a work in progress as I need to replicate its missing tank and straighten the apparatus itself. The main problem however is that in 1906 Watsons claim this will fit with any Watson lantern, but mine does not despite my lantern being identical to the illustration!

Unfortunately although I have copies of other catalogues showing magic lantern slides, this is the only one in my collection with magic lantern apparatus and accessories. If any members have others that they would be willing to share copies of, I would be really interested to hear from you as I would love to build a timeline of the development of these.

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