1870’s T.H.McAllister Optician Magic Lanterns, L&R set

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  • Item Category: Tools
  • Source: eBay
  • Sold Date: Jun 17, 2011
  • Channel: Auction House

T. H. McAllister, Manufacturing Optician, 49 Nassau Street, New York

From the heyday of tinsmith technology, own the latest in Victorian “Moral Entertainment”!

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Description: Both lanterns have dual-element 5-inch condensers and two-burner kerosene lamps, internal and external chimneys, sliding rear access door, and latching side doors. Each has a slide tray and tray holder. Each has a removable stop for the tray holder fastened to the tray slot by a chain. A mounting hole on the bottom of each unit allows one to fasten both to a single board. The base of each unit has a concealed ventilation chamber with offset ventilation holes.

Both lanterns have a patina of oxidation from use, especially around the chimney, one a little less than the other, but there is no surface-penetrating rust / severe metal damage. There are numerous places where the finish is oxidized away - as seen most clearly on the rear sliding panels. The bottoms of the units are surprisingly free of rust, suggesting they were operated in humid environments. These are workhorse projectors, and clearly have seen much use. The brass-plated copper lens barrels are inscribed “T. H. McAllister - New York” and have heavy patinas and loss of brass plating. One rack and pinion focus adjustment is stripped, but focus can still be set, the other has a loose knob. One wick is deeply retracted, and probably should be moistened with kerosene before attempting to raise it. Both kerosene reservoir have copper plates saying: “T.H. McAllister - M’ F’ C Optician - New York”. The decals on the front of both lanterns are almost illegible, but say: “T. H. McAllister - Optician - New York”.

Why “Steropticon”? Stereopticons usually refer to a single unit comprised of 2 magic lanterns and were usually lit with very bright limelight. These T.H.McAllister magic lanterns appear to be an example of a legacy technology - single lantern, kerosene lamp lit - trying vainly to keep up by making the mirror version. The 2 burner 2” wicks of the kerosene lamps would restrict the scale of the show, due to there moderate brightness. Once the public had seen limelight, the kerosene lamp faded fast. Then came Edison and Tesla with bright ideas, and we never really looked back very much.

Operation: A dual lantern set-up allows the lanternist to always have an image on the screen while changing out the other slide. Also, this pair of Magic Lanterns would allow the lanternist to perform a sort of combo slide/wipe transition inherent to the design of the slide tay/tray holder mechanism. The slide tray can slide in it’s housing, and the housing also slides in it’s slot on the magic lantern, each for half a slide width. (See video: /watch?v=nxdAyQqWHFw

The two cabinets are mirror images of each other, even the metal slide tray mechanism is reversed. The lanternist could stand between the projectors and operate both at once, opening one and closing the other, change a slide, and do it again. The lanternist could also access the lamps from the same location, and refill the inactive one, if the presenter grew too long-winded.

About Magic Lantern shows: By 1895 there were between 30,000 and 60,000 lantern showmen in the United States, giving between 75,000 and 150,000 performances a year. These shows in larger venues than one’s parlor used these types of larger devices, like the four-burner above, and were the blue-ray of the day. Topics ranged from history, travel, victorian edutainment and even political events. At about 10 cents a head, it was adding up quick. The Magic Lantern went viral in the 1870s. Everyone was scrambling to get the “toy” home version. Soon the slides and stories got cranked out at a fever pitch. And then came the movies. And we all sort of forgot about slides, unless visiting the in-laws, or until Bill Gates reinvented them.

What w...