Recently, I have been working on a presentation on our lantern slide collections for a symposium held at the ANU in December on Australia's Lantern Slide Heritage. I have already blogged about the first slides registered in the collection (these are also probably our oldest slides, dated around 1880s) -- by Thomas Whitelegge, but there is much more to discover about this fascinating collection.

What are lantern slides?

Lantern slides are the precursor to the modern slide projector or data projector. Copied from original photographs, they are glass plates made to be projected as part of a lecture or, popular 'entertainments' (more commonly known as 'magic lantern slides').

Invented just after photography, the new projection technologies allowed photographic images to be seen by large audiences for the first time.

History of the AM lantern slide collection

The Australian Museum's offical lantern slide collection began with the opening of the Hallstrom Lecture Theatre in 1910. Through the 1920s to mid 1950s, lantern slides were the museum's image bank, created, used and re-used for lectures and talks on a huge range of subjects by museum scientists, educators and visitors, both on site in our lecture theatre and off using portable projectors in community venues in Sydney and regional NSW.

Carefully registered and indexed to maximise use, the lantern slides form the museum's image vocabulary for the mid-20thC.

Importance of the collection

This very large collection (new estimate is around 30,000 slides) is under-researched and very sparsely digitised but is a really interesting part of the museum's history of science, education, photography and outreach.

The collection's strength is its size, continuity and comprehensive documentation. Not only do we hold the slides, but the original registrations, indexes and sometimes the lectures or published accounts of lectures they illustrated. We also hold some lantern slide equipment. We also have related photographic collections and education records to provide detailed context for the lectures and the lantern slides as they were created and used.

As well, we hold a few other donated and collected lantern slide collections (not made or used by the AM).

There is much work to be done researching, documenting and digitising this wonderful collection!

Collection Highlights

  • AM lantern slide collection - 20,000 slides from 1903 to 1959
  • Frank Hurley's lantern slides - some made by Hurley and others made by museum staff using our original Hurley glass photographic plates
  • National Photographic Index of Australian Birds lantern slides collections
  • Missionary collections - lantern slides used to promote missionary work in the Pacific
  • Anthony Musgrave collection - personal and scientific collection of AM scientist and talented photographer