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Homer and Betty Peabody Magic Lantern Collection

Identifier: MS-0480

Scope and Contents

The Homer and Betty Peabody Magic Lantern Collection (1800-2006) contains forty-two magic lanterns, approximately five thousand glass slides, as well as material related to the Peabody's membership in the Magic Lantern societies of the United States, Canada, and Great Britain, and their collecting activities and interests. The collection documents the development of lantern technology and glass slides as well as its diverse usage.  The majority of the collection dates from 1880 to 1920 and is divided into three series: Lanterns, Glass Slides, and Personal Papers.

Series I, Lanterns, documents the various types of lanterns, including domestic, toy, and professional lanterns, and their development over time. This series dates from 1850 to 1920 though the majority of lanterns date between 1900 and 1910. Several lanterns include their original boxes as well as their original oil lamps or paraffin burners. This series is divided into four sub-series: Domestic, Professional, Toy, and Spare Parts. The Domestic Lanterns (1880-1920) make up the smallest lantern sub-series and includes two opaque projectors as well as a French Lampascope. Highlights include a Buckeye Stereopticon Mirrorscope dating from 1910. The Professional Lanterns document changes in illuminant and lens system technology, and include a wide-range of lantern types, including biunials, electric lanterns, industrial lanterns, oil illuminant lanterns, and lanterns with paraffin burners. These lanterns date from 1870 to 1915.  Highlights include L.J. Marcy’s revolutionary Sciopticon as well as a vertical McIntosh Biunial. This sub-series contains fifteen professional lanterns as well as a camera obscura and lecturer’s lamp, and is arranged alphabetically by manufacturer. The Toy sub-series (1850-1910) contains twenty-four toy lanterns and documents the various types of toy lanterns. The majority of these lanterns are from Nuremberg-based manufacturers and are arranged alphabetically by manufacturer. Of particular interest is a conical lantern dating from 1850, an Ernst Plank lantern with its original box, slides, tickets, and posters; and several Johann Faulk cinematographs.  Lastly, the Spare Parts sub-series includes empty original lantern cases, spare light bulbs, oil lamps, lenses and chimneys.

Series II, Glass Slides, dates from the early eighteenth century to the mid-twentieth century and documents the various types of slides, changes in lantern slide production and style, as well as the myriad slide themes and uses. The majority of slides are British or American standard sizes, with many photographic and chromolithographic sets, and primarily date from 1890 to 1910. The series provides particularly strong documentation of geography and travel slides, medical slides, and caricature and comic slides. The collection is divided into seventeen sub-series: Advertising, Art, Caricatures and Comics, Elementary Education, Fraternal Organizations, Geography and Travel, History, Individual and Group Photographs, Medical, Moving Pictures, Narratives, Religious, Salutations, Science, Songs, Temperance, and Slide Storage.  Each sub-series is arranged alphabetically by folder title.  Within the folder, slides are listed by slide title and include basic information about the slide including manufacturer, type of slide, and set number.

Sub-series 1, Advertising, contains advertisement slides used before and after magic lantern and moving picture shows. These slides document late nineteenth and early twentieth century consumer culture and advertising history. Highlights include political advertisements used for election campaigns. This sub-series also includes slides for home appliances, health and beauty products, automobiles, political campaigns, dental care, flowers, markets, restaurants, and more. It is arranged alphabetically by folder title.

Sub-series 2, Art, documents art education at institutions of higher learning. This sub-series contains standard and wood frame slides with images of well-known works of art, and is arranged alphabetically by artist name. Oversize wood frame slides are at the end of the sub-series.

Sub-series 3, Caricatures and Comics, primarily documents mechanical and toy lantern slides. A large portion of slides are hand-painted or chromolithographed panorama slides produced for toy lanterns. The sub-series contains the majority of the collection’s mechanical slides, including single and double slipping slides, lever slides, rackwork slides, and panoramic slides. Many of the wood frame, hand-painted panorama slides probably date from the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century and are the earliest slides in the collection. Highlights include hand-painted Phantasmagoria-esque slides of devils and demons, and a fine selection of mechanical slipping slides as well as a set of large hand-painted panorama slides depicting various comic scenes.  There is no formal arrangement for this series, although many slides are loosely grouped together based on size and format. The archivist supplied the majority of slide titles since most comic and caricature slides were not issued with titles.

Sub-series 4, Elementary Education, documents the development and evolution of educational visual aids. This sub-series includes slides used to teach basic math, reading, recognition, vocabulary, and basic history. Many of these slides were produced by school districts for visual instruction and are in their original boxes, several of which contain instructions to teachers on how to use and care for the slides. This sub-series is arranged alphabetically by set title and dates from approximately 1900 to 1940.

Sub-series 5, Fraternal Organizations, contains slides used by secret societies and other fraternal organizations to promote their organizations and acquaint members with organizational symbols, philosophy, and history. The sub-series includes several wood frame sets from the Knights of Pythias, as well as other standard size slides.  The sub-series is organized alphabetically by set title.

Sub-series 6, Geography and Travel, is the largest sub-series and contains close to fifteen hundred slides. These slides document geographical and anthropological education as well as travel culture and history. These types of slides prepared travelers for their prospective journeys, provided mementos of memorable trips, served as an easy and affordable way to see the world, and offered an educational look at far-off places and peoples. The majority of slides are standard sized photographic slides dating from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The sub-series includes several incomplete Keystone “600” sets; and slides of Europe, the Middle East, Africa, the Pacific Islands, and the United States. Also included are several sets of slides documenting trips by unknown travelers to Europe and around the United States. Particularly noteworthy is a box set of British standard photographic slides documenting the large diamond mine in Kimberly, South Africa during the 1870s. This sub-series is arranged alphabetically by folder title with the exception of box sets and oversize wood frames located at the end of the sub-series. When possible, slides within the folders are arranged by set number.

Sub-series 7, History, is arranged alphabetically by folder title and documents the different types of history slides and their use in classrooms and lecture halls.  The majority of slides illustrate scenes from American and European history and are standard sizes. The sub-series also consists of two large United States History sets in their original cases.

Sub-series 8, Individual and Group Photographs, include mostly amateur photographs of unknown people and documents how average people used lantern slides to document noteworthy events and people in their daily lives. All slides in this sub-series are standard size photographic slides.  There is no arrangement for this sub-series.

Sub-series 9, Medical, consists of slides used for teaching purposes at medical schools and lectures. The series includes x-ray slides, diagrams, charts, graphs, photographs, microscopic images, and drawings of various ailments and organs. Highlights include a nineteenth century set of illustrations of sexually transmitted diseases and reproductive organs. The majority of slides date from the 1890s to the 1950s. The sub-series also provides heavy documentation for pulmonary disease-related slides.  The medical slides are arranged alphabetically by folder title with oversize wood frame slides and box sets located at the end of the series. When possible, slides within the folder are arranged by set number.

Sub-series 10, Moving Pictures, includes movie theatre announcement slides as well as advertisements for upcoming movies, and documents the magic lantern’s role in early moving picture history. The majority of slides date from 1910 to 1920 and are arranged alphabetically by movie title within the folder.

Sub-series 11, Narratives, documents popular stories and tales used to entertain contemporary audiences. This series includes various stories, fables, nursery rhymes, and popular tales, such as Gulliver’s Travels, Robinson Crusoe, The Queen of Hearts, and much more.  The slides are primarily standard sizes with lithographic or photographic images. Of particular note are several French panorama box sets of classic tales, including Ali Baba, Don Quixote, and Little Red Riding Hood.  Original readings for several of the slide sets, including Aesop’s Fables and Punch and Judy, are located in the Readings sub-series of the Personal Papers series.  This sub-series dates from approximately the mid-nineteenth century to 1910 and is arranged alphabetically by folder title. When possible, slides within the folder are arranged by set number.

Sub-series 12, Religious Slides, documents the use of lantern slides for religious instruction, missionary work, and church sing-a-longs. The series includes hymnal lyrics and bible stories, but only has one complete set (The Other Wise Men). Of particular interest are two dissolving view slides of the Star of Bethlehem. The series is arranged alphabetically by folder title.

Sub-series 13, Salutations, consist of slides used at the beginning of lantern shows to welcome audiences and at the end to bid them farewell. Although small, this sub-series includes the collection’s only mechanical pulley slide.

Sub-series 14, Science, contains scientific slides used for educational purposes by universities and lecture halls. Many of the slides depict botanicals, insects, and micro-organisms, as well as a host of other scientific subjects, but there are no complete sets within the series. The slides are primarily standard sizes, though there are two hand-painted wood frame slides. This sub-series is arranged alphabetically by folder title.

Sub-series 15, Song Slides, documents popular songs used during magic lantern shows to create a participatory atmosphere, and consist of illustrative images and song lyrics. All are of standard size and date from about 1900 to 1920. Song titles in the collection include “Broken Hearted Sue,” “I’m Awfully Glad I’m Irish,” “My Old Kentucky Home,” “Bird in a Guilded Cage,” and many more. The sub-series is organized alphabetically by song title.  When possible, slides are arranged by set number within the folder.

Sub-series 16, Temperance, is arranged alphabetically by folder titles and includes anti-smoking and anti-drinking slides used by temperance societies and churches to deter drinking and smoking, especially among youths. This sub-series documents the development of the Temperance movement as well as techniques and campaigns used by temperance societies. Highlights include an almost complete set of “The Drunkard’s Daughter,” a tragic tale about the suicide of young girl forced into destitution because of her father’s drunkenness. The slides also include anti-smoking endorsements from doctors and athletes, anti-smoking advertisements, the Tobacco Devil, as well as other temperance stories, such as “The Bottle” and “Ten Nights in a Barroom.”  These slides are arranged alphabetically by folder title and date from about 1880 to 1920.

Lastly, sub-series 17, Slide Storage, consists of original empty slide cases, boxes, and carriers, as well as an original Keystone slide cabinet.  Materials in this sub-series are organized by format and date from around 1890 to 1930.

Series III, Personal Papers, documents the Peabodys' membership and association with the Magic Lantern Societies of Great Britain and the United States and Canada as well as their collecting activities.  This series includes conference materials, correspondence, auction catalogs, exhibits, information on lantern shows, reprints of lantern catalogs and manuals, article clippings, and original readings and lectures. The materials date from about 1880 to 2006 and are divided into four sub-series: Collecting Interests and Activities, Magic Lantern Society of Great Britain, Magic Lantern Society of the United States and Great Britain, and Slide Readings and Lectures.  The Collecting Interests and Activities series documents the Peabody’s optical research, and their involvement with other magic lantern collectors. The material dates from 1900 to 2002 and includes article clippings, correspondence, reprints, auction catalogs, and more. Highlights include the 1934 publication How to Make Lantern Slides as well as a 1923 slide cue-sheet for the song, "Foolish Child." This series is arranged alphabetically by folder title. The Magic Lantern Society of Great Britain (1979-2006) series documents the Peabodys' membership in and involvement with the organization. The series consists of conference material, correspondence, membership rosters, newsletters, and society reprints of magic lantern manuals and other publications. Of particular interest are the society’s museum surveys, which review museums with magic lantern material. This series is arranged alphabetically by folder title. The Magic Lantern Society of the United States and Canada (1985-2006) series documents the Peabodys' involvement with the organization. The series consists of conference material, directories, newsletters, and society reprints of magic lantern catalogues. This series is arranged alphabetically by folder title. The last series, Slide Readings and Lectures (c. 1890-1910), consists entirely of original magic lantern readings and lectures that were read when displaying sets of slides. These readings document the development of magic lantern show content and style. Several of the readings are incomplete and separated from their original pamphlets. Highlights include a complete hand-typed lecture on Washington D.C.  Materials in this series are arranged alphabetically by lecture title and date from approximately 1880 to 1920.


  • Creation: 1800-2006
  • Creation: Majority of material found in 1880-1920


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The copyright interests in some or all of these materials have not been transferred to San Diego State University. Copyright resides with the creator(s) of materials contained in the collection or their heirs. The nature of archival collections is such that multiple creators are often applicable and copyright status may be difficult or even impossible to determine. In any case, the user must assume full responsibility for any use of the materials, including but not limited to, obtaining publication rights and copyright infringement. When requesting images from Special Collections & University Archives for publication, we require a signed agreement waiving San Diego State University of any liability in the event of a copyright violation.

Historical Note

The magic lantern has a long and varied history as a scientific and optical instrument. In 1658, a Dutch scientist named Christiaan Huygens developed the magic lantern. This new instrument required an illuminant, a chimney, and a special lens system, and could project images from glass slides onto walls and other surfaces.

Although initially used for education and religious instruction by Jesuits and wealthy academics, the magic lantern was used for entertainment purposes first by Thomas Walgenstein, a mathematician, who began using the lantern to conjure ghosts in the 1660s for wealthy and royal audiences.  These supernatural performances led to the creation of the Phantasmagoria, a lantern show featuring ghosts, skeletons, devils and other gothic figures. In the late eighteenth century, magic lanterns moved from the private to public sphere. Traveling lanternists held entertaining shows in public taverns and barns. Despite this move towards public entertainment, the Enlightenment's emphasis on science and education greatly elevated the magic lantern as a scientific and educational tool.

Gradually, entertainment, advertising, and propaganda became major contenders with religion, education, and science as primary lantern uses. The lantern's ability to adapt to so many different types of usage made it standard optical equipment in homes, churches, public spaces, and academic institutions during the Victorian Era. By the 1880's, less cumbersome lightweight lanterns, coupled with standardized slide sizes, further strengthened the magic lantern's growing popularity. From mass-produced toy lanterns, to an increased presence in schools, institutions, lectures and churches, the magic lantern was a ubiquitous and highly useful instrument in most educational and entertainment domains.

Even at the dawn of the moving picture in the early twentieth century, the magic lantern still managed to maintain its place as a visual aid. Many movie theaters continued to use the lantern to make management announcements, show advertisements, or entertain the crowd before the start of the movie. But the lantern's time in the limelight waned by the middle of the twentieth century.  The modern slide projector had fully superseded the magic lantern's role as a visual aid, and moving film technology no longer required the magic lantern as a backup.

Dr. Homer Peabody was a prominent San Diego doctor who specialized in pulmonary diseases. He and his wife, Betty, began collecting magic lanterns as well as other optical instruments during the 1970s. The Peabodys were active members in the Magic Lantern Society of the United States and Canada, as well as the Magic Lantern Society of Great Britain, and often entertained friends and family with magic lantern shows at their home. They acquired the majority of their collection through auctions and antique dealers.


89.20 Linear Feet

Language of Materials


Arrangement Note

I.  Lanterns, c. 1850-1920

    1.  Domestic, c. 1880-1920

    2.  Professional, c. 1870-1915

    3.  Toy, c. 1850-1910

    4.  Spare Parts

II.  Glass Slides, c. 1800-1992

    1.  Advertising, c. 1890-1930

    2.  Art, c. 1880-1920

    3.  Caricatures and Comics, c. 1800-1920

    4.  Elementary Education, c. 1900-1940

    5.  Fraternal Organizations, c. 1880-1920

    6.  Geography and Travel, c. 1880-1940

    7.  History, c. 1880-1992

    8.  Individual and Group Photographs, c. 1890-1920

    9.  Medical, c. 1890-1960

  10. Moving Pictures, c. 1910-1930

  11.  Narratives, c. 1860-1910

  12.  Religious, c. 1890-1920

  13.  Salutations, c. 1890-1910

  14.  Science, c. 1880-1930

  15.  Song Slides, c. 1900-1920

  16.  Temperance, c. 1880-1920

  17.  Slide Storage, c. 1890-1930

III.  Personal Papers, 1880-2006

    1.  Collecting Interests and Activities, 1900-2002

    2.  Magic Lantern Society of Great Britain, 1979-2006

    3.  Magic Lantern Society of the United States and Canada, 1985-2006

    4.  Slide Readings and Lectures, 1880-1920

Source of Acquisition

Betty Peabody

Accruals and Additions

2007-007, 2011-007, 2011-009, 2011-023, 2011-056, 2011-057 2017-033

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Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections & University Archives Repository

5500 Campanile Dr. MC 8050
San Diego CA 92182-8050 US