Magic lantern slides
Discover the artistic and historic story of RAMM, and explore new uses of our collections
New area of research
One of the joys of working with RAMM’s collection is exploring the less well known groups of objects. Within this category is our collection of magic lantern slides containing over 4,500 items. This is a big collection, especially when compared to other parts of the collection such as fine art which contains around 8,000 items. The collection has historical and artistic importance but has been overlooked for many years.
It is stored in over 20 large boxes. Smaller boxes of slides are inside each large box. Some of these smaller storage boxes are over 100 years old and covered with handwritten labels. The heyday for magic lantern slides was between around 1870-1910, when they became a popular form of entertainment and education at public events, by religious and community groups, and in the home.
Over the last few years we have been working hard to understand this large slide collection, and for the last 18 months we’ve been working with Dr Joe Kember and Dr Richard Crangle from the University of Exeter as part of an international project called ‘A Million Pictures’. Richard has photographed and meticulously researched and catalogued each slide. This is a significant achievement, and one that is beyond the normal scope of our daily work.
By cataloguing and digitising the slides we now have a very detailed understanding of our collection, and where they came from. The biggest surprise was the date of slides between 1910 and 1940, which is much later than is typical. The second surprise is that many of them are from the early days of RAMM, when the Royal Albert Memorial Institute comprised the museum, a technical school, art gallery and library.
Our collection includes lecture sets used by staff in the University College on topics such as ‘human physiology’, while others are the private lecture sets of members of the ‘University College of the South West of England College Field Club and Natural History Society’ which focus on Natural History. Other lecture sets were created by people associated with the Exeter Camera Club and the Exeter Pictorial Record Society. Both these groups were associated with RAMM. These photographic slides record Exeter Cathedral and other historic buildings in Exeter. The slide collection therefore tells us about the staff, students and others associated with the Royal Albert Memorial College one hundred years ago, and their activities and interests.
New creative uses
Beyond their historical significance the magic lantern slides are beautiful and fascinating in their own right, many containing skilled artistic hand-drawn pictures or stunning photography. We are exploring how to use these beyond the original function as lecture sets. We’re starting to use some original slides in magic lantern show performances, using a 100 year old slide projector to recreate the magic of the show. They’ve also inspired a new event by creative performer Tony Lidington who uses digitised slides in a new mythical story performed in a ‘peep show’ event – you can find out where he’ll be performing this via his website.
Explore the collection online
We are slowly adding the digitised slides and catalogue information to our Collections Explorer website so you can explore the collection yourself. One of the first groups is the slide set on the medieval misericords in Exeter Cathedral.