Moving Magic & Seeing Double

Lantern slide projector made by J.H. McAllister, New York.
YPM catalog no. 1.291


The Industrial Revolution brought rapid urban development and technological innovation to Western economies. During the 19th century trains began to crisscross the continents and steamships circled the globe. Victorian society was now moving farther and faster than ever before. Modes of entertainment also changed to reflect the new speed of Victorian life.

Although the development of photography in the early 1800s allowed images to be captured faster than an artist could paint, photographs lacked not only color, but also motion. Techniques and materials soon became available to provide both.

Above: Stereoviewer card of the Plaza, World’s Fair, St. Louis. From the series “World Tours of Original Views” produced by Pettijohn. Other series include United States, Japan, St. Louis Exposition and Russia.
YPM catalog no. 36.5

Below: ACME transparent watercolor paints for photo-portrait coloring. Made in Chicago.
YPM catalog no. 30.17B


Like drawings, photographs could be hand-colored and transferred onto glass plates. “Magic lanterns,” devices developed almost two centuries earlier, used these plates to project images onto a screen. Magic lantern shows were extremely popular in both the home and theater.

Lantern slides of the progression of an eclipse.
YPM catalog nos. 34.857, 34.861, 34.862


A talented projectionist could tell tales of heroism, love and moral deeds all the while inserting, removing and rotating plates to give the illusion of depth and motion. Live musical accompaniment often heightened the dramatic nature of the performance. Magic lanterns were also used as teaching tools to show, among other things, the movement of planets, the progression of an eclipse and the path of a comet.

Above: Brewster-type stereoviewer made by Richard & Joseph Beck, England. Middle to late 19th century.
YPM catalog no. 30.13

Middle: Stereoviewer card titled “Paradise.” Hand-painted detail of a man seated among five women. Maker unknown.
YPM catalog no. 36.11

Below: Holmes-type stereoviewer with cardholder. Stereoviewer made by Underwood & Underwood, New York. Retractable handle made by Pat’s Manufacturers, dated June 4, 1881. Metal viewer with velvet lining.
YPM catalog nos. 30.10, 30.12


A stereoviewer gives the illusion of three dimensions by allowing two images (taken at a slightly different angles) to be viewed simultaneously.

Stereoviewer cards often featured exotic scenery, artwork and famous events, but family photographs and portraits were also adapted to this format. Stereoviewers varied in mechanical sophistication and decoration; some were designed to be hand-held with interchangeable cards while other models stored the cards internally on a rotating cylinder.

Zoetrope patented by William E. Lincoln of Providence Rhode Island, April 23 1867.

YPM catalog no. 5.145


The zoetrope (or “wheel of life”) was so named in 1867 by William Lincoln, assignor to the Milton & Bradley game company. Although Lincoln patented the zoetrope in the United States he did not invent it. Examples are known from at least 30 years before, and possibly as far back as ancient China. .

A zoetrope spins a series of single frame images rapidly to give the illusion of continual motion, although the diameter of the zoetrope limits the number of actions that can be seen.

This image is from a sequence from Eadweard Muybridge’s photographic studies of motion in the late 1800s shows “Daisy” jumping a hurdle.


One popular zoetrope subject was that of a running horse in which each frame captures one moment of the horse’s stride. Zoetropes can be mounted horizontally or vertically and some even featured a lens so that the images could be projected onto a screen.

The introduction of motion film in the late 19th century provided Victorian audiences with smoother and longer continuous visual performances. Predictably, the art of the magic lantern eventually became obsolete in the face of this new technology. Zoetropes and stereoviewers, however, remain common toys today.

From Muybridge’s Animals in Motion, Dover Publications, 2007. Images from Animal Locomotion: An Electrophotographic Investigation of Consecutive Phases of Animal Movements, 1887, originally published by Eadweard Muybridge under the auspices of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.