What are Lantern Slides?

Lantern slide scan of Reverend and family. Rev. D.K. Faris and Family, n.d. Example of hand-painted slides.


Lantern slides first originated in the 17th century and consisted of hand-painted illustrations on glass that were projected with light to be used as a form of storytelling. It was not until 1849, ten years after the invention of photography that photographic lantern slides were introduced.[1] The Langenheim brothers were responsible for developing a method around the same time that allowed for photographic lantern slides to be mass produced. This was called the Hyalotype.[2] This invention and opportunity for mass production transformed lantern slides from a childish storytelling tool to a formal device used for education, scientific study, travelogues and more. Much like how F.C. Stephenson used his lantern slides.

Physical Item

The slide itself consists of two pieces of glass pressed together, one containing the image and the other placed on top for protection. The two are bound together using gummed tape and are often labelled with identifying information of the image or its publisher. The slides in the John William Foster fonds are of the European standard size which is 3.25”x3.25” and are almost all hand-painted. Lantern slides are originally produced in black and white but if colour is desired the slides must be hand painted using transparent oil paints, aniline dyes or water colours. However paint specifically designed for lantern slides was produced in the 20th century.[3]

Original lantern slide box.One of the original boxes the lantern slides were donated in.


Viewing the Slides

Lantern slides would have been shown using a magic lantern projector. Prior to the introduction of the bright incandescent bulb, light sources for the projectors such as candles, kerosene and limelight became very dangerous.[4] Images could be seen from about 6-12 feet away through the projector’s concave mirror and front condensing lens.

Lantern Slides at ARC

The lantern slides first came to ARC in wooden metal filing trays but have since been moved into acid-free archival lantern slide boxes. As well, each individual slide has been placed into an archival four-flap lantern slide envelope to keep the slides free from damage or dirt. Since arriving at  ARC, all 193 slides have been scanned and are now digitized allowing for easy access to the items. 

Three images. First, a slide being placed into a new archival envelope. Second, a set of slides in new archival box. Third, a slide being scanned for digitization.

From left to right. An example of a slide now in an archival lantern slide envelope. One of the archival lantern slide boxes that the lantern slides are now housed in. The process of scanning the slides.



[1] “About Lantern Slides,” para 1, University of South Florida Libraries, Sept. 28, 2017. http://www.lib.usf.edu/special-collections/arts/about-lantern-slides/

[2] Worth, Tim W., “Cool Things in the Collection: Reverend Salton’s Magic Lantern,” Manitoba History no.83 (Spring 2017): 47. https://search-proquest-com.proxy.library.carleton.ca/docview/1931580026...

[3] “About Lantern Slides,” para 4.

[4] Worth, “Cool Things in the Collection,” 47.