The following document is an abstract of a paper accepted for presentation at the Visual Delights III — Magic and Illusion conference at the University of Sheffield, July 15-17th 2005.

The Royal Polytechnic is famous as a centre of excellence in Victorian magic lantern performance and innovation, and its significance in the history of the projected image is widely acknowledged.

Published research has tended to focus almost exclusively on surviving artefacts and slides rather than the nature of the entertainments of which they formed a central part. This has encouraged some consideration of the identities of individual artists involved in slide design and manufacture, and of sources for the images on which they are based. Yet it is clear from contemporary accounts that many of the Polytechnic's most famous productions were far more than simple slide shows. In addition to the usual paraphernalia of narrators, singers and musicians, these lantern-based entertainments often incorporated both live action and elaborate stage-based scenic effects and illusions. This paper will explore the nature of magic lantern performance at the peak of its development as a popular entertainment through a consideration of contemporary accounts of productions at its most famous home, the Royal Polytechnic Institution in London.


The Ten Year Book. Ed. Smith, Henry, Crompton. Magic Lantern Society 1986.

Magic Images: The Art of Hand-Painted and Photographic Lantern Slides Ed. Smith, Henry, Crompton. Magic Lantern Society 1990.

3 May 2005