Digital Collections Spotlight #46: Moravian Lantern Slides

Posted November 22, 2023 in Digital Access

Digital Collections Spotlight #46: Moravian Lantern Slides

In an earlier Digital Collections Spotlight we showed a pair of magic lanterns in our collection and one of the slides designed for them. While those specific examples were intended for family entertainment we briefly touched on the use of similar technology for education and fundraising within the Moravian Church and this seems a good opportunity to expand on this and show some of the lantern slides in our collection that were used for this.

Lantern slides were introduced around 1850 and remained in common use until being supplanted by 3.5 mm slide projectors in the 1950s, with the late 19th century being their heyday. They were manufactured by printing an image on a piece of glass, typically 3 ¼ inches square, and mounting a second identically sized piece of glass over the photograph to protect it. Before adding this second layer of glass, if the creator desired, matting could be used to crop the image or hand coloring applied.

Some of the lantern slides in our collection originated with the Moravian Illustrated Lecture Bureau (MILB). This group, also referred to as the “Mission Lantern Slide and Lecture Bureau”, was started by Rev. Frederick W. Stengel[1] (1874-1949) and recognized by the Moravian Church at the 1908 American Provincial Synod for the purpose of increasing knowledge of Moravian mission work.

At the top of this post, we have an example of the slides the MILB used, showing an illustration of a ship in an arctic environment and two stanzas of the hymn “The Morning Light is Breaking”, written by Samuel Francis Smith (1808-1895). This appears to have been part of a series of lantern slides that could have accompanied singing, and is a good example of both the hand coloring referenced above and how lantern slides could be used to reproduce illustrations as well as photographs. Like all of the lantern slides that we have digitized, this was scanned using a backlight in order to best reproduce how it would have looked when projected.

(left) Slide Lecture Notes, 1907 – 1950 | PhotGP PMG 107, Moravian Archives Bethlehem // (right) “Central Church Bethlehem,” 1907 – 1950 | PhotGP PMG 009, Moravian Archives Bethlehem

We also have other lantern slides that came from personal collections, such as this example that belonged to Reverend Paul M. Greider, who was pastor of a Moravian Church in Brooklyn, New York. It shows musicians in the belfry of Central Moravian Church, an Easter tradition, and was likely used as part of a lecture or other presentation presented by Reverend Greider. In contrast to the previous example, this slide was scanned without a backlight in order to better show the construction and labeling. To the left of the slide you can also see a typewritten list of slides which we believe includes said slide, listing it as “”Trombone Choir in Ch. Tower”. When we have original lists or lecture notes such as this they are valuable sources of information that help us understand how the people that created or used these slides organized and utilized them. This slide is also a good example of something referenced earlier, the actual photograph is larger but matting was used to crop it to a smaller size, possibly to keep the focus on the belfry and musicians.

Image Source: Illustrated presentation of the hymn “The morning light is breaking,” March 1910 | MILB HYMN 084, Moravian Archives Bethlehem

Further Reading:

Cox, Tori. “Lantern Slides: An Historical Technique” An Artful Life: The Colored Lantern Slides of Anna Caulfield McKnight. University of Michigan Library. Accessed 11/20/2023.

[1] Reverend Stengel was also principle of the Linden Hall School for Girls in Lititz, Pennsylvania from 1915 to 1952