It’s a Magic Lantern

SANDBY, Paul The Laterna Magica c 1760Joanna here …

Before moving pictures.  Before silent film.  Before black and white.  Before Clara Bow and Charlie Chaplin.  

There was the Magic Lantern.

Let's say you're a Regency thrillseeker, out to squeeze all possible enjoyment from an evening.  You might go to a Magic Lantern show at a friend's house. You might put one on yourself.

Jan_Vermeer_van_Delft_019People had known more or less forever that light shining through colored glass carried that color to where the light fell.  Every stained glass window in Europe, even every translucent leaf in the sunlight, every light source shining through colored glass cast an image.

The beauty of that.  A picture painted in light.

Magic lantern alphabet late C19

Or it can be educational

Being the inventive species we are, we wanted to do that at will, casting the image we chose.  The earliest technology for doing this dates to the Seventeenth Century.  Shine candlelight through a demon or ghost thinly painted on glass; let your image fall onto a gauze screen or a column of smoke; and presto! 

You got magic in your magic show.

You're a hit with the locals whom you have just terrified. 

 In the Eighteenth Century, itinerant 'lanternists' travelled the countryside carrying the cabinet that held their slides and their lantern, giving shows at country inns and fairs.

Organ player

A lanternist, looking disgruntled

One disgusted contemporary writer remarks,
"These showmen were not romantic troubadours, but often as unwholesome and grotesque in appearance as the images they cast onto the white sheet."

The Magic Lantern became sort of a parlor amusement and novelty.  Samuel Pepys bought one in 1666,"to make strange things on a wall."

You can think of it as a Georgian slide projector.  
(Though a slide projector is getting to be a n antiquated piece of technology itself.)  

How did it work?
(You can skip this bit if you want.)

The anatomy of tInstrumentarium_LaternaMagicahe Magic Lantern is:

(a) An oil lamp making light.  It's inside the casing on the left of this picture where you can't see it, but it has that little stack for the heat to come out of. 

(b) A condensing lens — which you also can't see because it is inside that casing — sending all the lamp light through a slot, which you can see.

(c) Painted glass plates fit into that slot. The top picture is without a glass


attrib Lokilech and TimDrury

slide.  The lower picture has a glass slide.

(d) And then you have a barrel on the right end with a lens that enlarges the image as it emerges and heads toward whatever wall or sheet is being used as a screen. 

You see the limiting factor here, don't you?  It's the light source.  An oil lamp is just not very strong. The Argand lamp, after 1780, went a ways toward creating that powerful and beautiful image you wanted to project.


Argand lamp in use

The Argand produced a light of six or eight candlepower.

<sound of crickets>

Okay.  I can see you are bowled over by the blazing beacon of six or eight candlepower.  But this was a significant advance.  Trust me on this.

And just as a side note, oil lamps you see in Regency portraits are like as not Argand lamps.  They were the halogen bulbs of their day.

But let us leave mere apparatus.  The Magic Lantern was all about The Show.

Aviation slides c 1900

four pictures painted on glass

Your traveling lanternist in the inn parlor or tent at the fair could be projecting "Ogres, grinning skulls, bloody battle scenes, shipwrecks" or pictures of distant lands, or scenes from folk tales and bible stories.
Often, he'd insert a long strip of glass with  four or five images painted on it and draw that through the slot in the magic lantern, changing scenes as he lay down his experienced patter.  His exciting story.  He might even have an assistant providing music. 
Then he'd pass the hat.  

Glass plate 2 half c19 louvre

here's your ship at sea image

Particularly skilled practitioners of the art of the Magic Lantern might have several slides in the slot at once, one in front of the other. 
Perhaps a sky with clouds and a sea.  The other slide would have boats.

A contemporary expert advises:
"You are then to pass the glass slowly through the groove; and when you come to that part where the storm begins, you are to move the glass gently up and down, which will give it the appearance of a sea that begins to be agitated: and so increase the motion till you come to the height of the storm.  At the same lime you are to introduce the other glass with the ships, and moving that in like manner, you will have a natural representation of the sea, and of ships in a calm and in a storm."Auguste edouart 1826-61 the magic lantern

Wild times in Regency England.  It's a  Magic Lantern show in the Squire's drawing room.  Cummon, Regency dandy, grab some popcorn and hold your sweetie close.
(Okay.  Maybe not the anachronistic popcorn.)

But this Magic Lantern is the Olduvai ancestor of the Saturday Matinee, of Star Wars and The Avengers, of iMax 3D.  Look at it there, smack in the middle of Georgian and Regency times.

Our Regency characters would always remember going to a Magic Lantern show. 

Pulling on that thread … What's your most treasured memory of going to the movies?

For me it's heading down to the Saturday morning early show in the summer,
because the movies were Air Conditioned! — and the house wasn't.
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The Pastel Regency

 Finger_PaintingJoanna here:

I have fond memories of my early attempts at the visual arts.  Fingerpainting appealed to the squidgy, primitive side of me.  My big box of crayolas was a regiment of reassuring order.  And then there were poster paints.  So bright.  So vivid. Purple houses.  Green — I mean GREEN — fields.  Red cats.

When I run out of red, I use blue.
     Pablo Picasso

But settling down to talk about history. 

A-drawing-lad_nicolas-bernard C18

He's using a brass pastel holder.

Regency visual artists were about half way along the technological journey between the Neolithic Cave painters and one of those high-tech computer painting programs.  The fine work, the beautiful work, the Regency artists created was accomplished with the most simple tools and a limited array of colors.
Let me talk about pastels, because one of my characters, Pax, uses pastels.  I think of it as a portable and democratic art form in Georgian and Regency times.

Portraits in these readymade crayons offered tangible advantages over oil for the artist and the sitter: they required fewer sittings as there was no drying time; less paraphernalia; the materials were easily portable and the costs were lower.
      The Rise of Pastel in the Eighteenth Century, Margery Shelley

Pastelportraits ack the met

Just a whole bunch of pastels.  From the Met

They called pastels 'crayons' in the Regency — so confusing — because the waxy colored sticks we think of as 'crayons' wouldn't be invented for another century. 

These pastels were made by grinding natural white chalk — something you can pick up off the ground in places like Southeast England — into a fine powder. You mixed this with pigment and a binder like gum arabic.  You rolled the mixture into thin cylindrical sticks or long square sticks and dried them.  These were 'soft pastels'.  They were just super concentrated colors that transferred readily to the paper. 

A-drawing-lad_nicolas-bernard C18 detail

detail picture above

You had a potential for vivid color, but in a medium likely to crumble and come apart in your hand and smear.  So the pastel sticks were fitted into a sort of metal holder that protected them and provided control and precision for the artist. 

Conte crayon holder antique

A holder for conte pastels, about 6 inches long, brass




 Because pastels were intended to be inserted into a holder, they were thinner than the ones we use today.  A square shape gave them stability in the holder. 

ETA: I've not yet found an illustration of someone drawing with plain naked pastels, but it's very possible this is how it was actually done.  It's the way pastels are used today, so why not in 1800?





The first pencil, or rather crayon, that I possessed, was given to me by that right worthy cronie of my uncle Zachary, William Hogarth. It was one of those which may be still remembered by 'men of my standing'.  One end was of common commercial black-lead, the other red-chalk, ready pointed, and inclosed in a case of need.
     Literary Gazette and Journal, V 4, John Mounteney Jephson, 1820

Conté_crayons wiki

conte pastels and a holder.

 The most exciting recent innovation for our Regency pastel artist would have been the Conté crayon,  invented in France in 1794.  These were made from kaolin clay and graphite and fired in a kiln.  They were much harder than the chalk-based soft pastel sticks, and came in a smaller range of colors.  They could be sharpened.  They were good for tight, crisp lines and fine detail, and often used to lay down the first sketch on paper. 

Our Regency artist dealt with the fragility of those pastels by 'fixing' the finished art with dissolved Isinglass.  Isinglass, as you doubtless know — doesn't everybody? — is made from the dried bladders of fishes.  This was dissolved in alcohol and distributed in a fine spray of droplets over the paper. 

Which brings us to a consideration of color …

Constable's 1837 Tin box bladders white stone glass vial pwdered pigment

John Constable's oil paints, 1837

Oil paint came in only a few colors.  Oils were a couple decades from living in metal tubes.  In the Regency, they came in bladders that had to be pierced for each painting session.  They dried up quickly and had to be used fast, so artists didn't keep a wide range of colors handy about the atelier.  They mixed what they needed from ten or a dozen basics.

This to the left is Constable's paint box with its paint bladders.  About twelve of them. 

W reeves 1784 to 1789 paint box  from whimsies one time permissiontn

A nice 1794 paintbox with about a dozen blocks of paint and a couple of conte pastels




 Watercolor came in more shades. 

Regency watercolors looked surprisingly modern — little squares or oblongs with about the texture of today's watercolor, stamped with the maker's name.  The binder contained honey to give a softer, gummy texture. 

Since colors could be mixed as needed on a ceramic palette, even a very fancy watercolor box held a dozen or twenty colors.  Ackermann — yes the same Ackermann who made prints and produced Ackermann's repository — offered 68 prepared color choices in 1801.

(So many of these watercolors were so very poisonous.  I'm sure there's a good Regency mystery here somewhere.)

Pastels, on the other hand, came in myriad shades.  In the Regency these were available commercially and had been for a century.

As those students who attempt the art of crayon-painting may be readily supplied by the shops with every kind of crayon, we shall not enter into the manner of their preparation
     Pantologia: A New Cyclopaedia, John Mason Good, 1813

These dozens of prepared colors were not just convenience, but a necessity arising from the way the medium worked.  Pastels could be 'smudged' on the paper to create a blended hue or added in layers for subtle shading, but the artist had to start with a wide selection of excellent colors.

No great success in this mode of Painting can be expected, unless you have procured Crayons of brilliant tints, that are tender, corresponding with those in Nature.
     A Treatise on the Art of Painting, and the Composition of Colours, ‪M. Constant de Massoul‬. 1797

What startles and amazes is how few pigments they had. 

This is the palette they worked with, mostly from ground, natural stones:

Selection of Minerals

natural minerals used as pigments attrib Michael Price 











List of colors
Lead white
Ivory black
Naples yellow
Indian yellow
Prussian Blue
Yellow ochre
Red ochre
Rose madder
Burnt sienna
Brown madder
Cassel earth
Ultramarine blue


From this — everything.
All the art.  All the pastels and oil paintings and watercolors.   
I am so amazed.

Paint box with oils:  John Constable (English, 1776–1837), Paint Box, 1837. Tin box with
hinged lid housing eleven bladders, tied with string and filled with
pigment, a piece of white stone, and a glass vial of powdered pigment, 2
x 13 x 3 3/8 in. (5.1 x 33 x 8.6 cm). Sterling and Francine Clark Art
Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts (photo by Michael Agee)


If you were a Regency artist, what medium would you have chosen?  What would you have painted?

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Looking at the World Through Regency Glasses

Joanna here, talking about eyeglasses in the Regency period. Franklin6

The idea of eyeglasses isn't new.  Dipping into wayback history, folks were getting a close look at small stuff with a clear, curving crystal in ancient times.

Nimrud_2lens_British_MuseumHere's the Nimrud Stone, a piece of ground, polished rock crystal found in the excavation of a 3000-year-old Assyrian palace.  Lenses like this have turned up in Greek burial sites that are even older. 

These first magnifying glasses gave the users up to 10X enlargement, which is to say they compare favorably with the magnifying glass you have in your desk right now and use for reading the print in your OED or threading needles or staring in bemused enjoyment at the whorls and ridges of your thumbprint. 

Scholars figure these very early lenses were used by Greek and Sumerian craftsmen to produce the unbelievably fine detail in some of their art work.  Or gazing at the rings of Saturn.  Or, y'know, looking at their thumb.

What limited the number and quality of these first lenses — the reason Cleopatra didn't wear eyeglasses — Pectoral_of_Senusret_II_cc attrib John_Campanawas they hadn't got around to making cheap and clear glass yet.  High quality glass was precious. That's why Tutankhamun's hoard of jewels is made of gold, ivory, lapis lazuli, carnelian, turquoise, and . . . glass.  This must have come as a disappointment to the Victorian treasure-seekers in the Nile valley.  They'd open a tomb and pull out a fancy pectoral or amulet and it was brilliant, colorful glass, instead of, say, brilliant colorful emeralds.

Folks finally made reliably clear glass on a large scale in Italy. 

Thirteenth Century Italy was the hotbed of glass technHugh_specsology for its day.  Venice — the Medieval Silicon Valley of glasswork — turned out round, hand-held magnifiers on a regular basis.  About 1280 some bright lad, his name forever lost to history, mounted two of these glass disks in round frames and joined them together.  Presto.  Eyeglasses. 

And, lickety-split, as historical innovation goes, we get portraits of people with spectacles.  This 1352 portrait to the left may be the earliest representation of eyeglasses.

Spectacle and spectacle case c mother or pearl painted totoiseshell silver glass 1700 vandAThere were two kinds.  Perch-on-the-nose glasses, for one.  Pince-nez we'd call them now.  That's a circa 1700 example on the left.  This picture to the right is from 1466.

Lorgnette the met We also get a scissors-type eyeglasses that joined together at a hinge and could be adjusted to fit.  This kind of glasses could be held up as we see to the left, or held up from below.  The scissors glasses seem awkward, but they appear in portraits right along to the Regency so they must have had hidden charm and utility.

You can see the difficulty with both kinds.  They were always ready to fall off.  You had to tie a ribbon around your head or keep one hand on your glasses.  Tedious, to say the least. They'd be for reading and close work only.

In the early 1700s a London spectacles maker, Edward Scarlett, advertised a clever solution.  His glasses had folding hinged struts on the sides and two arms to hold the optics onto the head.  There were even loops, sometimes, to tie the glasses on.  Made in china before 1846 after C17 3rd quart british museum attribNow your spectacles didn't fall off every time you incautiously reached for a new sheet of paper. 

It became practical to walk around wearing the things.  All this improvement in eyeglass technology meant people could pay intelligent attention to where they were going. This lasted till the invention of the ipod.
Crome 1817 detail 2Benjamin Franklin, one of my favorite people — he's up at the top of the page — invented bifocals in 1784.
It was also in the Eighteenth Century that glasses met the masses.  They were no longer for scholars and artists.  This traveling glasses pedlar on the left argues that glasses were cheap enough that a country woman in a cottage was likely to buy a pair. This ragged tailor on the right can afford glasses to pursue his trade. Crussens mid c17
I haven't found examples of these Georgian and Regency glasses with a curve to fit neatly around the ear.  They seem to have hugged the head in a steely embrace, doubtless leading to many a Regency headache.  Some, intended to tuck intMusvisattrib 1750 wig spectacles spearshaped tipso the fashionable wigs of the time, had fierce and sharpish-looking points.

Now, with all this development of practical eyeglasses that gripped the head and stayed on and didn't require constant fidgeting, you'd think the old, precarious sort without side pieces would disappear. 
Not so much.  As the new utilitarian eyeglasses spread through the hoi polloi, the inconvenient older optics were now considered spiffy and upper-crust.

Quizzing glass closeup Quizzing glass 1820 britinsh museum attrib detail 2So, you had your quizzing glass. 
This was a single, hand-held lens, like a magnifying glass. 

Single lenses that you held had long since been replaced by spectacles for everyday use.  Round about 1790 the French, as the French will, turned this passe object into a fashion accessory.  If you needed glasses, or even if you didn't, you could walk around with a quizzing glass handy, maybe hanging it on a long chain worn around the neck. The you whipped it out to inspect something.

The double-barreled version of the quizzing glass was the lorgnette, which is sort of glasses-on-a-stick.  Lorgnette after 1700 the met Like the quizzing glass, the lorgnette was a decorative social prop, capable of depressing pretension all the way across the ballroom. 

Quizzing glass 1801The word lorgnette, you will be pleased to know, comes from the French lorgner, 'to peer at', from Middle French lorgne, 'squint'.  The French, being contrary, call this instrument a face-a-main — a 'face-to-hand' — and then use the French word lorgnette to mean, not that, but a quizzing glass or small telescope.
The word English word 'lorgnette' appears in 1803 so you should probably not have your character raise her lorgnette to intimidate an encroaching mushroom before that.  Unless she is French.  In which case she is talking about a quizzing glass. 
Life is complex.

One thing you notice, when you're looking at paintings of Georgian and Regency crowd scenes, is how few people are wearing glasses.  When you do see glasses in a crowd, they're generally perched on the nose of a plump parson or peering, bent old woman.  I set aside the possibilities of Eighteenth Century Lasik surgery, contact lenses, and a general eagle-eyed-ness in the population and ask myself why.

Regency Romances portray glasses as a bit fuddy-duddy.  Our Regency heroines hide their spectacles in their reticules (and our Regency heroes have better eyesight than the average squad of fighter pilots.)  This is a Regency Romance convention that seems to have good evidence on its side. 

Nimrud stone and quizzling glass attrib British Museum. Scissor glasses and lorgnette attrib The Met. Pectoral of Senusret cc attrib John Compana. Glasses with wig points and glasses with loops Museum of Vision by permission. Spectacles and caseBlack Hawk attrib V&A.
So.  Thinking about the impact of eyeglasses on the world . . .  Imagine a life with no eyeglasses, and you with not-so-good eyes.  What would you miss most?
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A Small Sniff of History

Cara/Andrea here,

Too-Wicked-to-Wed_2FINAL Our-heritage_1In historical romances, we often read at length about a lady’s toilette—soaps, cremes, face paints, powders and fragrance. Well, in starting my new trilogy, which is called ‘The Lords of Midnight,’ I began thinking about the gentlemen of the Regency. Now, we all know they were quite the dandies, so I decided to do a little research . . .

Floris-shopOne doesn’t have to stroll very far in London to learn a lot about how the Tulips of the ton looked so perfectly polished. Simply walk down St. James’s Street and turn left onto Jermyn Street. There on the south side of the pavement you will come to Number 89, which houses Floris, the oldest family-run fragrance shop in the world.

Floris-1It was in 1730 that Juan Famenias Floris came to London from the isle of Menorca, seeking to make his fortune. He and his wife Elizabeth opened a small shop on the fashionable street offering barbering and shaving to the Floris-5fancy gentlemen who frequented the area. A skilled comb-maker, Floris had also learned to blend aromatic oils while living in Montpelier, France. He soon decided to add custom-blended fragrances to his shop. And the rest, as they say, is history . . .

Beau Brummell spent many hours discussing his preferences with Floris (a number of the original recipes for scents are in the Floris archives) And he was just one of the many notable people who were patrons of the shop. Lady Jersey was also a devoted client, as the ledgers CofJerseyshow. In 1818, Mary Shelley, Mary Shelley, wife of the famed Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and author of Frankenstein wrote to a friend while she was living abroad and asked that her send her “two hairbrushes and a small toothbrush from Floris.”

IFloris-2n 1820, Floris was awarded a Royal Warrant as “Smooth Pointed Comb Maker to HM The King George IV.” (The shop still displays this original, and has 16 others to go with it—the shop is currently “Perfumers to HM The Queen Elizabeth II and Manufacturers of Toilet Preparations to HRH The Prince of Wales.”

Its products continued to attract a loyal following through the years. Florence Nightingale wrote a flowery missive thanking the shop for its “sweet-smelling nosegay.” And Ian Fleming favorite scent was #89—in his books, it’s the fragrance of choice for James Bond.

Floris-3 Floris-6Today, a visit to the Floris shop is a delightful experience, not only for the fabulous scents but also for the wonderful wealth of vintage products and memorabilia on display. You can view elaborate tortoise shell hair combs for women, old letters and photographs . . .and choose a special fragrance to take home as a lasting reminder of its living history.

So, do you like a man to wear fragrance? Have you a special scent of your own, or you do like to try out diff
erent ones. (I’m a big fan of 4711, a light citrus-y scent that has an interesting history too.)