Treasures of pre-cinema history
The magic lantern
Toy magic lanterns
It was only a matter of time, due to the strong impact of the enlightenment movement in Germany, when scientific instruments found their way for the youth. The initiative came from the Berlin Huguenot Peter Friedrich Catel, when he took in 1779 a toy shop over in the Brüderstraße, at this time residence area of leading enlightenment heads.
Catel offered for the first time philosophical toys, among them the magic lantern with a set of slides. This marks the beginning of a long and successful career of the magic lanterns as a toy. Catel commissioned the workshop of Johann Friedrich Rose in Nuremberg to manufacture the magic lantern (probably beside other optical toys) for him. Further Nuremberg workshops produced for Catel other type of toys. Catel’s forward thinking way of marketing his idea brought him nationwide attention and his business was flourishing.
The awareness for philosophical toys was indelible implemented in the society. The gap of Catel’s early death in 1792 was filled out by a number of new founded distributor businesses in Nuremberg, which all followed in his footsteps. Among them Heinrich Brunner, Wilhelm Burucker, Johann Conrad Gütle or Hieronimus Bestelmeier. The latter owned by far the most successful business for the forthcoming decades, when the others distributors existed only for a short time. All distributors offered magic lanterns. The nature of the magic lantern-design was simple, but efficient. The body was made in metal sheet, both main sides were usually ornamented, a folding handle was fixed at the back, the chimney was a round opening in the roof, sometimes covered by a metal sheet in form of a leave. In the front, the slot for the slides was attached followed by the tube with two lenses. A little metal mirror inside the body and a tiny oil-lamp, so the magic lantern was ready for a show. The style of lantern, in Germany called Weißblechlaterne, was so efficient, that the model was made successfully only with slightly improvement for nearly on hundred years, till the end of the 1860th. Well over 20 family owned workshops in Nuremberg are known to have made tin toy-magic lanterns. The output due to a manual manufacturing process was small. But the demand in the society for magic lanterns grew, since the apparently inexorable rise of the dissolving view-shows in the country everywhere. And not to forget that the customer demands changed, a little oil-burner could no more satisfy anybody’s expectation.
Particular Heinrich Denecke of Nuremberg revolutionized the production of the magic lantern. He founded in 1859 the first "true" factory for magic lanterns. Denecke had an unmistakable instinct for a good business. He used an improved light source, the so called "Wiener Flachbrenner", which enhanced the light intensity of a lantern. Denecke focused on one type of lantern, a barrel shaped design, which he offered in different sizes. As a result, Dencke made an efficient utilisation of his factory and of course could offer a competitive pricing. And last, Denecke went new routes in the distribution of the lanterns. Distributors could offer a lantern from Denecke's factory under their own label. All in all, Denecke's factory set the benchmark for the following years of a mass production of the lantern. A second factory was established around 1860th by Lorenz Neussner, nevertheless not as successful as Denecke. “Form follows function”, the lantern design was minimalistic (no ornaments, black lacquered) but the value of the “new” magic lantern resulted in an improved image on the screen, much more illuminated as every before. Along with the lantern, the slides came along also in a new figurative language.
New factories were established in the 1870th by Ernst Plank or Jean Schoenner. They both followed in the footsteps of Heinrich Denecke, indeed Jean Schoenner probably took from him the range of magic lantern-slides over. The market for toys was sheer endless, just to remember that the German population increased from 37million in 1867 to 56million people in 1900 and not too forget new emerging export markets like America. In the last quarter of the 19th century, many Nuremberg factories added the magic lantern to their production-range. Some names are still known today like Johann Falk, Georges Carette, the Bing brothers or Max Dannhorn. The memory for other makers faded away or are less known - J. W. Arold, Baer & Engelhardt, Georg Fischer, Nikolaus Geringer, Friedrich Großer, Jacob Gsänger, Albert Klaucke, Bernhard Köllisch, Leonhard Müller, Fritz Neumeyer, Michael Nüßlein, Pfeil & Liebel, Hugo Rehbach or Kraus, Müller & Lebrecht to name a few. Further makers for toy magic lanterns were spread out in other regions of the country, but none of them reached any significant market share. With the introduction of film in 1896, the factories responded immediately with the launch of dual function models, a cinematograph and a magic lantern in one. After the World War One, the popularity of the magic lantern declined among the youth and could not reach her heydays around 1900. The lanterns in the gallery give you a teaser, there is much more to discover.
Magic lanterns from Fürth in Bavaria
Mysterious magic lanterns of a long forgotten production town. Magic lanterns were made in Fürth from 1791 until the 1860s.
Mysterious magic lantern with unknown function
Unusual magic lantern with unknown slide mechanism. A shutter can be manually open and closed at the lower end of the vertical picture insert (28 x 3 mm).
Early tinplate magic lanterns from Nürnberg
This type of magic lantern (in German called Weißblechlaterne) was produced in a number of workshops in Nuremberg from around 1780 to around 1870.
Lorenz Neussner, Nürnberg
It is likely that the Nuremberg optician Lorenz Neussner made tinplate lanterns in the second half of the 1850s before taking up the manufacture of "modern" magic lanterns around 1860/61, probably inspired by the successful factory of Heinrich Denecke. Lorenz Neussner died in 1868, his son Ludwig then took over the workshop and continued the production of magic lanterns until the mid-1870s.
Magic lanterns by Heinrich Denecke, Nürnberg
Active c. 1859 - 1875. Heinrich Denecke was the pioneer of the industrial production of magic lanterns in large quantities in Nuremberg. The company was the pattern for a new generation of successful factories such as Ernst Plank and Jean Schoenner.
Johann Caspar Rosenbauer, Nürnberg
Active 1848 - c. 1875
Fleischmann & Bloedel Nachf., J. Berlin, Fürth in Bayern
"F&B" Salomon Fleischmann & Jean Bloedel, Fürth i. B. & Sonneberg. "J.B" Joseph Berlin. Active 1873-1926 (magic lanterns c. 1905 - 1926).
Albert Klaucke, Nürnberg
A small family workshop in Nürnberg, operated from c. 1890 till c. 1920.Klaucke originally came from Krossen an der Oder. Klaucke worked alone in the small sheet metal workshop. Two young female workers painted the tin toys under the attic.
Magic lanterns by Fritz Neumeyer, Nürnberg
Active c. 1903 - 1914
Wilhelm (Willy) Hagedorn, Berlin
The beginnings of the "Nebelbilderfabrik" (dissolving view lanterns) of the plumber Wilhelm (Willi) Hagedorn lies in the dark. Presumably, Hagedorn took over the workshop of a certain Mr. Bengen around 1875 and immediately began manufacturing dissolving view (biunial-) lanterns and -slides in his "factory". Around 1883 Hagedorn founded an institute for glass paintings (Institut für Glasmalerei). The production of magic lanterns and pictures probably ended with the beginning of the First World War. The company itself continues to manufacture stage lights into the 1960s.
C. Eckenrath, Berlin
C. Eckenrath's business was founded around 1856 as Stereoscope Trade & Factory and continued under different owners until around 1911. From 1868 at the latest, magic lanterns and -slides from the Nuremberg manufacturer Heinrich Denecke (replaced by Jean Schoenner after the business of Denecke closed in c. 1874) were included in the product range. The purchase of Nuremberg magic lanterns was replaced around 1878 by the company's own production, which was maintained until the closure of the business around 1911.