Magic lantern body and lens, circa 1857. [composite image] . Rouse Hill House & Farm Collection, Sydney Living Museums. Photo © Jamie North

Newton & Co’s ‘Improved Phantasmagoria Lantern’

The magic lantern at Rouse Hill House was manufactured by Newton & Company, Opticians, Scientific Instruments and Globe Makers of Fleet Street, Temple Bar, London.

It was model no. 2 of Newton’s range of ‘Improved Phantasmagoria Lanterns’, made of black japanned tin, fitted with an argand lamp and reflector, a brass focusing tube and a 3½” diameter lens able to show a picture 9ft in diameter.

It can be dated to the 1850s-1860s based on the evidence provided in a sheet of printed directions for use pasted inside the lid of the lantern’s timber carrying case. This sheet includes the citation of a prize medal awarded to Newton & Co at the Great Exhibition of 1851. Later models came with instruction sheets reporting successively the addition of medals and honourable mentions from the London International Exhibition of 1862, the Akola (India) Industrial Exhibition of 1868, the Paris Exhibition of 1878 and so on. The evidence thus suggests that the Rouse Hill lantern was acquired pre 1863.

The Rouse Hill lantern cost 3 guineas in the 1860s and was the model recommended for schools and lectures.  A lantern in a polished mahogany body came at twice the price. The lantern was lit using sperm whale oil with powdered camphor dissolved in the oil over a gentle heat to ‘add greatly to its brilliancy’.

Once lit, and the lantern positioned before a screen, slides were placed in a carrier in front of the lantern, their projection usually accompanied by a narration of some kind.

The phantasmagoria lantern and its parts

  • Side view of tall metal projecting device with lens to left.

    1/8: Magic lantern body and lens, side view without chimney

  • Front on view of magic lantern looking straight into lens.

    2/8: Magic lantern body and lens, front view without chimney

  • View of metal body of lantern with brass lens pointing right.

    3/8: Magic lantern body and lens, side view without chimney

  • Metallic casing for projecting device without top vent attached.

    4/8: Magic lantern body and lens, back view without chimney

  • Two metal cylinders, one with bend in it.

    5/8: Magic lantern chimney parts

  • Metal casing with lens attahced, vent pieces, oil feed pieces and wooden box, all laid out on white background.

    6/8: Magic lantern body parts, argand lamp and timber carrying case

  • Constructed pine with dove tailed corners. Hinged lid is fitted with single folding iron handle in centre and is secured with two iron hook and eye catches. Raw timber interior is fitted with removable partition to provide storage for lantern and slides a

    7/8: Timber carrying case

  • View inside timber case with paper notice pasted inside lid.

    8/8: Magic lantern timber carrying case interior showing Newton & Co pre 1861 instruction sheet

About the authors

Head and shoulders photo of woman holding up card to face with conservator's white glove on hand.

Megan Martin

Former Head, Collections & Access

Megan is the former head of Collections & Access at Sydney Living Museums. She has a particular interest in the working of the historical imagination, in teasing out the meanings of objects in museums collections and in crafting the stories that can be recovered/discovered through a close reading of those items of material culture.

Portrait of woman against background of prickly pear foliage.

Holly Schulte

Curator Digital Assets

Holly is the Curator Digital Assets with Sydney Living Museums where she is part of the Collections & Access team.