Thursday, April 19, 2018

Collectibles: Tom Tyler lantern slides

Lantern slides, more officially referred to as coming attraction slides, were often displayed through the use of a special projector just for that use on movie screens in movie theatres of the 1900's through 1930's as a means of encouraging audiences to consider patronizing the next silent film being shown there. Often a series of different coming attraction slides were used during the minutes before the showing of whatever silent film was being shown that particular evening. Basically, these slides were the forerunner of the modern movie trailer and are considered highly collectible. While collectible they are also very fragile, being made of thin sheets of glass, which could be easily broken if not stored properly.

Early Tom Tyler FBO silent film lantern slides were manufactured by Combined Photo Industries, Long Island City, NY; National Studios, Inc, NYC; and Photo Repro Co. Inc., Long Island City,  NY. When it came to producing lantern slides, they were either drawn or hand painted, from a photograph taken of the subject, although some were also made directly from a photo, with color later being added by hand in a manner to preserve the transparency of the slide. Standard American lantern slides measured 4” x 3 1/4” in size. Each slide was cleaned then coated with a thin solution of varnish or gelatin. Once the solution dried, the slide was then ready to have an image created upon it.(1) In other words, the slide became the canvas for the work of art, which might contain the leading man or woman's headshot, film title, director's name, plus any other information. Sometimes if there was enough room on the slide, a small scene from the film might be added, too. For many of Tom Tyler's silent films, lobby card images were replicated onto lantern slides, such as “The Arizona Streak” and “Born to Battle”. One particularly beautiful lantern slide is from the silent film “The Cowboy Musketeer” which depicts Tom on horseback, rescuing Frances Dare from the path of a stampede of steer. This scene also appeared on the bottoms of lobby cards created just for this movie. As a coming attraction slide, this particular one was sure to attract the interest of young audiences anxious to view the next action packed Tom Tyler western. Lantern slides like those for “The Wyoming Wildcat” and “Let's Go Gallagher”, Tom is depicted sitting upon his horse, moving like the wind, as a clever piece of marketing. Even more delightful, what American youth would not be enticed to view Tom Tyler's next exciting silent film like “The Wyoming Wildcat” while waiting for “Let's Go Gallagher” to be shown at the matinee? So not only were these lantern slides a vital part of movie marketing, they were targeted particularly to the audience attending the film to be shown at that time – once again, in the same vein as the modern movie trailers shown at the cinema nowadays.

Storing lantern slides requires few special materials such as four-flap wrappers made of acid-free paper, and a cardboard box measured to fit these slides. Lantern slides should always be stored vertically instead of horizontally inside the box to prevents the weight of stacked glass from breaking the ones beneath. Avoid storing the box of slides in the attic or cellar, away from humidity. For further reading about the history and collecting of lantern slides, check out the article “Coming Attraction Slides: A Guide for Collectors” by Kevin John Charbeneu in The Silent Film Quarterly Spring 2016 issue.

1. Optic projection: principles, installation and use of the magic lantern, projection microscope, reflecting lantern, moving picture machine. Simon Henry and Henry Phelps Gage. Comstock Publishing Company: Ithaca, N.Y. 1914.

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