No Glasses Needed to View This Solar Eclipse!


August 15, 2017

With an upcoming solar eclipse on August 21st, I was inspired to pull out the Denton collection of lantern slides. The first is of a solar eclipse and the second is a more rare, “orrery” mechanical lantern slide. The orrery lantern slide shows the movement of the solar system when rotated with a hand crank. The image on the left shows the entire slide while the image on the right is a close up with light coming through.

These lantern slides were used by Wellesley resident William Denton (1823-1883) to illustrate his many scientific lectures.  These lantern slides are composed of images on glass encased in a wooden frame. The slides were used with magic lanterns, an early form of a slide projector, first invented in the 17th century.  Popularized in the 19th century, they were used for both entertainment and educational purposes (see image below).

William Denton was a geologist and writer who traveled extensively in the 1870s through the early 1880s giving lectures with the visual aid of his magic lantern projector.  Denton’s lectures and published works focused on science, religion, spiritualism and politics. The Wellesley Historical Society has Denton’s magic lantern, hundreds of lantern slides, and lecture notes with titles such as “Our Planet,” “Is Darwin Right?” and “Where does Beauty Dwell?”

William Denton was the father of William D. and Robert W. Denton, internationally known for their stunning butterfly specimens, innovative mounts and jewelry. Established in 1895, The Denton Brothers company was located in a barn on Denton Road near the family homestead.

Kathleen Fahey, Curator

The Malden Trinopticon illustrated in The Magic Lantern Manual by W.J. Chadwick, published in 1878, is almost identical to William Denton’s magic lantern found in the collection of the Wellesley Historical Society.  This model features three lenses instead of the more common single or double lens construction.  Multiple lenses provided dissolving views, allowing one image to fade away as the next began to appear.