The dazzling Magic Lantern Convention will be returning to Birmingham next month (April) to celebrate forty years of entertainment and history dedicated to the forerunner to the movie projector.

This will be the 10th international convention of the society, which will be held at the Birmingham and Midlands Institute over three days and feature shows, lectures, an exhibition, a collectors market and gala dinner.

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The Magic Lantern has a long history based within the city, and is part of the world of optical projection and stands alongside the Camera Obscura, Shadow Shows and the Magic Mirror. It has been used to educate and mystify audiences for hundreds of years and still draws attention whenever people see it in action.

It was first developed in the Netherlands in the 17th century, and has remained an enduring form of entertainment, even to the present day, with its main advantage being the performer could set up a show anywhere where darkness could be arranged. Entertainment has ranged from a simple diversion for children, to spectacular shows with a variety of special effects given in purpose-built magic lantern theatres.

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Unlike the more serious inventions such as the telescope or microscope, the magic lantern was used primarily for entertainment as well as education. The first lantern slide was invented by the famous scientist Christiaan Huygens, a humorous image of skeleton who reached off to ‘doff’ his hat, and instead removed his head.

Birmingham was also at the centre of the manufacturing of the lantern which were then shipped across the world. Prominent manufacturers included J Place in Bull Street, James Parkes & Son in St Mary’s Row, and Birmingham Photographic Co. in Stechford.

Magic lanterns were in regular use in Birmingham, even within living memory at Central Hall in Corporation Street, The Birmingham Midlands Institute, Digbeth Institute, Curzon Hall, Aston Hall and public libraries across the city.

Birmingham Library also has a collection of 60,000 slides which could be loaned up until 1955. It also houses one of the biggest magic lanterns ever built, known as the ‘Servant of Light’ - a giant triple lantern which was commissioned by wealthy hotelier Frederick Gordon to entertain guests.

The Birmingham Post and Mail also used to use the lanterns to project ‘live’ election results from their offices onto screens on the Midland Hotel, New Street of Town Hall.

Jeremy Brooker Chairman of The Magic Lantern Convention said: “We are always surprised when people tell us they have never heard of the magic lantern but as soon as they hear about the history and see how they work, they are always hooked and want to find out more.

“I have been giving magic lantern shows myself since the age of 14, and am also a professional musician, and this is my passion. So we are proud to be bringing the convention back to Birmingham, and many of our members will be bringing along their own collection to display and show some incredible pieces and films from a different era, and it’s well worth a visit,” he added.

The convention is held every four years in various sites throughout Britain and attracts members from around the globe.

The event is taking place between Friday, 28th April until Sunday, 30th April.

Tickets cost £120 for the three days,  with the Saturday gala dinner costing £20 per person. Registration is open now at www.magiclantern.org.uk 

PR By Clive Reeves PR Birmingham

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