Go back to article: Philip Carpenter and the convergence of science and entertainment in the early-nineteenth century instrument trade

The Improved Phantasmagoria Lantern

In 1821 Carpenter repeated this approach with the Improved Phantasmagoria Lantern (see Figure 7). This was a version of the magic lantern, an early slide projector that had been in use from 1659 and that had been a popular tool of travelling entertainers throughout the eighteenth century (Rossell, 2008, pp 102–140; Gonin, 2010). Because of its status as an itinerant’s tool and frivolous curiosity, the lantern had a decidedly low reputation among the respectable classes by the turn of the nineteenth century (Rossell, 2008, pp 71–73). Carpenter would use the practices developed for the Kaleidoscope in new approach to marketing magic lanterns. His business focused on the affluent middle classes, so he would have to reorient the relatively disreputable lantern so as to be acceptable to this clientele. Carpenter responded to this problem by selling the lantern as a desirable consumer object and by associating it with education.

Figure 7

Colour photograph of the Improved Phantasmagoria Lantern by Philip Carpenter 1821-1833

Improved Phantasmagoria Lantern by Philip Carpenter, 1821–1833. Photographed at the Museo Nazionale del Cinema, Turin

However, this impulse towards respectability intersected with another key marketing drive to present the lantern (and his other instruments) as exciting and desirable objects. To appeal to the domestic market, instrument makers would have to inject their instruments with a sense of pleasure. But they would have to tread a fine line between respectability and wonderment. Carpenter could not afford his lanterns to be perceived as dubious trick machines, nor his microscopes as boring academic instruments. His instruments had to be reputable in order to fit the tastes of his target demographic, so his marketing materials emphasise their educational and scientific nature. But it was equally important that the scientific world that they revealed, through lantern slides or microscopic objects, was wondrous. We have already seen how the Kaleidoscope negotiated this relationship.

Carpenter’s manufacturing methods were in line with the rest of the local apparatus trade, but he attained a more efficient and cost-effective set of practices through key product and marketing innovations. Timmins says that Carpenter commenced business ‘in a more systematic manner than had been known before’ (1866, p 534). We know that he was using the local workshop economy to efficiently produce large numbers of lanterns and slides. Hecht argues that ‘Carpenter was the first to go about the production of lanterns and slides in a creative, business-like fashion, finding solutions to problems that had been dormant for years’ (1993, p 77). As with the Kaleidoscope, other instrument makers followed and produced Phantasmagoria Lanterns of their own. The 1820s is the point where instrument makers started to understand the potential value of the entertainment market and so we begin to see increased numbers of non-scientific media instruments. This kind of lantern was one of the most popular instruments of the era.

The Improved Phantasmagoria Lantern was marketed as a consumer object with an established name. Carpenter took the name from the famous Phantasmagoria exhibitions, popular first in Paris from 1792, and then in London around 1800 (Heard, 2006). Carpenter adopted the name but not the format of his new lantern from the Phantasmagoria. As John Barnes says: ‘the name “Phantasmagoria” which Carpenter gave to his magic lantern was really a misnomer, for the word signifies a mode of projection rather than a type of lantern’ (1997, p 20). Carpenter’s lantern had a handle, so it was possible to use it as a supplementary lantern in a Phantasmagoria show, moving it around behind a screen to produce moving phantom projections – the companion booklets include instructions for this (Carpenter and Wesley, 1850, pp 60–62) – but it was not suitable to give Phantasmagoria shows unaccompanied. This means, contrary to Carpenter’s sales pitch, that the lantern was not ‘particularly well adapted to the exhibition of the Phantasmagoria’ (1823, p 3), at least not in the established large-scale multi-lantern format exhibited by Robertson and others. Rather, it could be used to present a smaller scale (domestic or small exhibition) Phantasmagoria show with a single lantern (see Figure 8). Despite this, as Beattie argues, Carpenter placed the Phantasmagoria Lantern in a historic context that made it easily recognisable (2013, p 7). He also added the additional term ‘Improved’, which was commonly appended to microscopes by instrument makers.

Figure 8

Illustration of the Improved Phantasmagoria Lantern in use

Illustration of the Improved Phantasmagoria Lantern in use, from A Companion to the Improved Phantasmagoria Lantern by Carpenter & Westley, 1850

Carpenter’s lantern was made of tin, with a tall chimney that angled part way up, to protect its argand lamp from draft and to stop light escaping. It had a (sometimes adjustable) lens tube, with double condenser and objective lenses, and a diaphragm to prevent spherical aberration (Barnes, 1997, pp 19–20; Carpenter and Westley, 1850, pp 56–65). It was a significant improvement on earlier models because of the clarity of images produced (due to the arrangement and quality of its lenses), its overall simplicity and cheapness of manufacture. The most common lanterns had tended to use a single-lens bulls eye arrangement rather than the double-convex arrangement of Carpenter’s design (Carpenter and Wesley, 1850, p 56) and were more difficult to focus. The simplicity of use meant that Carpenter could target a non-professional clientele and prompt amateur users (teachers, preachers, gentlemen scientists, etc.) to take up the lantern as a useful way of presenting images in public.
    
Despite Carpenter’s own claims to invention, it was the manufacturing and retail strategies he implemented that constituted his most important innovations. The Lantern was integrated into the local workshop economy in the same way as the Kaleidoscope, with the required tin, brass and glass manufacture being completed by differently skilled professionals (Roberts, 2016b: 235–329). Similarly, the Copper-Plate Sliders would have required professional woodworkers, artists and engravers. Catalogues and price lists show that the Lantern could be purchased as a package that included a set of slides, a companion booklet, argand lamp, box and (in some instances) a projection microscope attachment; priced (in 1827) at £4 4s for equipment, plus 4s 6d for slides and 1s for the accompanying booklet (£4 9s 6d for everything; Carpenter, 1827, p 26). A more expensive package provided a microscope attachment and mounted object slides, ‘for exhibiting objects on a screen in the manner of a solar microscope (for £2 8s; see Figure 9). These packages provided all that was needed for an interested amateur to begin lecturing on natural history (or telling amusing stories about animals). As price lists show, it was possible to purchase some items separately (although individual slides were not sold apart from their sets, nor were argand lamps and microscope attachments separately advertised), but it is clear from advertisements and catalogues that Carpenter conceived of them as a package. The Companion to the Microcosm describes the Copper-Plate Sliders as ‘exhibited by means of the Improved Magic Lantern’ (Carpenter, 1827, p 26); that is, not by means of just any lantern, but only the Philip Carpenter-branded Improved Phantasmagoria Lantern. That the sliders were all of a standard size that fit the accompanying lanterns, at the expense of the variously-sized contemporary slides, gives an indication of Carpenter’s approach to hardware and software exclusivity.

Figure 9

Colour photograph of the Improved Phantasmagoria Lantern by Carpenter and Westley with microscope attachment

Improved Phantasmagoria Lantern by Carpenter & Westley, with microscope attachment, 1837–1860

The range of slide subjects expanded quickly. In 1822 Carpenter was advertising ‘Natural History, &c.’ (certainly the Mammalia set, likely also the birds, amphibia, fish, insects and worms from Elements of Zoology, see Figures 10–16), ‘Ancient and Modern Costumes, subjects in Natural History, Portraits of Kings and Queens of England, Microscopic Objects as they Appear in the Solar Microscope, Public Buildings and Views’ (see Figures 17–18), ‘Astronomical Diagrams’ (see Figures 19–20), and ‘Humorous Subjects’ (Liverpool Mercury, 1822, p 327). With the exception of the microscopic objects, all were still available in Carpenter and Westley’s 1850 catalogue, with the only other available sets of Copper-Plate Sliders being the scripture subjects (see Figures 21–22) and botanical illustrations (1850, p 13). This shows that the range of subjects was established very early. The longevity of these sets also suggests their popularity. Carpenter and Westley later introduced similar companion guides to some of the other sets, showing that the company maintained the integrity of Philip Carpenter’s holistic approach after his death, most likely due to its success.

Figure 10

Colour photograph of Copper-Plate Slider by Carpenter and Westley showing elements of Zoology mammalia porcupine Brazilian porcupine variegated and spotted cavies and beaver

Copper-Plate Slider by Carpenter & Westley, 1837–1860. Elements of Zoology (Mammalia), porcupine, Brazilian porcupine, variegated and spotted cavies, and beaver. Author’s collection

Figure 11

A Copper-Plate Slider by Carpenter & Westley showing elements of Zoology mammalia Newfoundland dog wolf striped hyena and Fenec

Copper-Plate Slider by Carpenter & Westley, 1837—1860. Elements of Zoology (Mammalia), Newfoundland dog, wolf, striped hyena and Fenec

Figure 12

A Copper-Plate Slider by Carpenter & Westley showing elements of Zoology birds condor fulvous vulture golden eagle and barn owl

Copper-Plate Slider by Carpenter & Westley, 1837–1860. Elements of Zoology (birds), condor, fulvous vulture, golden eagle and barn owl. Author’s collection

Figure 13

A Copper Plate Slider by Carpenter & Westley showing elements of Zoology birds Patagonian penguin red flamingo rose-coloured spoonbill and agami heron

Copper-Plate Slider by Carpenter & Westley, 1837–1860. Elements of Zoology (birds), Patagonian penguin, red flamingo, rose-coloured spoonbill and agami heron. Author’s collection

Figure 14

A Copper Plate Slider by Carpenter & Westley elements of Zoology amphibia snake tortoise green turtle horned frog and pipa

Copper-Plate Slider by Carpenter & Westley, 1837–1860. Elements of Zoology (amphibia), snake tortoise, green turtle, horned frog and pipa. Author’s collection

Figure 15

Copper Plate Slider by Carpenter & Westley elements of Zoology amphibia American guana chameleon siren and banded rattlesnake

Copper-Plate Slider by Carpenter & Westley, 1837–1860. Elements of Zoology (amphibia), American guana, chameleon, siren and banded rattlesnake. Author’s collection

Figure 16

A Copper-Plate Slider by Carpenter & Westley showing elements of Zoology worms red coral thick-armed gorgonia cinnamon madrepore madreporas patella and meandrites

Copper-Plate Slider by Carpenter & Westley, 1837–1860. Elements of Zoology (worms), red coral, thick-armed gorgonia, cinnamon madrepore, madreporas, patella and meandrites. Author’s collection

Figure 17

A Copper Plate Slider by Carpenter & Westley showing views of Public Buildings Saint Paul’s Cathedral Melrose Abbey and Southwark Bridge

Copper-Plate Slider by Carpenter & Westley, 1837–1860. Views of Public Buildings, &c., View of St. Michael, Parisian Military Hospital and the Island of Staffa

Figure 18

A Copper Plate Slider by Carpenter and Westley showing views of Public Buildings view of Saint Michael Parisian Military Hospital and the Island of Staffa

Copper-Plate Slider by Carpenter & Westley, 1837–1860. Views of Public Buildings, &c., St Paul’s Cathedral, Melrose Abbey and Southwark Bridge

Figure 19

A Copper Plate Slider by Carpenter and Westley showing astronomical Diagrams Eclipse of the Sun

Copper-Plate Slider by Carpenter & Westley, 1837–1860. Astronomical Diagrams, Eclipse of the Sun (moveable)

Figure 20

A Copper Plate Slider by Carpenter and Westley showing astronomical Diagrams Eclipse of the moon

Copper-Plate Slider by Carpenter & Westley, 1837–1860. Astronomical Diagrams, Eclipse of the Moon (moveable)

Figure 21

A Copper Plate Slider by Carpenter and Westley showing scripture subjects Adam and Eve driven out of Paradise Herodias with the head of John the Baptist and Christ brought to the temple

Copper-Plate Slider by Carpenter & Westley, 1837–1860. Scripture Subjects, Adam and Eve driven out of Paradise, Herodias with the head of John the Baptist, and Christ brought to the temple

Figure 22

A Copper Plate Slider by Carpenter and Westley showing scripture Subjects The Flight into Egypt the Holy Family and Saint John and Christ and the Woman of Samaria

Copper-Plate Slider by Carpenter & Westley, 1837–1860. Scripture Subjects, The Flight into Egypt, the Holy Family and St. John, and Christ and the Woman of Samaria

The Copper-Plate Sliders are made up of three or four transfer-printed and then hand-painted images on small glass disks, mounted in long wooden frames and secured with wire spring fixtures. These slides were the first to be printed from a single matrix (in this case a copper engraving). Carpenter’s copper-plate transfer process was based on the ceramic transfer process used by Sadler and Green from 1756 onwards (see Figure 23).

Figure 23

An earthenware tile with transfer printed decoration by Sadler and Green

Earthenware tile with transfer-printed decoration by Sadler and Green, 1758–1761

This process did not allow for full mass reproduction, as they still required quite a lot of work from painters (Roberts, 2016, pp 322–325). As Barnes argues:

It could be wrong to suppose that the outline was merely ‘coloured’ in the manner of contemporary engraved prints; instead, the skeleton impression was completely transformed into a miniature painting which varied in quality according to the skill of the artist employed, and no two pictures are ever alike. (1984, p 9)

The transfer process was not a form of mass production, but it did help Carpenter to standardise images by repeating each outline and image subject. This meant that he could sell a consistent product that could be associated with his wider marketing campaign.

The standardised images could be interpreted using the accompanying companions that gave information on each of the subjects and advice on how to present them to an audience. Elements of Zoology (1823), the first companion, situates the slides in an educational discourse and suggests that proper use of the slides requires commentary. The book’s introduction (1823, pp 5–6) situates the slide set in a broad context of learning as a means of justifying its use (and the value of natural history). It provides information on each of the different animals featured on the slides, organised into kingdoms, orders, genera and species (according to Linnaeus’ classifications). But the information provided betrays the non-scientific concerns of Carpenter’s key consumers. It is necessary for the Lantern to be seen as a reputable instrument, but it must also be exciting enough to draw sales. As a result the underlying content of the slides and their interpretive readings is entertaining rather than educational. Some extracts from the book should illustrate this:

Viverra Furo, or The Ferret. The ferret is a native of Africa, but has been tamed in Europe, and is used for rabbit hunting, and also for clearing places infested with rats. It is very susceptible to cold, and is kept in a box provided with wool. So great is its thirst for blood, that is has been known to grasp at the throats of infants in the cradle, and suck them till it has been completely gorged. (1823, p 35)

Vultut Gryphus, or The Condor. This, with the exception of the ostrich, is the largest of birds, and its amazing size and strength almost realises the accounts of the Roc, in the Arabian Tales; when full grown it sometimes measures sixteen feet when the wings are extended, and is capable of snatching a small boy of ten years of age and upwards. The fulness of its plumage is such as to resist a ball fired at it from a gun. (1823, pp 76–77)

Genus Testudo, or The Tortoise Tribe. This genus is divided into three assortments, land tortoises, river tortoises and sea tortoises, or turtles. They feed upon worms, the marine ones on sea weeds; when tamed they eat almost anything. They are long lived; one kept in the gardens of Lambeth attained the age of 120 years, and they are so tenacious of life, that one lived six months after its brain was taken out, walking about as before. Another lived twenty-three days after its head was cut off, and the head opened and closed its jaws for an hour after its separation from the body. (1823, p 97)

These readings are more concerned with sensationalism than accuracy, and it is easy to imagine the pleasure that they may have given an audience confronted with images of the animals projected before them. We see that Carpenter has a clear understanding of the requirements for an entertaining show and that he has moulded the discursive content of his Lantern sets to meet them.

Carpenter’s business decisions were based on contextual strategies implemented to solve particular problems. His Improved Phantasmagoria Lantern and Copper-Plate Sliders package was marketed as such to stabilise a market for domestic media that could be efficiently exploited. This is his reason for focusing on educational content and marketing his sliders within the frame of respectable middle-class values, while still echoing other, ostensibly more popular, fantastic or spectacular discursive frameworks.

Component DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15180/170707/005