Magic Lantern Castle Museum

Many collectors are makers, restoring the items they collect to working condition. Jack Judson created his own private museum, the Magic Lantern Castle Museum in San Antonio, TX. The magic lantern is the first projection technology, directing a light source through a lens to project images, which were initially painted on glass slides. Building this extensive collection of magic lanterns became Jack's obsession after he retired.

I interviewed Jack for Make:16 and I took the photo of him, below, in his workshop where he repairs magic lanterns and keeps them working. My excerpt below contains some parts of the conversation that didn't make it into the article.


DD: There's a wonderful collection here, and it's a beautiful thing. You started in 1986 after you retired. What was the first thing that you bought?

JJ: I worked for a large, international organization. I was visiting our London office, and I asked the the manager of the office, "What's to do here in London?" I hadn't been there before. He said, "Well, go to a street market. We have them all the time here." I went to one. I bought what was purported to be a magic lantern, and I brought it back — when airlines would let you bring things back in your luggage. After doing a lot of research, I found out what I bought was not a magic lantern but a lantern enlarger. That was my first comeuppance.


DD: The museum has a collection of magic lanterns made as toys (above).

JJ: There was a huge industry. Everything that Daddy has, the kid gets too. While it's never quite as much as Daddy's, still it's pretty cool. Most toys were made in Nuremburg, Germany. There were at least five makers that we know of there, and they made hundreds-of-thousands of various sizes and shapes.

DD: Mostly running off small oil lamps?

JJ: Yes. They didn't really project very well, but the kid in his little room could set one up, and project three of four feet onto a wall, and see what was not a very good image from a decal that had been stuck onto a piece of glass. They were lithograph-printed images. They were a little fuzzy, probably.


DD: From being a toy or a plaything, the magic lantern comes up to be part of the early film industry starting in the late 1800s. Then we see Edison's home kinetoscope.

JJ: You had the home kinetoscope, and, of course, then the projecting kinetoscope, which was the one that was used by more professional people. You could project films but you could not buy them; you had to rent them. Netflix of the day, I guess you might say. There's nothing new.

DD: Right.

JJ: You could buy, for 50 cents apiece, the slides that had little, tiny images that you could project — pictures in France, or England, or the holy land.

DD: Those early films, though, were not very long were they?

JJ: No, they were very, very short. The earliest ones were 50 feet, which is basically the length of the table that George Eastman could lay out the film — it was liquid — and let it solidify, and then roll-cut strips that were 35 millimeter long, and so at 16-frames per second, it doesn't last very long. At some point, I recall in an autobiography where this old man talked to Edison about how to show these films, and he said, "Well, just run them through three times so that they get their money's worth." There was no story. They had no message — no nothing. They were just images of people moving, and, in fact, they were not moving. They were really sequential stills.