In May of 2018, the Livingston Masonic Library received a spectacular donation from Fairport Flower City Lodge No. 476, in Fairport, NY: a working “Magic Lantern,” or Stereopticon, with a large set of Masonic Lantern Slides.

The donation was made In Memory of Worshipful Allen B. Fowler, one of the Lodge’s Past Masters who took care of the projector for many years and prevented it from becoming lost or destroyed.

The Projector came with a fantastic set of Masonic Lantern Slides, which were used for illustration during the Degrees.

While the Library has an extensive collection of Lantern Slides, the ones donated with this Projector fill a major gap in the collection. These slides are held within a wooden frame, and are among the earliest Lantern Slides the Library holds. Similarly-framed slides in the collection have only Knights Templar themes, and so, this donation with Masonic Degree themes greatly expands the collection.

These slides appear to be either hand-colored, or made by a process which was somewhat unique in America, whereby a photograph of a drawing was made, and slides were printed from the photograph.

The Magic Lantern has a manufacturer’s plate: 

Magic Lanterns were produced as early as the 1600s, but did not become commonly used until the mid/late-1700s. This particular Magic Lantern was made between 1882 and 1925.

M.C. Lilley & Co. was founded in 1865 by Mitchell C. Lilley (b. 1819 – d. 1882). In 1882, it became known as The M. C. Lilley & Co. While the company focused on fraternal regalia, by the late 1800s, their catalogs advertised Magic Lanterns and Slides. In 1896, they sold the Lantern from $30 – $70, and the Slides for $2 each.

When the wages for 1896 are considered, the Magic Lantern can be seen to be a very expensive item for a Lodge to acquire. For example, in 1896, bakers worked an average of 60 hours per week in New York, with an average daily pay of $1.72. A book binder didn’t do much better, with an average of 59 hours per week and an average daily pay of $1.91.

The Library and Museum is very grateful to Fairport-Flower City Lodge No. 476 for their donation. They have continued the tradition of preserving something valuable for their current and future Brothers by donating it to the Library. The Library hopes to present a Magic Lantern Slide Show in 2019, using this fantastic, working Magic Lantern and its accompanying 37 Wood-framed Slides. Please keep an eye on the Library’s Events page so as not to miss it!

As an addendum to this post, it must be noted that in December of 2018, Westbrook Lodge No. 333 also donated a Magic Lantern from a later timeframe, with another, different set of Lantern Slides, for which the Library is also quite grateful. This gift allows the Library to show a range of the Magic Lanterns, as we hold one which is earlier than the Fairport-Flower City Lodge No. 476 donation, and one which is much later than that and later than both recent donations. Therefore, the Library now proudly holds four completely different Magic Lanterns.

Photographs are courtesy Fairport-Flower City Lodge No. 476.

Data and post by Catherine M. Walter, Curator

References:
Babel-Hathi Trust – History of Wages in the United States
Magic Lantern Society
Ohio State University – The Columbus Fashion Story
The Autry’s Collection Online
Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library