“Spectral Effects, Ghost described, and how to produce them” – such is the great promise that Negretti and Zambra make in the title of their short guide to using the Magic Lantern. This – unfortunately – does not provide instructions on how to summon spirits, which would have been very appropriate for the season. However it does give us plenty of information on a popular device, then at the height of its popularity.

Who were ‘Negretti and Zambra’?

Henry Angelo Ludovico Negretti (1818 – 1879), was born in Como (Italy), and moved to England in 1830 in order to find work. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography [1] indicates that he may have apprenticed with Caesar Tagliabue, a maker of meteorological instruments who also originated from Como, and Francis Augustus Pizzala before opening his own glass-blowing business in 1840.

Joseph Warren Zambra (1822-1897), the other half of the duo, was born in Saffron Walden from an English mother and an Italian father. He is not to be confused with Joseph Caesar (or Cesare) Zambra, his father, also a barometer maker and optician, with whom he apprenticed before moving to London.

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The two men established their partnership in 1850, and met success near-immediately by receiving a medal for their meteorological instruments at the 1851 Great Exhibition, before being appointed instrument makers to Queen Victoria.

In 1853, the duo became official photographers of the Crystal Palace Company. They continued to invent new devices, and by 1859 their catalogue contained over 2000 instruments – including some magic lanterns [2]. To advertise them, and help customers use them, they published the 51 pages-long guide shown above.

Pepper’s Ghost

As part of this guide, Negretti and Zambra bring up a technique called “Pepper’s ghost”.

This method, popularised by John Henry Pepper (1821-1900), uses a clear reflective surface (such as glass) to show ‘apparitions’ to the spectator – the apparition simply being the reflection of an actor or object present in an adjacent room.

A theatre director could use this device to represent ghosts, floating heads, and flying objects among other things thanks to a clever use of colour-contrasting clothing or makeup.

Pepper was also known for writing educational science books, among which The boy’s playbook of science, which provides an overview of multiple scientific subjects and at-home experiments for the young scientist.

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In the Playbook, he refers to the effect as ‘magic mirror’, due to the use of the reflective surface for the effect. Throughout the section dedicated to the effect, he explains the impact of the mirror’s shape (e.g. convex or concave) on the final result.

The Magic Lantern at home

With these experiments being presented to children, and the creation of smaller, mass-producible lanterns, it was only a question of time before the lantern found its use in people’s homes. The Book of the Lantern (fifth edition pictured below) by Thomas Cradock Hepworth (father of British film director Cecil Hepworth) provides all the instructions needed to make one’s own slides at home.

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Although he acknowledges the popularity of the lantern as children’s entertainment, Hepworth enthusiastically presents its advantages as a device that amateur photographers can use to showcase their work to friends. To further his point on the lantern being far more than a child’s toy, he mentions another possible use for it:

Let me say at once that the magic lantern is now no toy, but is recognised as a valuable aid to education far and wide

Hepworth, pp. vi-vii.

The Magic Lantern in education

While popularised as an entertainment device, the magic lantern also found its place in lecture halls. Sainte-Beuve, a French author and literary critic, reported that Madame de Genlis (1746-1830) – who educated King Louis Philippe and his siblings – had used a magic lantern in her history classes [3]. On the other side of the English Channel, the famously blind lecturer Henry Moyes included the “Magic Lanthorn” (p.121) in a list of eighteen items necessary to every university [4].

From the 1820s onwards, Carpenter (later known and often referred to as Carpenter and Westley) began producing ‘educational’ slides to accompany his Improved Phantasmagoria Lantern [5]. A book came with the slides, containing text about the animals or plants pictured, bringing together the educational and entertainment aspects of the magic lantern. Itinerant lecturer Anna Laura Clarke (1788-1861) may have purchased and used some of these slides, replacing the provided text with her own research [6].

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The volume above, a copy of Wright’s Optical projection treatise (first edition), makes clear references to the use of a magic lantern in the classroom. Page 132 details the types of light that can be used by the lecturer and how one can signal a slide change to their lantern operator, and the entirety of chapter XII is dedicated to the necessary ‘apparatus for scientific demonstration’. There may have been as many as five editions to the treatise, with the last one being published around 1920.

Lanterns remained expensive, .as shown on this image taken from Hepworth’s volume (£10 of the time being equal to roughly £1300 today). By 1920 the cinema – which had been rising since the early 1900s – had replaced the magic lantern as a form of entertainment.

Blog post researched, written and produced by Raphaëlle, Library Assistant.


Negretti & Zambra. The magic lantern, dissolving views : and oxy-hydrogen microscope, their history and construction, also directions for use, with oil lamps, oxy-calcium and oxy-hydrogen light : and instruction for painting on glass : spectral effects, ghosts described, and how to produce them. Fourth edition. London: Alfred Boot. 1865?

John Henry Pepper. The boy’s playbook of science : including the various manipulations and arrangements of chemical and philosophical apparatus required for the successful performance of scientific experiments in illustration of the elementary branches of chemistry and natural philosophy. London: George Routledge and Sons. 1866.

Thomas Cradock Hepworth. The book of the lantern : being a practical guide to the working of the optical (or magic) lantern, with full and precise directions for making and colouring lantern pictures. Fifth edition. London: Hazell, Watson and Viney. 1894.

Lewis Wright. Optical projection : a treatise on the use of the lantern in exhibition and scientific demonstration. London: Longmans, Green. 1891.

Magic lantern slides can be viewed on the Whipple Museum Collections Portal.


[1] John K. Bradley. Negretti, Henry Angelo Ludovico (1818-1879). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004. https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/19855 

[2] Grace’s Guide. Negretti and Zambra. Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History. Retrieved from https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/Negretti_and_Zambra

[3] Encyclopædia Britannica. Genlis, Stéphanie-Félicité du Crest de Saint-Aubin. 1911. Retrieved from https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/1911_Encyclop%C3%A6dia_Britannica/Genlis,_St%C3%A9phanie-F%C3%A9licit%C3%A9_du_Crest_de_Saint-Aubin,_Comtesse_de 

[4] John Anthony Harrison. Blind Henry Moyes, “An excellent lecturer in philosophy”. Annals of Science, 13:2, 109-125, https://doi.org/10.1080/00033795700200091.

[5] Philip Roberts. Philip Carpenter and the convergence of science and entertainment in the early-nineteenth century instrument trade. Science Museum Journal, Spring 2017. http://dx.doi.org/10.15180/170707

[6] Granville Ganter. Mistress of Her Art: Anne Laura Clarke, Traveling Lecturer of the 1820s. The New England Quarterly, LCCCVII, n. 4. 2014. http://dx.doi.org/10.1162/TNEQ_a_00418