Collecting tips 2017-05-23T13:56:22+00:00

Magic Lantern Collecting on $150 a Year — Tips

Think you can’t build a magic-lantern collection because you’re not rich?  You need these Magic Lantern Collecting Tips.

It’s true that you can spend thousands on lantern slides.  But one of the great things about the field is that there are many fascinating items that are inexpensive. Here are some suggestions on how to build a collection with a budget of $150 a year.  Of course, if you have more to spend, so much the better!

First Things—Learn the Market and Take Your Time

Expensive magic lantern slide, listing for $5,550 on Ebay

OK, you could spend a lot on magic lanterns. This slide was offered at $5,550! But once you’ve read this article, you wouldn’t buy it at that ridiculous price. And in fact, nobody did.

The easiest place to find lanterns and slides is on  Before you begin buying, get a sense of what things sell for by checking past sales on eBay.

In the upper right hand corner of your eBay screen, click “Advanced.”  Enter “magic lantern” in the keyword search.  Change “All words, Any order” to “Exact words, Exact order.” Half-way down the page check “Completed Items.”  Then hit the blue Search button.  You’ll find about 25,000 (!) items, and an indication of what sold (in green) at what price.  (You can also see what didn’t sell at a given starting price, which is revealing information too.)  All the items pictured here are from the “Completed Items” listings on one day.

Study the market for several weeks. Then set a budget for what you will pay, and keep bidding that amount, week after week, until you win. Don’t panic if you don’t win the first time.  There are in fact thousands of lanterns and slides out there. Be patient.

Year One

1. Buy a working lantern for $25 – $50. Decide if you want a children’s toy lantern, or one that will project larger slide sizes. Some models of both sell for thousands, but there are also models that are inexpensive.  Check eBay for lanterns here.

Toy Lanterns: Look for an all-black, “EP” model. Don’t worry about getting a box or an illuminant (lamp) because you can light it with a candle or a flashlight.

Large Lantern: Look for an all-black electric lantern with bellows in good shape and (if possible) a slide carrier (a wooden frame that is usually sold with a lantern, but also appears separately). Almost all adult slides will work in this kind of lantern. When you try it out, be sure to line the light up with an imaginary line running through the center of the lenses. Otherwise it won’t project well.

Here’s what you need to fit your lantern with new lights, which are often needed. Click here to order 250 Watt Halogen Lamps @ $14 from Top Bulb.

Click here to order a Socket and Lamp Holder from Top Bulb for $8 You’re set!

Click here to see a wild and woolly, super-fast lantern refurbishing on YouTube.

Click here and here  and here to read a detailed three-part discussion of lantern and slide refurbishing, written by Jack Judson, curator of The Magic Lantern Castle Museum.

This children’s lantern AND some slides went for $36.

This children’s lantern AND some slides went for $36.

A working adult-size lantern with bellows sold for $51, in perfect working order

Buy Some Slides!

2. Buy a comic slide for $35. The comic slip slides that work with sliding pieces of glass are great fun and fascinate young and old. Most slip slides won’t work in a child’s lantern but even so it will immediately make your collection eminently “shareable.” Look for a slide that appeals to your sense of humor, and again, bid $35, on one slide at a time, until you win.

3. After winning your first lot, focus on slide subjects of particular interest to you, or try getting a different type of toy lantern with your remaining money. To buy more slides, you need to focus—so to speak. There are sometimes a thousand new slides for sale on eBay in a single week, so you’ll need to narrow your choices.

Yes! A working slip slide for $25—and a terrific slide at that.

Yes! A working slip slide for $25—and a terrific slide at that.

4. If you bought a children’s lantern, you’ll want long-thin slides for it, not the large squarish ones for adult lanterns. Children’s slides are almost all small, but they come in many different sizes, so measure the height of the slide slot on your lantern and be sure the slides you bid on are the right size for it.

Adult slides come in Wood Frame (4 x 7”) and “Economy” (3 ¼ x 4”) with no frame, and English format (3 ¼ x 3 ¼”). All will work in your lantern, but for the Economy and English format slides you’ll need a “slide carrier,” also available on eBay. See below.

Don’t necessarily go for a complete slide set initially. An assortment will generally be less expensive. The slides may have some torn bindings and scratches. That’s OK for your budget, but avoid slides that are broken or badly scratched. (A good rule of thumb is to always buy the best you can afford.)

For a large lantern, you might start by buying single-slide examples of the many different types of slides—photographic, illustrated, songs, movie advertisements, etc. Make a list of what you want, budget your money, look for examples with a low starting price, and bid your budget until you win.

Another approach is to focus on a particular subject that interests you. Fishing, golf, sewing, art, music, an area of the world, etc. etc. If it existed in 1900, there are slides about it. Search eBay “Completed Items” for “magic lantern + ______” to get a sense of what’s out there. Some subjects are very collectible so you’ll have to figure out what you can afford, and perhaps settle for less desirable examples.

Here’s a fun little 6-slide story set that sold for just $33. It’s English, in the English format (3-1/4” x 3-1/4”), so you’d need an English slide changer to use it.

Here’s a fun little 6-slide story set that sold for just $33. It’s English, in the English format (3 ¼ ” x 3 ¼”), so you’d need an English slide changer to use it.

An American slide carrier (3¼” x 4”) sold for $17.

An American slide carrier (3¼” x 4”) sold for $17.

Year 2:

Now that you have a lantern and some slides, and have been studying the market, you’re on your own. Keep focused, establish a budget, bid only what you can afford, and be patient. Unless you have very exotic tastes, another example will come up on eBay, and sooner or later, you’ll get what you want.

Over time, say ten years on a budget of $150 dollars a year, you will have spent $1500.  That’s enough money to build a very fine collection—one that has real historical importance if your focus is narrow enough, or one that will allow you to give shows that are quite impressive if you are looking to do that.

And while you’re building your collection, share your enthusiasm and learn more from the members of The Magic Lantern Society of the United States and Canada.  Join here.


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Caution: They’re selling this “mirrorscope” or “radiopticon” as a “magic lantern” but it won’t project slide images. It’s meant to project postcards.

Caution: They’re selling this “mirrorscope” or “radiopticon” as a “magic lantern” but it won’t project slide images. It’s meant to project postcards.