The C.E. Skinner Glass Lantern Slide Collection

One of my favorite collections in the PBI archive is the C.E. Skinner Glass Lantern Slide collection.

Glass lantern slides, also known as “magic” lantern slides, were an important forerunner to photography and continued to enjoy widespread use through the 1930s. Early lantern slides featured drawings or paintings which were illuminated and projected by lantern. Eventually, lantern slides came to be produced photographically. By the late 1800s, manufacturers catered to consumers, educational institutions, and social clubs with thematic boxed sets of mass-produced slides.    

My guess is that the C.E. Skinner slides—shown below—are a mash-up of multiple such boxed sets. Taken as a whole, the collection offers a vivid example of how glass slide manufacturers presented an exoticized Asia to American audiences in the early twentieth century.

Charles Edward Skinner (1865-1950) was one of America’s leading electrical engineers in the early twentieth century. As the first director of research for the Westinghouse Corporation, Skinner made key discoveries related to the insulating properties of oil in electrical technologies. As a result of his success, Skinner frequently served as a delegate at world conferences of electrical engineering. In 1931, he served as president of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers.

Skinner’s travels took him abroad several times in the 1910s and 1920s. In 1929, he was a delegate to the World Power Conference in Japan. However, it seems most likely that he acquired his lantern slides back home in the United States. The slides bear the imprint of multiple manufacturers, including The Edmondson Company of Cleveland and Charles R. Pancoast of Philadelphia. Perhaps Skinner used these slides to prepare for his travels in East Asia, or to entertain and enlighten friends.  

The Skinner slides are currently housed in their original wooden boxes. I recently began the process of cleaning and rehousing the slides in archival-quality envelopes. This will be a long process; there are upwards of 1,000 slides. Eventually, we plan to digitize the slides and make them available online.