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The James W. Davidson Collection: A Glass Lantern Slides Digitization Project

James W. Davidson glass lantern slides

James W. Davidson was a journalist, adventurer, and businessman who spent many years in Asia, and later moved to Calgary.

While in Asia, Davidson collected glass lantern slides. The original glass lantern slides are held at the Audrey and Harry Hawthorn Library and Archives at MOA. Recently, the Audrey and Harry Hawthorn Library and Archives began digitizing these fragile slides so that more people could view the images. The digitized glass lantern slides are accessible for viewing by researchers and visitors alike at the Archives.

Glass Lantern Slides

The introduction of glass lantern slides in 1849, ten years after the invention of photography, allowed photographs to be viewed in an entirely new format. They were an early form of image projection used primarily in universities and schools for lectures.

The construction of glass lantern slides remained primarily the same throughout their one hundred year history. A print was made onto glass using an adhesive light sensitive solution. After the print was dry, the image could be hand-coloured using special tints. Hand tinting was often outsourced to companies, and the quality varied. The slide was finished with a mat framing the image and glass plate cover, and was taped around the edges to seal the assemblage. Glass lantern slides are made of multiple parts including two glass plates. The photographic image is sandwiched between the glass slide plates. This type of construction makes them very fragile, and many glass lantern slides have been lost due to breakage.

The popularity of glass lantern slides lasted until the 1950’s with the introduction of the smaller 2×2 celluloid transparency slides.

Preservation Using Digitization

At the Audrey and Harry Hawthorn Library and Archives, we use digitization as a way of preserving and improving access to original materials which are too fragile to be retrieved on a regular basis. Digitization decreases the wear and tear on original materials and allows for greater use, research and collaboration with the archival materials without sacrificing the safety of the original.

The process for digitizing the James W. Davidson glass lantern slides involved identifying the best practices for digitizing these rare objects before we started. The slides had to be handled very carefully during the digitization process to prevent further deterioration. All slides were fragile, but many had some cracks which would limit further handling and access. The process of digitizing will give these artifacts and images new life, especially the cracked and damaged slides which could not be viewed otherwise.

It was necessary to capture two scans of each slide in order to accurately represent not just the projected image, but the condition of the glass lantern slide itself. Fortunately, our scanner can focus at various depths on the scanning glass. One scan was taken of the slide as a total object sitting directly on the scanner glass and the second scan was taken at a focal point distance above the scanner glass.

We were then able to merge the two scanned images in order to create a composite image. This image depicts both the overall condition of the slide mounting as well as the slide image.

To access the James W. Davidson Collection or other materials, please make an appointment with the archivist.