DON’T FORGET THE PICTURES: GLASS SLIDES IN MoMI’S COLLECTION
Projected images from glass slides were an integral feature of the early cinema experience. Often referred to as “lantern” slides because of their origin in pre-cinema magic lantern shows, these colorful 3¼-by-4-inch slides were used to illustrate popular songs during audience sing-alongs, advertise local businesses, provide theater-specific announcements, and promote upcoming films. Glass slides also served a practical purpose in the first movie theaters, allowing projectionists to keep the audience entertained as they changed film reels.
The glass slides exhibited here are drawn from more than 1,500 examples in MoMI’s collection. While glass slides are no longer in use, today’s theaters continue to present local advertisements, behavioral tips, and coming attractions through other forms of media.
Introduced in the 1890s and popularized in vaudeville shows, illustrated song slides were a regular feature on the screens of the storefront movie theaters that proliferated across the U.S. in the early 1900s. Most such theaters employed a pianist and singer to lead audience sing-alongs between film reels, and had sheet music available for purchase. A typical set of slides depicted imagery evoked by a song, and included at least one slide with lyrics so the audience could join in on the chorus.
In the first years of its publication, the subheading of the pioneering trade journal The Moving Picture World attested to the equal significance accorded to films and song slides in the early years of cinema. By the mid-1910s, song slides were no longer an intrinsic part of the movie theater program. Music remained a key element of the movie theater experience in the decades that followed, with orchestral performances in movie palaces, “follow-the-bouncing-ball” shorts, and filmed musical acts.
Song slide set for “No One to Love Me”
Song slide set for “Kiss Me With Your Eyes”
Glass slides promoting newly released films were first produced in 1912, and were distributed along with such marketing material as posters and window cards. Some slides promoted a major star and the film studio they were signed to. Theater exhibitors sometimes modified a preview slide by scratching off the film title, retaining only the image of the star, so it could be reused. Preview slides were eventually replaced by movie trailers, which were widely distributed by the National Screen Service beginning in the 1920s.
The preview slides exhibited here include some about films now considered lost. These artifacts are often among the only traces that remain of such films.
Announcement and Advertising Slides
Some of the slides exhibited here advertised national products, customized for local retailers. Others promoted a line of goods for a local department store, or encouraged audiences to do their part during World War I. Film studios used slides to promote their brands to theater audiences.
Announcement slides offered tips for how to behave, theater admission fees, and promotional messages about moviegoing (“Don’t Forget the Pictures!”). Unlike preview, advertising, and song slides, exhibitors kept announcement slides on hand for repeated use. Some were elaborately colorful, others simply hand-lettered.
While the format has changed, theaters continue to use screens to advertise local businesses and communicate behavioral tips (such as “please silence your cell phones”) before the previews start.
The father of Joseph C. Sweet, Jr., donor of more than 1300 slides to the Museum’s collection, was a theater owner and exhibitor in Connecticut from approximately 1915 through 1930. While specific dates for most of the announcement and advertising slides donated by Sweet are unknown, it is likely that they date from that period.