The National Science and Media Museum has obtained an extensive assortment of magic lantern slides, once belonging to the lending library of the Riley Brothers in Bradford.

This compilation showcases images depicting local individuals and city scenes from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, presenting a vivid visual narrative of Bradford’s heritage. Comprising 182 sets of magic lanterns with over 2600 distinct slides, the images were created by positioning models, who were either volunteers or acquaintances of the photographer’s family, alongside various props or within genuine landscapes to convey a visual tale.

The images exhibit various locations in Bradford, including the former banking hall on Hustlergate. Some of the external images may pose a challenge in terms of identification, and the public is encouraged to contact the museum if they can recognise any of these locales.

Originating in the 17th century, a magic lantern is an early form of projector employing an artificial light source such as a bulb or the flame of a candle to project hand-painted images, transfers, prints, or photographs onto a glass slide. Magic lanterns and their slides were widely used until the mid-20th century as a prevalent source of entertainment and served as forerunners to early film technologies. The Riley Brothers set up their own magic lantern enterprise on Godwin Street in Bradford, vending slides and equipment while also producing their own magic lanterns.

The recently acquired assortment is presently undergoing documentation, photography, preservation, rehousing, and storage by the museum, to augment its expansive collection of magic lanterns and slides. The museum is also home to the extensive Kodak Collection, inclusive of the Riley ‘Kineoptoscope’ projector, which transformed magic lanterns into motion picture projectors, ushering films into the theatres of Bradford.

Commenting on the new acquisition, Vanessa Torres, Conservator at the National Science and Media Museum said: “Our collections are constantly growing, and new acquisitions can take on many different shapes and sizes. When we acquired this large collection of magic lantern slides, it was a truly a cross-department effort to document, conserve, and digitise the objects to ensure that these fascinating images can be accessed and enjoyed by everyone.”

To learn more about the process of bringing the new acquisition into the museum’s collection, please visit: