1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Lantern

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LANTERN (an adaptation of the Fr. lanterne from Lat. lanterna or laterna, supposed to be from Gr. λαμπτήρ, a torch or lamp, λάμπειν, to shine, cf. “lamp”; the 16th- and 17th-century form “lanthorn” is due to a mistaken derivation from “horn,” as a material frequently used in the making of lanterns), a metal case filled in with some transparent material, and used for holding a light and protecting it from rain or wind. The appliance is of two kinds—the hanging lantern and the hand lantern—both of which are ancient. At Pompeii and Herculaneum have been discovered two cylindrical bronze lanterns, with ornamented pillars, to which chains are attached for carrying or hanging the lantern. Plates of horn surrounded the bronze lamp within, and the cover at the top can be removed for lighting and for the escape of smoke. The hanging lantern for lighting rooms was composed of ornamental metal work, of which iron and brass were perhaps most frequently used. Silver, and even gold, were, however, sometimes employed, and the artificers in metal of the 17th and 18th centuries produced much exceedingly artistic work of this kind. Oriental lanterns in open-work bronze were often very beautiful. The early lantern had sides of horn, talc, bladder or oiled paper, and the primitive shape remains in the common square stable lantern with straight glass sides, to carry a candle. The hand lantern was usually a much more modest appliance than the hanging lantern, although in great houses it was sometimes richly worked and decorated. As glass grew cheaper it gradually ousted all other materials, but the horn lantern which was already ancient in the 13th century was still being used in the early part of the 19th. By the end of the 18th century lanterns in rooms had been superseded by the candlestick. The collapsible paper lanterns of China and Japan, usually known as Chinese lanterns, are globular or cylindrical in shape, and the paper is pleated and when not in use folds flat. For illuminative and decorative purposes they are coloured with patterns of flowers, &c. The lanterns carried by the ordinary foot passenger are made of oiled paper. In China the “Feast of Lanterns” takes place early in the New Year and lasts for four days. In Japan the festival of Bon is sometimes known as the “feast of lanterns.” It is then that the spirits of the dead ancestors return to the household altar. The festival takes place in July. The “bull’s-eye” lantern has a convex lens which concentrates the light and allows it to be thrown in the shape of a diverging cone. The “dark lantern” has a shutter or slide arrangement by which the light can be shut off at will. Ships’ lanterns are used as masthead or other signal lights. On Trajan’s column is a representation of a heavy poop-lantern on a ship. The ships’ lanterns of the 16th and 17th centuries were highly ornamental, especially when placed on the poop. At the Armeria Real in Madrid is a collection of these 16th-century ships’ lanterns. The protected cages which contain the lights used in lighthouses are also known as “lanterns” (see Lighthouses).

In architecture a lantern is primarily a framework of timber, with windows all round, to admit ample light, placed on the top of a roof. In a broader sense, it is applied to those portions of buildings which are largely perforated with windows, and more especially to the upper part of the towers of cathedrals and churches, as in the octagon of Ely cathedral, or the tower of Boston church, Lincolnshire. The term is also applied to the entire church, as in the case of Bath Abbey church, which was called the “lantern of England,” from the number of its windows, and St John’s Priory at Kilkenny, the “lantern of Ireland,” on account of the window on the south side of the choir which was 54 ft. long. In the Renaissance style the lantern was looked upon as a decorative feature surmounting the dome, as in St Peter’s, Rome, the Invalides, Paris, and St Paul’s, London.

Magic or Optical Lantern.

The magic or optical lantern is an instrument for projecting on a white wall or screen largely magnified representations of transparent pictures painted or photographed on glass, or of objects—crystals, animals, &c.—carried on glass slides or in glass vessels. If the light traverses the object, the projection is said to be diascopic, if by reflected light, episcopic.

The invention of the magic lantern is usually attributed to Athanasius Kircher, who described it in the first edition (1646) of his Ars magna lucis et umbrae, but it is very probably of earlier discovery. For a long period the magic lantern was used chiefly to exhibit comic pictures, or in the hands of so-called wizards to summon up ghosts and perform other tricks, astonishing to those ignorant of the simple optical principles employed. Within recent years, however, the optical lantern has been greatly improved in construction, and its use widely extended. By its means finely executed photographs on glass can be shown greatly magnified to large audiences, thus saving the trouble and expense of preparing large diagrams. When suitably constructed, it can be used in the form of a microscope to exhibit on a screen the forms and movements of minute living organisms, or to show to an audience delicate physical and chemical experiments which could otherwise be seen only by a few at a time. Another application of the optical lantern is found in the cinematograph (q.v.).

The optical lantern, in its simpler forms, consists of the following parts: (1) the lantern body, (2) a source of light, (3) an optical system for projecting the images. The lantern body is a rectangular casing usually made of Russian iron, but sometimes covered with wood (which must be protected by asbestos at parts liable to damage by heat), provided with the openings necessary to the insertion of the source of light, windows for viewing the same, a chimney for conveying away the products of combustion, fittings to carry the slides and the optical system. In the earlier and simpler lanterns, oil lamps were commonly used, and in the toy forms either an oil flame or an ordinary gas jet is still employed. Natural petroleum burnt in a specially constructed lamp by means of two or three parallel wicks set edgeways to the lenses was employed in the sciopticon, an improved lantern invented in America which gave well-defined pictures 6 to 10 ft. in diameter. The Argand gas burner also found application. A great improvement attended the introduction of lime-light, i.e. the light emitted by a block of lime made incandescent by an impinging oxyhydrogen or oxygen-coal-gas flame, and the readiness with which hydrogen and oxygen can be prepared and rendered available by compression in steel cylinders and the increased commercial supply of coal-gas greatly popularized these illuminants. Many improvements have been made on the original apparatus. The lime-cylinders are specially prepared to withstand better the disintegrating effects of the flame, and are mounted on a rotating pin in order that fresh surfaces may be brought into play. Cones of zirconia are also used in the same way; or a thorium mantle in conjunction with alcohol vapour may be employed. Two types of burner are in use: (1) the “blow-through jet,” in which the oxygen is forced through the jet of the burning gas (this is the safest type), and (2) where the gases are mixed before combustion (this is the more dangerous but also the more powerful type). Ether burners are also in use. In one type the oxygen supply is divided into two streams, one of which passes through a chamber containing cotton wool soaked with ether, and then rejoins the undiverted stream at the jet. The application of the incandescent gas mantle is limited by the intensity of the heat emitted and the large area of the source. Of electrical illuminants the platinum and carbon filament lamps are not much used, the Nernst lamp (in which the preliminary heating is effected by a spirit lamp and not by an auxiliary coil) being preferred. But the arc light is undoubtedly the best illuminant for use in the projecting lantern. The actual size of the source is comparatively small, and hence it is necessary to mount the carbons so that the arc remains at one point on the axis of the optical system. It is also advisable to set back the carbons relatively to one another and to tilt them, so that the brightest part of the “crater” faces the lens.

Optical System.—In the ordinary (or vertically) projecting lantern the rays are transmitted through a lens termed the “condenser,” then through the object, and finally through another lens termed the “objective.” In the horizontally projecting types the light, after passing through the condenser, is reflected vertically by a plane mirror inclined at 45° to the direction of the light; it then traverses another lens, then the object, then the objective, and is finally projected horizontally by a plane mirror inclined at 45°, or by a right angled glass prism, the hypothenuse face of which is silvered. In episcopic projection, the light, having traversed the condenser, is reflected on to the object, placed horizontally, by an inclined mirror. The rays reflecting the object then traverse the objective, and are then projected horizontally by a mirror or prism. This device inverts the object; a convenient remedy is to place an erecting prism before the lens. The object of the condenser is to collect as much light as possible from the source, and pass it through the object in a uniform beam. For this purpose the condenser should subtend as large an angle as possible at the source of light. To secure this, it should be tolerably large, and its distance from the light, that is, its focal length, small. Since effective single lenses of large diameter are necessarily of long focus, a really good condenser of considerable diameter and yet of short focus must be a combination of two or more lenses. It is essential that the condenser be white and limpid and free from defects or striae.

In the earlier lanterns, as still in the cheaper forms, only a single plano-convex lens or bull’s-eye was employed as a condenser. A good compound condenser for ordinary work is that proposed by Herschel, consisting of a biconvex lens and a meniscus mounted together with the concave side of the meniscus next the light. Other types employ two plano-convex lenses, the curved surfaces nearly in contact; or a concavo-convex and a plano-convex lens. Or it may be a triple combination, the object always being to increase the aperture. The focus must not be so short as to bring the lens too near the light, and render it liable to crack from the intense heat. In some lanterns this is guarded against by placing a plate of thin glass between the condenser and the light. If the source of light be broad, an iris diaphragm may be introduced so as to eliminate inequalities in illumination.

The function of the objective is to produce a magnified inverted image of the picture on the screen. In toy lanterns it is a simple double-convex lens of short focus. This, however, can only produce a small picture, and that not very distinct at the edges. The best objective is the portrait combination lens usually of the Petzval type as used in ordinary photographic cameras. These are carefully corrected both for spherical and chromatic aberration, which is absolutely essential in the objective, although not so necessary in the condenser.

Objects.—The commonest objects used for exhibiting with the optical lantern are named “slides” and consist of pictures printed on transparent surfaces. Solid objects mounted on glass after the ordinary manner of mounting microscopic objects are also possible of exhibition, and hollow glass tanks containing organisms or substances undergoing some alteration are also available for use with the lantern. If it be necessary to eliminate the heat rays, which may act deleteriously on the object, a vessel is introduced containing either water or a 5% solution of ferric chloride. In the ordinary slide the pictures are painted with transparent water or oil colours, or photographed on pieces of glass. If parts of the picture are to be movable, two disks of glass are employed, the one movable in front of the other, the fixed part of the picture being painted on the fixed disk and the movable part on the other. By means of a lever the latter disk is moved in its own plane; and in this way a cow, for instance, can be represented drinking, or a donkey cutting amusing capers. In the chromatrope slide two circular disks of glass are placed face to face, each containing a design radiating from the centre, and painted with brilliant transparent colours. By a small pinion gearing in toothed wheels or endless bands the disks are made to move in opposite directions in their own plane. The effect produced is a singularly beautiful change of design and colour. In astronomical slides the motions of the heavenly bodies, eclipses, the phases of the moon or the like are similarly represented by mechanical means.

Dissolving Views.—For this purpose two magic lanterns are necessary, arranged either side by side or the one on the top of the other. The fronts of the lanterns are slightly inclined to each other so as to make the illuminated disks on the screen due to each lantern coincide. By means of a pair of thin metallic shutters terminating in comb-like teeth, and movable by a rack or lever, the light from either lantern can be gradually cut off at the same time that the light from the other is allowed gradually to fall on the screen. In this way one view appears to melt or dissolve into another. This arrangement was first adopted by Childe in 1811.

Phantasmagoria.—In this arrangement the pictures on the screen appear gradually to increase or diminish in size and brightness. To effect this a semi-transparent screen of cotton or other material is used, the lantern being behind and the audience in front. The lantern is mounted on wheels so that it can be rapidly moved up to or withdrawn from the screen; and an automatic arrangement is provided whereby simultaneously with this the objective is made to approach or recede from the slide so as to focus the picture on the screen in any position of the lantern. In this way a very small picture appears gradually to grow to enormous dimensions.

See L. Wright, Optical Projection (1891); E. Trutat, Traité des Projections (Paris, 1897 and 1901); P. E. Liesegang, Die Projektions-Kunst (Leipzig, 1909).