Image Triunial projector, c1890s

TLF ID R6378

This is a triunial or triple projector, also known as a triple lens magic lantern, probably from the 1890s. The projector is mainly made from varnished wood such as mahogany, and brass. Three lens systems in telescopic tubes project from the box, each covered with a brass lens cap. In front of each tube is a slide gate, used to hold the glass slides on which the images were printed or painted. On the side of the projector are three lamphouse doors, each with a small window.

Educational details

Educational value
  • The triunial projector, also called a stereopticon, is a device for projecting three separate visual images through a light source to create visual effects. The triple projector is part of magic lantern technology, which was invented in the 17th century and involved projecting images from transparencies onto a screen using a lens and a light source such as a carbon arc, heated lime or electric filament.
  • The projector works by shining a light source through the three lenses, each of which holds a separate transparency. As each image is projected onto the same position on a screen, this can be used to create a multilayered image. The projectionist could create cross-fades and dissolves in which one image fades into another, as well as other special effects of great sophistication. These lantern slide shows were the precursors to modern slide shows and multimedia presentations.
  • The projector was used to create illusions and special effects that delighted and intrigued audiences, such as images of clothed human beings morphing into skeletons that crumbled to dust, and images of a landscape ravaged by winds, ripped apart by floods or seen to change gradually with the passing of the seasons. One of the most famous and popular special effects with children was the 'Rat swallower', in which a series of rats could be seen crawling into a sleeping man's mouth.
  • Magic lantern shows were a form of entertainment that became extremely popular during the 19th century and were used for domestic and public entertainment as well as in advertising. During the 19th century projectionists travelled around the countryside putting on shows that included special effects. Magic lantern shows were also used to create backgrounds and special effects in theatre shows, for example in the popular 'Skirt dance' of the 1880s, where a lanternist projected an image onto a dancer's wings while the dancer performed live.
  • This projector was made by J Otway and Son of London, and probably built in about the 1890s. It is distinguished by the handsome woods and intricate brasswork on the lens systems and the red mica windows in each of the three lamphouse doors.
  • The magic lantern was a showpiece in its own right, and formed part of the performance. The projectionist was kept busy switching slides in the slide gates, including manually operated slipper, lever and geared slides and other forms of geared images, and often created as much interest for the audience as the show itself.
  • This item reflects the development of projector technology along with the development of more sophisticated lighting fuels. Paraffin, whale oil and olive oil, used in the 1870s, were replaced by kerosene, household gas and acetylene in the 1890s. One of the most intensely bright lights was produced by mixing oxygen and hydrogen, creating a light bright enough to project an image 6 m in diameter. Projectionists needed to handle these gases with great care, and injuries and even fatalities resulted from explosions.
  • Magic lanterns represented the height of technological achievement from the 1850s to the 1890s, a status that was only surpassed by the invention of moving pictures at about the turn of the century. Moving pictures increased in popularity and silent films gave way to films with sound during the 1930s, forcing the end of the era of the magic lantern by the 1940s.
  • This triunial or triple projector forms part of the David Francis Collection, an internationally significant collection housed in Museum Victoria that traces moving-picture technology from the mid-17th century to the silent movie era in the late 1920s.

Other details

  • Content provider
  • Copyright holder
  • Organisation: Museum of Victoria
  • Address: Carlton VIC 3053 Australia
  • Remarks: Reproduced courtesy of Museum Victoria
  • Publisher
  • Date of contribution: 04 Sep 2013
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia
  • Address: Melbourne VIC 3000 Australia
  • URL:
  • Author
  • Organisation: J Otway and Son
  • Remarks: manufacturer
  • Author
  • Name: Jon Augier
  • Remarks: photographer
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