Victorian Popular Culture: Moving Pictures, Optical Entertainments and the Advent of Cinema


Moving Pictures, Optical Entertainments and the Advent of Cinema explores the pivotal era in entertainment history when previously static images came to life and moved for the first time. The database features printed ephemera, programmes, sheet music, cigarette cards, postcards, games, toys and other merchandise from the pre- and early-cinematic years. The printed books in this collection range from technical magic lantern manuals to children's shadow play whilst the periodicals range from the scientific to early celebrity gossip. Moving Pictures has been digitized in colour and is entirely full-text searchable.

Subjects include: 

  • Early visual entertainment such as shadow play, optical illusions, metamorphic pictures and protean views.
  • Panoramas and dioramas
  • Optical or philosophical toys
  • Peepshows
  • Magic lanterns and image projection
  • Pioneers of cinema: Thomas Alva Edison, the Lumière Brothers, Eadweard Muybridge
  • Early inventions such as the cinematograph, phonograph, and zoopraxiscope
  • Emerging film industry
  • The first film stars
  • Original film footage from 1894-1926

The database also features a virtual exhibition entitled Optical Delights which showcases a selection of the most interesting optical entertainment artifacts and even some video clips of the devices in action!

This material is sourced from the Bill Douglas Centre; a unique treasure trove of pre- and early -cinematic memorabilia based at Exeter University, and the BFI National Archive.



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