Curator's guide to treasure hunting

A wonderfully preserved praxinoscope, destined for the new exhibition.

A wonderfully preserved praxinoscope, destined for the new exhibition.

Assistant Curator Chelsey O’Brien talks about sourcing objects for ACMI’s new permanent exhibition.

Bringing images to life

Long before cinema graced the silver screen, magic lantern projections and optical toys brought the pictures to life through a mixture of science and illusion. Travelling showmen presented astonishing lantern displays with animated slides, theatrical lighting, smoke projections and music all to rousing narration. Optical toys would delight and amaze with still pictures suddenly springing to life and dancing as if they were enchanted.   

Sourcing such wondrous contraptions, zoetropes, praxinoscopes and paper-based trickery toys for ACMI’s new permanent gallery has been both an exciting and slightly daunting task, sending me on a journey across time and leading to a wide range of collectors from across the globe.

 
Binétruy’s well-stamped packages arrived safe and sound.

Binétruy’s well-stamped packages arrived safe and sound.


A collector from Versailles

While researching optical toys, I discovered the spectacular collection of François Binétruy. The passionate collector has spent over 50 years amassing hundreds of rare and unusual pieces that explore the origins of cinema. After careful consultation with François we managed to select several special objects that would best represent this magical time.

When his exceptionally well-stamped packages arrived, registrars Cameron Wood, Holly Robbins and I delighted in spending an afternoon unpacking our new collection of marvellous contraptions to many ooohs and aaahs of glee.

 

A peacock magic lantern discovered

But it’s not always so wondrous. There have also been many hours spent trawling eBay, looking for more common items like magic lantern slides and cameras.

The Pettibone Paragon (Peacock) Magic Lantern Projector, circa 1880

The Pettibone Paragon (Peacock) Magic Lantern Projector, circa 1880

Yet even eBay can be an adventure. It was on such an occasion that I found the incredible Pettibone paragon lantern – or peacock magic lantern – dating back to 1888.

Like François, eBay seller ‘pkgenralstore’ was an avid collector who had come across a few of these spectacular lanterns over the years made by the Pettibone Manufacturing Company. Less of a collaborative process between collector and curator, in this instance I quickly secured this striking showpiece. Many more ooohs and aaaahs were shared.

Help us acquire historical objects

Charting the course of moving image technology is an important part of our new exhibition. Help us connect with collectors around the globe by making a tax deductible donation.

 
Anaya Latter