Biunal Lantern

Object Name

Biunal Lantern

Date of Creation

1850s (date of invention uncertain, Wood’s was on sale in 1857)

Date of Film




A biunal magic lantern is a wooden box with two lenses, one on top of the other. The lenses have shutters and slots to insert glass slides. The light source is placed inside the box and the images are projected through either of the two lenses. It works in the same way as traditional magic lanterns, but allows for dissolving images and special effects.


Edward George Wood, Samuel Highley, and W. C. Hughes (Servants of Light, 22)

Known Origins

When dissolving lanterns and the use of oil lamps for effects were developed, lanternists needed pairs of lanterns side by side. The use of limelight, however, made it possible to design multiple lanterns in a single unit. (Servants of Light, 22).

Object Narrative

E. G. Wood is given credit for inventing the first biunial magic lantern in London. A A Wood (the son of E. G. Wood) detailed his father’s invention in a manual published in 1891. He gives no date for the actual invention, but the lantern went on sale in 1857. Samuel Highley designed another early biunial lantern. His lantern had a dissolving tap to show dissolving views by limelight. W. C. Hughes developed a lantern that could be used as a biunial or separated and used as two lanterns side by side (Servants of Light, 22).


Henry Langdon Childe developed dissolving view lanterns (with a single lens) in the early 1840′s (Rossell 13).


Zoetrope, Phenakistoscope (Rossell, 19), and Phantasmagoria Lantern (Servants of Light, 31).


Muybridge’s Zoopraxiscope was a biunial magic lantern with rotating picture disks (Rossell 34).

Metadata Author

Elizabeth Walker, Kirby Thomas, Morgan Turner



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Biunal Lantern