A Thin Slice of Chestnut

Written by Bill Adamsen
CT Chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation

Yesterday a most unusual and welcome gift arrived in the mail. A micro-thin slice of American chestnut embedded between thin panels in a sandwich of glass, and described by its sender as a Magic Lantern slide.

a Magic Lantern courtesy of Wikipedia
[click to enlarge]

a Magic Lantern courtesy of Wikipedia
The Laterna Magica is alleged to have been first described by Giambattista della Porta in his 1558 treatise, Magiae naturalis although like so many inventions of the western world, it may actually have been invented centuries earlier by the Chinese.

Irrespective, for a public familiar with perhaps only live entertainment or static art, the Magic Lantern provided a striking alternative. Magic Lantern projections of a variety of images or even series of images, made onto screens, walls or curtains, or in the case of Phantasmagoria … even onto smoke seemed no doubt, otherworldly and certainly cutting edge.

Castanea embedded in a Magic Lantern slide
[click to enlarge]

Castanea embedded in a Magic Lantern slide
In more recent times (nineteenth century) the advent of film photography paved the way for an explosion of Magic Lantern applications. The Magic Lantern, as a series of images, became a popular way to tell stories and moral tales.

As inevitably happens with technology, old is replaced with new – in this case continuous film. The new continuous film movies quickly gained favor. The Magic Lantern, while a cultural treasure, is now a collector's item and special event rather than mainstream entertainment.

Still, the Magic Lantern can be used where film cannot. The aforementioned slide, a gift from friend Terry Borton of the Magic Lantern Show proves that admirably. Terry knew of my interest in the American chestnut and provided this most unusual Magic Lantern slide used for scientific lectures.

Castanea embedded in a Magic Lantern slide
[click to enlarge]

Transparency of Castanea embedded in a Magic Lantern slide
This slide is labeled Castanea vesca L Var Amer. Chestnut. The species name was not familiar. A quick search indicated that vesca, while no longer accepted as a scientific name references colloquially Spanish chestnut and has been replaced by the more accepted latin Castanea sativa. The apparent contradiction on the slide cannot be reconciled without someone with greater tree ring expertise than I. The top reads Stereoptician Preparations of Woods, by Romeyn B. Hough, B.A., Lowville, NY. In this case the slide is in fact a very thin slice of some wood (perhaps chestnut) – something not possible with film.

The transparency scan at left shows the actual image as it might have appeared projected on the wall of a classroom. Terry Borton informs me that there may have been slides for twenty five or so species and that these were likely used in a science or forestry classroom environment for teaching.

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Bill Adamsen

Bill Adamsen

Bill Adamsen is a member of the CT Chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) Board of Directors. He served as Chapter President for eight years.

Bill Adamsen

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