‘What is the use of a book,’ thought Alice, ‘without pictures or conversations?’

With the possible exception of Peter Pan or Winnie the Pooh, there can be fewer more culturally iconic children's stories than Lewis Carroll's beloved Alice in Wonderland. Published in 1865, Alice's absurd adventures have delighted children and adults alike for well over 150 years. 

Lewis Carroll, real name Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was an author, poet, mathematician and photographer who spent most of his life in and around Christ Church, Oxford. He met the three daughters of the Dean of Christ Church, Henry Liddell in 1856.  Edith, Alice and Lorina Liddell were favourite child-friends of Dodgson; he took them on outings and entertained them with stories. On one such outing, a boating trip on 4th July 1862, known as 'The Golden Afternoon' ten-year old Alice begged for a story and the fantastical and surreal Alice in Wonderland was born. Many of his stories were lost to time but fortunately Alice also begged for this one to be written down. The manuscript proved popular with other children and friends encouraged Dodgson to publish. 

Magic lantern slides, Alice in Wonderland. A complete set of 42 illustrations by Tenniel, of Lewis Carroll's children's classic

Alice in Wonderland became a hugely famous children's classic but Alice Liddell shunned the limelight in her adult life. We are lucky that there are beautiful photographs of her as a child taken by Lewis Carroll and she also posed for the photographer Julia Margaret Cameron as a young woman in her 20s. 

A large part of the success of Lewis Carroll's fantastical story was the wonderful illustrations by Sir John Tenniel, who was a well-known political satirist and cartoonist for Punch magazine. Tenniel seems an unlikely choice to illustrate a children's book, but Carroll was an admirer of his work and if we consider that Carroll's great gift with children was to communicate with them as equals and not 'baby' them, then the choice of Tenniel was rather apt. 


Alice Liddell photographed by Julia Margaret Cameron (left), and Lewis Carroll (right).

 In our Antique & Interiors auction we have not one, but two fabulous sets of magic lantern slides illustrating Alice in Wonderland. Hailing from the 1870s and 80s, they were designed to be projected onto a wall whilst enjoying a rendition of the story. Magic lanterns were hugely popular and a precursor to modern cinema, sets of all kinds could be purchased which were shown in village halls up and down the country. Some wealthier families with budding photographers would have been lucky enough to have a magic lantern at home with which to view their own images. We can imagine how charming it would have been to view these wonderful slides as a child in Victorian Britain whilst a fond parent recited Lewis Carroll's extraordinary story. 

White Rabbit slide 2 from lot 5

Alice in Wonderland was enormously popular and there must have been many sets made of the children's classic, yet glass slides by their very nature, are delicate and fragile and have not stood the test of time. One of the sets is a complete set of all 42 of Tenniel's illustrations, it is incredibly rare and possibly the only known complete set in existence.  

The second set is intriguing as it is completely hand painted, by a highly accomplished hand, based on the designs of Tenniel's illustrations. Colourful and engaging, these slides must have brought enormous pleasure to many Victorian children; they are delightful historical documents that still have the power to enchant us today. 

Magic Lantern Slides, Hand painted. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass, lot 5

Lots 5 & 6 are featured in our Antiques & Interiors auction on Thursday 2nd and Friday 3rd May. 


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