Before the Movies

Before the Movies

American Magic Lantern Entertainment and the Nation's First Great Screen Artist, Joseph Boggs Beale
Terry Borton and Debbie Borton, foreword by Charles Musser, edited by Terry Borton and Debbie Borton
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 02/10/2015
Format: Hardback 330 color illus.
ISBN: 978-0-861-96711-7
Bookmark and Share
Buy from Amazon


Before the Movies is the first book about American screen entertainment in the pre-movie era. A groundbreaking study, lavishly illustrated with 330 color pictures, it is a comprehensive survey of the American artists who created early magic-lantern stories and songs for the screen. The book emphasizes the work of Joseph Boggs Beale, a pioneer in the field and demonstrates that Beale almost single-handedly created American-made screen entertainment for the generation before the movies. His lifetime output was 2,073 images in 258 sets—the screen-time equivalent of 14 full-length films—which millions enjoyed every year. The provenance, attribution, and dates of Beale’s lantern slides are discussed in detail, and a comprehensive catalog of his lantern images makes Before the Movies an essential reference volume.

Author Bio

Terry Borton holds a doctorate in education from Harvard and is Director of the American Magic Lantern Theater.

Deborah Borton holds a doctorate in education from the University of Pennsylvania and is President of the Magic Lantern Society of the United States and Canada.


“The historians Terry and Deborah Borton devote their days to studying the Philadelphia artist Joseph Boggs Beale, who designed glass slides for magic lantern projectors from the 1880s to the 1910s. Beale filled his skies with swooping angels, and in his foregrounds he sketched rats leaping off precipices. His works presaged the transporting power of cinema. . . Hardly any other academic works have touched on the subject.12/18/14”
 — New York Times, Art & Design

“This meticulously researched book means nothing less than the resurrection of a once-popular art form. It is indispensable for anyone who wants to understand the origins of today’s media culture.”
 — Erkki Huhtamo, editor of Media Archaeology and author of Illusions in Motion: Media Archaeology of the Moving Panor

“Before the Movies is not only a superbly researched and illustrated in-depth study of Joseph Boggs Beale, it is also the first balanced history of early magic lantern entertainment in the United States.”
 — David Francis, Emeritus Chief of the Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division of the Library of Co

“Before the Movies is an invaluable resource—a brilliant, ground-breaking study of Joseph Boggs Beale’s work. Beale is a figure of the utmost importance, and this desperately needed study is long overdue.”
 — Charles Musser, author of The Emergence of Cinema: The American Screen to 1900

“No serious film or movie history holding should be without Before the Movies!”
 — Midwest Book Review

“Before the Movies is highly recommended, not only for the curious and scholarly, but for those who wish to transform their preconception of on-screen entertainment and art.”

“Before the Movies can and should serve as a template for future reference works on pre-cinema entertainment. Its structure and design – as well as its rigour in terms of research – provides a highly appropriate model for much-needed reference works on the illustrated song slide, stereo views, and other nineteenth- and early twentieth-century media.”
 — Early Popular Visual Culture

“Beale had a marvelous talent for color and depth of field, and even his scenes of nature bristle with energy and movement. . . . [A]s late as the 1970s American teachers were loading slide projectors with Beale's images.Jan. 2015”
 — Harper's

Customer Reviews

There are currently no reviews
Write a review on this title.

Table of Contents

1. The Magic Lantern
2. Provenance, Attribution, Dating--An Introduction to Beale’s Catalogue Raisonné
3. The Larger Context of Beale’s Work
4. Other American Magic-Lantern Artists
5. Assessing the Screen Art of Joseph Boggs Beale
Appendix 1. Notes to The Condensed Catalogue Raisonné of Beale’s Magic-Lantern Slides
The Condensed Catalogue Raisonné of Beale’s Magic-Lantern Slides
Endnotes for Condensed Catalogue Raisonné
Appendix 2. Chronological List of Beale Sets and Groups
Appendix 3. Slides Possibly by Beale
Appendix 4. Lantern Slide Companies Distributing Beale Slides
Appendix 5. The Beale Method for Dating Catalogs
Appendix 6. Illustrated Song Slides Containing Beale Images
Appendix 7. List of Books Illustrated by Beale
Appendix 8. Selected Bibliography

Related Titles