Recent Acquisitions


Celebrating Early 20th-Century Gardening: A Collection of Lantern Slides

The library recently acquired a collection of 413 lantern slides depicting gardens and estates in the United States and Europe. All but a dozen are in color, and most date from the 1920s and 1930s.

Lantern slides, transparent glass slides projected onto a surface, were introduced in 1849, ten years after the invention of photography. Images once seen by individuals or small groups in photographic form could now be seen by larger audiences. This new format opened the way for expanding the use of photography in entertainment and educational arenas.

Many of the American slides document plantings and gardens in three northeastern states, including New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. Among the gardens and estates represented are those of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Hyde Park, New York; publisher and railroad magnate Oakleigh Thorne, Millbrook, New York; and other individuals of means who were successfully engaged in finance and business.

But not all of the lantern slides depict gardens in the northeastern United States. We have slides that record a garden visiting sojourn through Europe—possibly just France—in 1924; others show garden plans for modest country or town houses; some portray California gardens; and some illustrate perennials, annuals, and labeled plants and flowers.

When a photographer is attributed, Edward Van Altena (1873–1968) is credited. Van Altena was born in Milwaukee and moved to Brooklyn when he was five years old. It is said that his mother gave him his appreciation for art and that he became a photographer as a result. In 1888, he started working at a studio on Fulton Street in New York City, and in 1904, he began a partnership with John Duer Scott, chiefly producing hand-colored slides. Van Altena and Scott were best known for publishing tens of thousands of glass song slides that were used in nickelodeons beginning around 1906. Their partnership lasted until 1919; thereafter Van Altena continued on his own. In addition, Van Altena is known for his photographs of Theodore Roosevelt standing next to his big game conquests.

In addition to Van Altena, some slides were produced by the J. Horace McFarland Company, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. McFarland (1859–1948) was active in the City Beautiful movement at the turn of the 20th century and was outspoken for wildlife preservation. His company published magazines, some of which were devoted to horticulture and gardening; seed catalogs; and books. McFarland helped establish the National Park Service and the American Rose Society and was an advocate for preserving Niagara Falls.

The Library is delighted to add to its resources covering the history of gardening. Researchers interested in seeing these glass plate slides will find then in the Joseph Downs Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera, Collection 916. As well, an online finding aid, or index, is available: (

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