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Before the Movies

Before the Movies

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Before the Movies

American Magic-Lantern Entertainment and the Nation's First Great Screen Artist, Joseph Boggs Beale

By Terry Borton, Deborah Borton

Foreword by Charles Musser. Before the Movies is an invaluable resource – a brilliant, ground-breaking study.

Publication date: 2014
Total pages: 208
ISBN: 9780 86196 711 7
Price: £ 30.00


Before the Movies is the first book about American screen entertainment in the pre-movie era – a ground-breaking 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. Every year millions enjoyed his dramatic pictures. The provenance, attribution, and dates of Beale’s lantern slides are discussed in detail, and a Catalogue of all his lantern images makes Before the Movies an essential reference volume.


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

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 Congress

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 Panorama and Related Spectacles


Chapter 1 The Magic Lantern
Chapter 2 Provenance, Attribution, Dating – An Introduction to Beale’s Catalogue Raisonné
Chapter 3 The Larger Context of Beale’s Work
Chapter 4 Other American Magic-Lantern Artists
Chapter 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


Terry Borton is Director of the American Magic Lantern Theater, a professional company that has been touring nationally and internationally for 22 years. He holds a doctorate in education from Harvard and is the author of two previous books in that field.

Deborah Borton is President of the Magic Lantern Society of the United States and Canada. She holds a doctorate in education from the University of Pennsylvania. The Bortons have been researching Beale’s work for 25 years.

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