Jason Clarke Antiques

Early Victorian Magic Lantern Chromatrope Slide by WE & F Newton of Fleet Street.


For sale, an early Victorian hand painted magic lantern kaleidoscope chromatrope slide by WE & F Newton.

This early example of a rackwork chromatrope was seen as a development on the earliest versions which were operated by means of a pulley system. This earlier system was somewhat fragile and prone to sagging of the string that drove the mechanism so the development of two hand painted contra-rotating glass discs enclosed in a toothed brass ring was quickly conceived to drive out these inconsistencies. The rings were in turn driven by a shaft that protruded from the end of the slide and which had a toothed cog driving wheel at one end and wooden handle for operation.

This example is stamped on both sides of the wooden body to the short lived partnership of WE & F Newton and further states, “opticians and globe makers to the Queen, Fleet Steet, Temple Bar, London”. It also confirms its early date of manufacture owing to the partnership only being in existence from 1851 – 1856. The paintwork remains clear and shows a range of colours including blues, greens and black.

The chromatrope is considered to have been the invention of the English glass painter and showman Henry Langdon Childe in 1844 where he developed the slide to support his lectures at The Royal Polytechnic Institution, an influential venue in the early use of the magic lantern as a means for mass entertainment and patrons included Queen Victoria and her children.

The Newton’s according to their late nineteenth century catalogues considered themselves to have had a long and distinguished history dating back to the start of the eighteenth century suggesting that the company founder was a cousin of Sir Isaac Newton. However, through the very long and arduous investigations by both John Millburn & Brian Gee, it is clear that although the family relationship is certainly a close one, the scientific instrument making business began somewhat later.

The origins of the Newton business can sensibly begin with Nathaniel Hill, a self-described “globe maker and engraver” who worked at The Sun & Globe on Chancery Lane from 1746 to 1764 and amongst a number of apprentices took on a Thomas Bateman. Bateman’s early working dates are unclear but he eventually succeeded his former master maintaining the same address and in turn took on a John Newton from Hitchin as his apprentice in 1774. By 1781 it seems that Bateman’s business had been taken over by Newton (who must have just finished his seven year apprenticeship term) and another more established engraver, William Palmer. Palmer himself had in 1770, apprenticed another future leading globe maker in John Cary but must have considered the partnership with the newly established Newton (and the goodwill of Bateman’s business) as a sensible business opportunity. The partnership however, was short lived and from 1783 John Newton according to trade cards was trading alone, presenting himself as successor to Mr T. Bateman.

From this point forward, the business became solely a Newton affair, John had a number of sons but his eldest William succeeded to the globe making business, and in circa 1818 it was renamed as J&W Newton.

It is interesting (and historically confusing) that the Newtons’ at this stage had also taken a keen interest in the new and growing business of patents. The family was intrinsically linked to this industry throughout the nineteenth century and William is recorded as being patent agent on numerous early applications. This side of the business is less relevant (although intrinsically linked as they traded from the same Chancery Lane address) to the scientific instrument making firm but is notable for the fact that William Newton is still considered one of the founding fathers of the Chartered Institute of Patent Agents.

To return to the scientific strand of the Newton family dynasty, William had two sons, William Edward and Alfred Vincent, the latter also becoming a patent agent whilst the former maintaining ties with both industries called for the name change to the more familiar Newton & Co. It seems that both of the family concerns were increasingly prosperous as by the time of The Great Exhibition, the decision seems to have been taken to maintain the patent agency at Chancery Lane with a new premises at 3 Fleet Street opening to manage the globe making business. It was at this time that William Edward’s cousin Frederick was brought to London from Hitchin to assist with the burgeoning workload and thus beginning the shortlived partnership of WE & F Newton which lasted from 1851 to 1856. During this period, the partners won a prize medal for globes at the Exhibition and submitted products to the Society of Arts Educational Exhibition. It is during this period that the chromatrope would have been manufactured and that their association with royalty began.

The success from the Exhibition was not enough to maintain William Edward’s interest in the scientific business and he soon returned to the business of patents, leaving Frederick as sole owner of Newton & Co in 1856, and with his accolade of “Globe Manufacturer to the Queen”, the business went from strength to strength. He later added “Instrument maker to the Consort”.

Frederick Newton continued to lead the business until his son took control in 1897 by which time the company (according to their trade cards) had won prize medals at the London Exhibitions of 1851, 1862 and 1885 respectively and had earned itself international renown for prize medals earnt in India (1868), Paris (1878) and Brazil in 1884. They also boast of Royal Appointments all the way through to George V and were certainly receiving patronage from the Admiralty, The War Department, The Indian Government and the Royal Institution. The variety of goods had significantly expanded from the original globe making business and Newton were known to have stocked a vast array of scientific apparatus. They were heavily involved in the magic lantern industry producing both equipment and slides and maintaining pace with developments in electricity, were known to have worked with Alfred Apps of 433, The Strand in manufacturing and retailing the “Apps Patent Coil”.

Frederick Newton eventually died in 1909 and by 1912, HC Newton had orchestrated a move from the original premises at 3 Fleet Street to two separate premises. 37 King Street was concerned solely with the sales of Magic Lantern equipment whilst another premises at 72 Wigmore Street maintained all other areas and further manufacturing works were based at Hornsey Road. Perhaps due to the increasing workload and the need to split the two concerns, Newton had also by this time taken on a partner in RS Wright to become Newton & Wright and by 1922 it seems that for the first time in the company’s significant history, a Newton family member was no longer in charge. With RS Wright and an EE Burnside in control of the company it continued to trade until it was first purchased in the late 1950’s by the Victor Corporation to become Newton-Victor Ltd and then later fell under the stewardship of General Electric (UK) plc.

.Given the date for its invention (1844) and the trading dates for the Newton partnership, this piece is therefore a significantly early example of a rackwork chromatrope and made by one of the foremost companies involved in the manufacture of magic lantern paraphernalia.

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