Slide, Uncle Blogsy, Slide! | Newberry

Slide, Uncle Blogsy, Slide!

The animals came in 2 x 2, harrooo, harrooo,

The elephant and the kangaroo, harrooo, harrooo

The animals came in 2 x 2;

The curator told them “Who wants you?”

They were obsolete when they all came sliding home.

They were Ob-So-LETE when they all came sliding home.

I’ll write the rest of that some other time. Don’t hold your breath.

So we recently had a large donation of 2x2 slides, or color transparencies, or whatever else you were taught to call them, IF you ever heard of them at all. The technology was born somewhere around 1931, and died pretty thoroughly about 1996. Like a lot of twentieth century technologies, it was known throughout the civilized world, and the civilized world assumed it would never be replaced. Shows what the civilized world knows.

To be clear, these are pieces of 35 mm. film which have been framed in a 2x2 inch cardboard mount. They were produced using a kind of film which did not require a negative, so not much processing was needed between the flash of the camera and the setting up of the screen. They were considered a simpler, more portable version of the old glass magic lantern slide. In both cases, a metal slot was attached to the side of the projector. You would SLIDE the picture in front of the light to have it magnified on the screen. Hence “slide”.

Later machines used a rectangular tray or a circular carousel in which you could put LOTS of slides, and not have to slide each one by hand…until the machine got stuck, of course, which it invariably did. Another hazard was the extreme likelihood that whoever loaded the tray had put all the slides in backward. See, we did just as much cursing in the days before computers: the same words can be applied to a number of technologies.

Over the years, the Book Fair has had adventures with several different collections of slides, each time becoming surer that this is one of the deadest of dead technologies. Not only do very few people want to fool with the slide projector (we do get slide VIEWERS, which were a lot less complicated and sometimes don’t need electricity, even) but some of the film used for making slides was prone to “color shift” after a few decades. We once had a complete run of a series of art books which included a page of slides which could be taken out and projected for your enjoyment while reading the book. (I don’t know how this worked, since the lights have to be turned off so you can see the slides.) Every single slide had gone through the “shift to red”, which meant what had been full-color pictures were now totally in shades of red and pink. Sold those. There’s some appeal to a pink Mona Lisa.

The best sales we ever had were from a man who had bought them out of the back pages of THOSE kinds of magazines in the 1960s. The ladies were in states of undress, but most of them were posed in what are known as “heels and hose” shots, which turned out to be very saleable. The few slides which were explicit turned out to be the hardest to sell: high heeled shoes bring on nostalgia (at least) whereas naked is timeless, and thus less collectible.

The worst sales were those of a set of slides I tended to consider historically important, but no one else could be convinced of this. They were a complete documentation of a now-defunct wing of a very important cultural institution in Chicago (not the Newberry). That institution turned us down, essentially saying they didn’t need to document how stupid their exhibits used to be, and everyone else said “If THEY don’t want it, why should WE?”

We DID sell a collection of slides taken by a Newberry volunteer who had gone around the city in the sixties and seventies photographing street scenes, small gatherings, building additions, and such and, what’s more, labeling and dating them. (Everyone wants to find the next Vivian Maier, a neglected genius with a camera. If you wind up with Uncle Buck’s vacation slides, use that as a marketing technique…instead of donating them to us.) I am not sure yet, but I doubt I’ll have that luck with this new collection, which is mostly educational slides bought from teacher resources. Barring a few views of a pastry shop the previous owner visited in Vienna (he felt it was useful for students in his Western Civilization class), these are illustrations out of books. Still, yesterday’s obsolete trash is tomorrow’s rare collectible. Maybe if I record that hit song I started earlier, I can make slides popular again.

Of course, then no one will donate them any more. I might be able to live with that.

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