Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: Geological Magic Lantern Slides from the 19th Century (Part III)

18-devonion-period[Note: Wooster’s Fossil of the Week is on holiday until January 2017.]

This is the last post illustrating the 19th Century Magic Lantern Slides recently found in Scovel Hall of Wooster’s Geology Department. Please see the December 2 post and the week before for details. To review, these slides are 4×8 inches with the image fixed on glass bolted into a thin slab of wood with metal rings. They are chromolithograph slides, each stamped “T.H. McAllister, Optician, N.Y.”. McAllister was the most prominent of many American producers of lantern slides in the late 19th century.

This last set of slides in our collection was apparently used in our old “Historical Geology” courses to evoke the geological time periods. The top image is simply labeled “Devonian“. The trees on the right appear to be towering lycopods, a kind of seedless vascular plant. They were common in the Devonian and are still around today. I can’t tell what the other plants are in the image. The rapid rise of large plants in the Middle Devonian has been called the “Devonian Explosion”. These early forests had significant effects on atmospheric composition, soil formation, erosion, and sediment transport.

[UPDATE: Please see the excellent comments by Ben Creisler. He has given us much new information and numerous links explaining the history of these images. I’ve left my amateur text in place only to record the original post! MW]

19-carboniferous-periodCarboniferous” is the title of this slide. It is dramatic, seemingly showing a Carboniferous forest dominated by ferns being torn apart by a swelling tide. Could this be a comment on the interbedding of marine and terrestrial rock units so common in the Upper Carboniferous of North America?

20-permian-periodFerns are again in the foreground of this Permian scene. I have no explanation for the mountainous seashore landscape, except that the red color of the rocks may represent the New Red Sandstone of Great Britain.

21-transition-periodThis slide is enigmatically labeled “Transition Period”. I suspect it represents the Triassic, a period just after the Permian and thus part of the transition into the Mesozoic. The shrubby plants in the foreground appear to be cycads with massive yellow cones emerging from their tops.

22-eeocen-periodThis image of the “Eocene” is the first of these period slides to depict animals (the herd of ungulates across the river and the bird in the foreground). This may mean these slides were meant to show the progression of plant life over geological time. The forests here look dominated by conifers and angiosperms.

23-miocene-periodThis is a “Miocene” image. I don’t know how I’d distinguish it from the Eocene view above.

24-drift-periodOur final slide shows what the “Drift Period”, which is clearly the Pleistocene. Not only do we have cave bears in the foreground and a herd of bison in the river, there seems to be a massive pile of ice in the left rear!

I have not discovered the artist responsible for these illustrations. If you know, please tell me in the comments!

[UPDATE: Please see excellent information and links by Ben Creisler in the comments below. Thanks, Ben!]


About Mark Wilson

Mark Wilson is a Professor of Geology at The College of Wooster. He specializes in invertebrate paleontology, carbonate sedimentology, and stratigraphy. He also is an expert on pseudoscience, especially creationism.
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12 Responses to Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: Geological Magic Lantern Slides from the 19th Century (Part III)

  1. Ben Creisler says:

    Many thanks for posting these fascinating vintage slide images of prehistoric life. Note that some of these slides are based on illustrations originally from a German book from 1847 by the Austrian paleobotanist Franz Unger (1800-1870) and Austrian artist Josef Kuwasseg (1799-1859). There were later editions of the book and water color versions of the some of the plates.

    Unger, Franz 1847. Die Urwelt in ihren verschiedenen Bildungsperioden: 14 Tableaux de paysages; [Atlas]. S. Minsinger: München, 1847

    “The Primitive World in Its Different Periods of Formation”


    The illustrations from the original 1847 edition can be viewed at this link:


    And downloaded as a pdf:



    The text volume link is here:



    Some of these illustrations are discussed by Martin Rudwick (1995) and are considered to be the earliest attempts at scientific depiction of prehistoric life.

    M. J. S. Rudwick (1995)
    Scenes from Deep Time: Early Pictorial Representations of the Prehistoric World.
    University of Chicago Press, Dec 15, 1995.

    Some of the text of Rudwick’s book explaining the plates can be previewed in Google Books without the illustrations.


    Go to Chapter Four, pages 102-114.

    The Transition Period was an early term for the time period now corresponding to the Cambrian through the Devonian, which was thought to have few animal fossils (later revised because of discoveries in Britain). The plants are meant to be very primitive in the illustration. This it the first plate in the series in the book.

    The reptile by the sea is a Nothosaurus from the Triassic Muschelkalk in Germany.

  2. Mark Wilson says:

    Thank you VERY much, Ben. You’ve added great value to these posts.

  3. Ben Creisler says:

    Happy to be of help.

    I did a bit more research.

    The Devonian landscape was not included in the original 1847 edition of the book with 14 plates. The Transition Period lithograph was apparently based in part on Devonian plant fossils. The 1858 edition had 16 plates but I have been unable to find an online version of that edition.

    This 1859 review in German of the revised 1858 edition of Unger’s book indicates that two plates were added for the Silurian Period and the Devonian Period (the source of the lantern slide) before the Transition Period plate, now relabeled the Later Transition Period.

    Flora oder allgemeine botanische Zeitung (1859). pgs. 243-252



    Simplified reproductions of the Silurian and Devonian Period lithographic plates can be seen in this 1870 Dutch book on prehistoric life that includes a translation of Unger’s book:



    Also this version of the Devonian forest online:

    Illustration of Devonian landscape by Franz Unger.


  4. Mark Wilson says:

    Thanks again, Ben. I corrected those typos in your first comment. Fascinating material! More great value added.

  5. Ben Creisler says:

    Just for the record, some additional information and links.

    As explained in this post from 2015 by the University of Vienna about Unger’s book, Josef Kuwasseg originally created images of the prehistoric landscapes. These were then turned into lithographs by Leopold Rottmann (1812-1881) for Unger’s 1847 book.


    Additional information and links to original water colors:



    Additional images were created for the 1858 edition for the Silurian and Devonian. The watercolor versions include as well two images not used, one for the Carboniferous and one for the “Older Diluvium” showing rhinoceroses.

    1858 edition text. Unfortunately, the 1858 volume of the actual plates is not available online it appears (I’ll keep looking).

    Here are links to images of some of the watercolors by Kuwasseg that may have been used to create some of the lithographs. Can be downloaded.

    Later Transition Period

    Carboniferous forest

    Carboniferous storm scene

    Triassic Muschelkalk with Nothosaurus

    Lower Cretaceous scene with dinosaurs

    Eocene Period

    In addition, the Pleistocene and Miocene water colors can be seen at this link. Click to expand (can be downloaded).

    Höhlenbär der jüngeren Eiszeit

    Landschaft zur Braunkohlenzeit


    Click on:

    Höhlenbär der jüngeren Eiszeit

    Landschaft zur Braunkohlenzeit

  6. Mark Wilson says:

    Remarkable research, Ben! This is now a post for the ages.

  7. Steve Pavelsky says:

    Ben and Mark,

    Thanks for so much great detail on Unger’s Primitive World. I was introduced to the work back in the early 1980’s at a University of Rochester Rare Book Sale. I was only 23 or 24 and had my future wife (and Accountant) with me. Two old ladies / book dealers had the full set of the 2nd ed. of plates in a cloudy old plastic bag (why few people noticed) at their booth. The were asking $35 for the set. I talked them down to $25 which I still feel bad about. The dirty looks I got from the book seller are frozen in my memory.

    Your lantern slides are likely from the 1860’s 0r ’70’s. It was the later editions that were colorized.

    The Silurian plate acted as the surrogate front cover of my set so it is in extra-poor condition. This one and the Devonian plate (plus the ones I framed) are at: https://flic.kr/s/aHskQLuy3d (if it links properly).

    Thanks again,


  8. Ben Creisler says:

    Since I want to be as accurate as possible, I’ve done a bit more research from additional sources concerning the watercolors by Kuwasseg (posted with links) and whether they were used, at least in part, in developing the published lithographs.
    The materials that still exist include preliminary drawings by Kuwasseg, the lithographs themselves, and two series of 18 larger undated watercolor paintings by Kuwasseg depicting the same images.
    Apparently there is some question about when the watercolor versions of the scenes were actually created and what relationship they have to the lithographs. The original 1847 versions of the lithographs (actually published in 1851 as it turns out) most likely were based on drawings by Kuwasseg rather than any of the watercolors in the links. The watercolors may have been created in the 1850s and possibly were used for the lithographs in the revised edition of 1858. However, it is also possible that the watercolor versions were created as separate, special deluxe versions. The historical records don’t make the details clear it appears.

    Here is an article in German that goes into some of the details and the unanswered questions. It also has a black and white reproduction of the watercolor of the Silurian landscape:
    B. Hubmann & B. Moser (2006): „Biedermeierliche“ Rekonstruktionen geologischer Ökosysteme durch Joseph Kuwasseg und Franz Unger.- Berichte der Geologischen Bundesanstalt, 69: 32-34.
    In any case, it’s interesting to compare the watercolor versions with the lithograph versions, and with the lantern slide versions.
    As a side note, the mysterious low bushlike plants depicted in the Transition Period slide, identified as Stigmaria in the text volume to the lithographs, are in fact based on the fossil root systems of tree-like lycopod plants from Carboniferous and were not a kind of exposed bushy skirt on a living plant as depicted by Kuwasseg under Unger’s direction.

    Here also is an additional link to individual images of the original 14 lithographs:

  9. Ben Creisler says:

    Here is a link to the 1887 T. H. McAllister Catalogue that lists the magic lantern slide sets available. There are earlier editions of the catalogue, so it’s not clear when the sets were first created.
    On page 53 are these two lists, which would appear to be the sets posted in the blog with a few slides missing:

    Under Geology:

    Ideal Geological Landscapes.
    Silurian Period.
    Devonian Period.
    Transition Period.
    Carboniferous Period.
    Forest of Coal Period.
    Permian Period.
    Triassic Period.
    Conchylian Sub-Period.
    Saliferous Period.
    Lower Oolite Period.
    Lower Cretaceous Period.
    Cretaceous Period.
    Eocene Period.
    Miocene Period.
    Drift Period.
    Recent Period.

    Extinct Animals.
    (With descriptive reading.)
    1. Plesiosaurus, Teleosaurus, Ichthyosaurus, Pentacrinites, Ammonites, Gryphaea.
    2. Megalosaurus, Pterodactyle.
    3. Iguanadon, Hylaeosaurus.
    4. Anoplotherium Commune, Anoplotherium Gracile, Palaeotherium.
    5. Megatherium, Glyptodon.
    6. Elephas Primigeneous, Hyaena Spelaea, Hippotamus Major, Ursus Spelaeus, Machairodus Latidens.

    Both sets also appear in an 1877 catalogue from another company, so they date back at least to the 1870s.

  10. Mark Wilson says:

    Amazing, Ben. You should write all this up as an article!

  11. oldlimey says:

    A really excellent series of postings on these interesting pictures. Many thanks to all involved.

  12. Zigmund Cieplinski Jr says:

    Great work, gentlemen.

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