The theatrical career of the magic lantern may have begun in old monasteries, but slides had gone out in European tours a century or more before. In Colonial America, they also began dual roles of “traveling” and “permanent” exhibitions.
The idea behind the dissolving views show was that people would come and sit and watch the pictures change. Within that modest pursuit was a range of techniques a good performing lanternist could invoke, to tease and inveigle and tug, startle and change moods. He would have discovered that light and color affect the eye physically for an intended tactile response, can caress or poke accordingly. All it takes is control of brightness and contrast and good timing.
According to the Brandon Post, Allen’s Pictorial Concert “gave the superior exhibition of [the dissolving views] such an effect as to lead the mind for a moment to imagine itself in some higher sphere. They haunt our memory still.” Stated the New Hampshire Democrat, “We hardly ever expect to be particularly gratified when we attend exhibitions of this nature which occasionally make their way into this vicinity, but Mr. Dexter really is not a humbug.”
Down in Texas, The Indianola Courier for January 4, 1861, breathlessly described another traveling show and its “brilliant Stereomonoscopic Dissolving Views and Polaroscopic Fire Works,” its highlight “being the unfolding of polarscopic Miracles, by a succession of unfoldings of wheels within wheels, such as Ezekiel’s vision, sparks of which dart off into diamonds, stars, etc.—advances and recedes—folds in and rolls out and over, generally in Hogarth’s line of beauty—the circle—often in other forms, but always in such a magic wonder that the effect on the house is a continuous expression of astonishment.”
The review concludes, “Go, See, Hear and Wonder!”