The great first Victorian exemple was perhaps “Pepper’s Ghost”. Virtually every handbook or encyclopedia of theatre depicts the working of this stage invention, here proposed in a popular print from our collection. The invention of this mechanical projection of a ghost upon a stage was originated by Henry Dirks and John Henry Pepper of the Royal Polytechnic Institution in London, 1863. Its complicate history of fights and patents, subterfuges and variations, is not far from the atmosphere depicted in “Prestige”. But for their passionate narration, we suggest the literary achievements of Jim Steinmeyer.
Instead, we call your attention on the less known theatrical application of the said invention. Principally, it was used neither for standard magic shows nor for the stagings of opera or drama. After his birth as science demonstration, “Pepper’s Ghost” was used by theatrical companies specialized in dramatizations of the invention in popular circuits.
This poster from 1893, is from one of them: the now forgotten “Mr.Smith’s Original Pepper Ghost’s and Spectral Opera Company” (preserved in the London Public Record Office).