Through Romantic India with Lowell Thomas by Ian Matzen

My name is Ian Matzen. I have just begun a second semester of a distance learning program to earn a MLIS (Master of Library and Information Science) at San Jose State University situated in California. It is my pleasure to be cataloguing items from the Cinema category of the John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera. I have a keen interest in film and history, so this material is a fascinating window into a bygone era. The category includes magic lantern slides, lantern lecture advertisements, and magic lantern catalogues which date from the mid 1800s to the mid 1900s. I was surprised to learn of similarities between old lantern projector apparatus and the film projectors I worked with while in film school. However, most of the machinery in the catalogues ran on gas!

Recently, I entered information about a leaflet announcing a new India travelogue by the famous American Lowell Thomas: Through Romantic India.

Cinema 1 (43a)

Mr. Thomas notably sensationalized the exploits of T.E. Lawrence through the Arabian desert (see With Allenby in Palestine and Lawrence in Arabia, 1922). This beautifully printed leaflet promises viewers the opportunity to follow H.R.H. The Prince of Wales from Calcutta to Peshawur, making a brief stop to sit with “Hindu Holy men on their beds of sharp iron spikes”. This vicarious trip was not for the squeamish. The blue ink with which the leaflet is printed gives it an air of exoticism, especially as blue ink seems to have been rarely used in advertisements during this period. On the front of the leaflet is an elegantly dressed couple gazing over a lake at a magnificent Indian city. A caption reads “Lowell Thomas Presents his New Travelogue Through Romantic India”. The British audience would have found the reproduced photographs of Sadhus and a family on the last three pages dazzling. If we attended the event, we would have been treated to a 1920s event filled with a lecture by Lowell himself (talkies had yet to be popularized). According to one account the travelogue was “the best presentation of a foreign country which has ever been shewn, or which I think it will be possible for anyone to bring together”. The events, however, were not without controversy. India, at the time, was part of the British Empire and would be until shortly after the Second World War. Stationed outside the venue, Communist groups regularly protested the unequal treatment of the poor in India. At one performance, a group of students began to protest when a picture of Ghandi appeared. A Bodleian stamp on the front of the second page helped me to date the item. Given the opportunity,  I would certainly have attended the event. Wouldn’t you?

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One response to “Through Romantic India with Lowell Thomas by Ian Matzen

  1. Ian, Thanks for the overview of the Prince of Wales Tour through India travelogue pamphlet that you wrote about here in the John Johnson Collection blog. Lowell Thomas was a long-time broadcaster and armchair-travel populizer. I hope that future blog contributors will also note the physical object, its historical context, and a modern analysis, as you’ve done. I, too, was interested in the use of blue ink for the image and text printing. Aside from the striking and unusual use of strong blue (rather than the conventional black) to get the reader’s attention, I’m reminded of the use of iron-based developing chemicals used in period “cyanotype” photographs. I hope you’ll share more of your finds as you work through the collection. Bob M.

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