The collection of artefacts and books relating to the pre-history of cinematography was assembled in the period 1962-68 by David Francis, formerly the deputy curator at the National Film Archive of the British Film Institute in London. At the instigation of the Australian Film Institute (AFI), the collection was purchased in 1975 by the Victorian Government and the Film and Television Board of the Australian Council for the Arts. The AFI had plans to establish a Museum of the Moving Image, and while these were being explored, the artefact collection was stored at Museum Victoria. When the plans for an independent museum were abandoned, the collection was formally acquired by Museum Victoria in 1990.

The Francis Collection contains over 5600 objects, images and documents related to pre-cinema, which were the various forms of moving and projected images in existence before the advent of film in the late 19th Century. The largest component of the collection comprises 5,000 glass magic lantern slides; other significant sub-collections include projectors, cameras, engravings, kaleidoscopes, flip books, phenakistoscopes, stereographs, zoetropes and pamphlets.

A second component of the Francis Collection, a library of rare books on pre-cinema and early cinema history, was originally held in the AFI Research Library in Carlton. In 2002 this collection, including the Francis Collection library, was transferred to RMIT University, where it is known as the AFI Research Collection, operating under the auspices of the School of Media and Communication.

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