Pieces of China in Bristol – cataloguing Historical Photographs of China material

Jamie Carstairs has recently catalogued the ‘Historical Photographs of China’ material held in Special Collections, University of Bristol Library. In this post, he describes the material in outline and mentions some highlights.

During the fifteen years of the Historical Photographs of China Project, a surprisingly large amount of archival material was accumulated. This was never the plan, but came about incidentally. As well as photographs, the project acquired negatives, 35mm colour transparencies, post cards, books, vintage cameras, newspaper cuttings, scrap books, maps, silver shooting trophies, shipping labels, cine film, memoirs, ephemera – as well as a Shanghai Municipal Policeman’s whistle, penknife, bus pass, freemason regalia, slippers and other objects (John Montgomery Collection, DM2836). Most of this material was donated, while a few photographs were purchased with a view to filling gaps in the collection.

A print of a caricature by Miguel Covarrubias, of the successful businessman Sir Victor Sassoon with a Leica camera and lighting kit, in Bali, dated 1934. Sir Victor loved photography, horse racing, travel, international friendship and the party life of 1930s Shanghai. This print is in a scrapbook in the George Hutton Potts Collection (DM2831/21).

A print of a caricature by Miguel Covarrubias, of the successful businessman Sir Victor Sassoon with a Leica camera and lighting kit, in Bali, dated 1934. Sir Victor loved photography, horse racing, travel, international friendship and the party life of 1930s Shanghai. This print is in a scrapbook in the George Hutton Potts Collection (DM2831/21).

The first few frames of a roll of 16mm cine film, in the Robert Peck Collection (DM2838/4/1). This part of the footage seems to show a Christian proselytising in a street in China, c.1937. The two reels of cine film in this collection have not yet been viewed or digitised.

The first few frames of a roll of 16mm cine film, in the Robert Peck Collection (DM2838/4/1). This part of the footage seems to show a Christian proselytising in a street in China, c.1937. The two reels of cine film in this collection have not yet been viewed or digitised.

A barograph trace, made on the luxury liner ‘Empress of Asia’, showing an off-the-chart drop in atmospheric pressure during a typhoon in October 1921. The barogram is in a scrapbook in the George Hutton Potts Collection (DM2831/19).

A barograph trace, made on the luxury liner ‘Empress of Asia’, showing an off-the-chart drop in atmospheric pressure during a typhoon in October 1921. The barogram is in a scrapbook in the George Hutton Potts Collection (DM2831/19).

A portrait of a boy reading ‘Amateur Photographer’ magazine, 1940s/1950s (HPC ref: Ha-s056), from the extensive Tita and Gerry Hayward Collection (DM2830), which includes Basil Edward (Dick) Foster Hall (1894-1975) material. A few images in this collection have been published on the HPC web site.

A portrait of a boy reading ‘Amateur Photographer’ magazine, 1940s/1950s (HPC ref: Ha-s056), from the extensive Tita and Gerry Hayward Collection (DM2830), which includes Basil Edward (Dick) Foster Hall (1894-1975) material. A few images in this collection have been published on the HPC web site.

This archival material is now held in Special Collections. It has recently been catalogued and these records can be consulted on the Online Archive Catalogue. To see all the catalogue records for the HPC material, select ‘China (Historical Photographs of China)’ in the ‘Major collections’ drop-down menu in Advanced Search. Or search for a particular archival DM reference in ‘Reference number’ in Advanced Search, or a keyword lucky dip in ‘Any text’ in Advanced Search.

A screenshot showing some results of a search for ‘China (Historical Photographs of China)’, in the ‘Major collections’ drop-down menu in Advanced Search, in Special Collections’ Online Archive Catalogue.

A screenshot showing some results of a search for ‘China (Historical Photographs of China)’, in the ‘Major collections’ drop-down menu in Advanced Search, in Special Collections’ Online Archive Catalogue.

The oldest photographs we hold date from the late 1860s/early 1870s, in an album thought to have been compiled by John Gurney Fry, of the famous chocolate family (DM2887). Many of these beautiful and well-preserved albumin prints are photographs by the great photographers Lai Fong and John Thomson. The John Gurney Fry Collection has been digitised and the images can be viewed on the HPC web site.

Four musicians (singers), with instruments, Fuzhou, c.1868-1874 (HPC ref: Fr01-044). Photograph by Lai Fong (Afong Studio). A page from the John Gurney Fry album (DM2887).

Four musicians (singers), with instruments, Fuzhou, c.1868-1874 (HPC ref: Fr01-044). Photograph by Lai Fong (Afong Studio). A page from the John Gurney Fry album (DM2887).

Most of the HPC material dates from the 1870s to the 1950s, but we have also collected slides and photographs taken during the early stages of China’s Cultural Revolution (Colin Andrew Collection, DM2818), and slides taken during a bicycle trip from Nanjing to Shanghai in 1983 (John Lyle Collection, DM2993) as well as photographs taken in the 1980s for two historical architectural books by Professor Ronald Knapp (DM2992).

Unidentified event, Jingshan Park, Beijing, c.1966 (HPC ref: Aw-t415). One of 553 slides (35mm transparencies) taken by Colin Andrew during the Cultural Revolution (Colin Andrew Collection, DM2818/4).

Unidentified event, Jingshan Park, Beijing, c.1966 (HPC ref: Aw-t415). One of 553 slides (35mm transparencies) taken by Colin Andrew during the Cultural Revolution (Colin Andrew Collection, DM2818/4).

The collection includes fascinating self-published memoirs, such as I Remember One Time by Paul Kaye (DM2990/6), and Out of China by Ronald Kliene (DM2990/10). Both Kaye and Kliene were in the Shanghai boy scouts, 1930s.  Also of great interest is an ‘extra-illustrated’ mss entitled ‘The Diaries and Letters of Rev. Robert Walker Debenham Peck’ (DM2838/1). Peck was a Methodist missionary in Wuhan during the Second Sino-Japanese war. Other donated books include Five Months of War (North-China Daily News, 1938), illustrated with drawings by the Shanghai’s premier cartoonist ‘Sapajou’ (Georgii Avksent’ievich Sapojnikoff) (DM2836/7).

The cover of ‘Five Months of War’, published in 1938. This book about the beginning of the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) contains many photographs by North-China Daily News photographers and others, cartoons by Sapajou, and maps. (John Montgomery Collection, DM2836/7).

The cover of ‘Five Months of War’, published in 1938. This book about the beginning of the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) contains many photographs by North-China Daily News photographers and others, cartoons by Sapajou, and maps. (John Montgomery Collection, DM2836/7).

Some of the material in Special Collections has been digitised, but many historical photographs remain uncopied and their content undescribed, samples below.

A page from the album in the Pearl Bercht Collection (DM2820). Pearl Bercht was an American missionary, in Guangzhou (Canton) 1919-1922.

A page from the album in the Pearl Bercht Collection (DM2820). Pearl Bercht was an American missionary, in Guangzhou (Canton) 1919-1922.

An uncaptioned photograph in a large album entitled 'Coronation Day / 12th May 1937 / British Embassy / Peking' (Berkeley Gage Collection, DM2827/2). The photographs in this album are by the Russian friend of Hedda Morrison, Serge Vargassoff (1906-1965). Research is required to identify the guests at the Legation event, which included Qin Dechun (秦徳純) (1893-1963) and Zhang Guangjian (張廣建) (1864-1938).

An uncaptioned photograph in a large album entitled ‘Coronation Day / 12th May 1937 / British Embassy / Peking’ (Berkeley Gage Collection, DM2827/2). The photographs in this album are by the Russian friend of Hedda Morrison, Serge Vargassoff (1906-1965). Research is required to identify the guests at the Legation event, which included Qin Dechun (秦徳純) (1893-1963) and Zhang Guangjian (張廣建) (1864-1938).

A trade fair in a mat shed, either in Hong Kong or Singapore, early 1930s. The women are in sailor rig, emblazoned with the words ‘BOVRIL – PREVENT THAT SINKING FEELING’. The John Arber Collection (DM2985) includes many Hong Kong photographs relating to advertising and marketing.

A trade fair in a mat shed, either in Hong Kong or Singapore, early 1930s. The women are in sailor rig, emblazoned with the words ‘BOVRIL – PREVENT THAT SINKING FEELING’. The John Arber Collection (DM2985) includes many Hong Kong photographs relating to advertising and marketing.

Material in Special Collections that has been digitised, but is not yet published on the HPC site, include rich collections such the James Helbling Collection (DM2829) and the Cyril Whitaker Collection (DM2845), samples below.

A Cartier-Bressonesque photograph by Cyril Whitaker, captioned in the album: ‘Calibrating a [petroleum] tank by pumping out and weighing water on alternate scales. Jan. 1938’ (HPC ref: CW08-80). Whitaker was a talented ‘semi-pro’ photographer who documented the Asiatic Petroleum Company (APC) installation near Chongqing. Cyril Whitaker Collection, DM2845/8.

A Cartier-Bressonesque photograph by Cyril Whitaker, captioned in the album: ‘Calibrating a [petroleum] tank by pumping out and weighing water on alternate scales. Jan. 1938’ (HPC ref: CW08-80). Whitaker was a talented ‘semi-pro’ photographer who documented the Asiatic Petroleum Company (APC) installation near Chongqing. Cyril Whitaker Collection, DM2845/8.

This photograph of an impressive matriarchal family group is captioned on the back ‘Lau Ahchiang & family / Tai Ping Compradore 1906 / Foochow’ (HPC ref: Od-s017). James Helbling Collection, DM2829/1.

This photograph of an impressive matriarchal family group is captioned on the back ‘Lau Ahchiang & family / Tai Ping Compradore 1906 / Foochow’ (HPC ref: Od-s017). James Helbling Collection, DM2829/1.

A recent donation is the fruit of a lockdown clear-out, the Yangtse Corporation Collection (DM2998). The images of salt mining in this collection are on the HPC site, referenced as YC-s.

Special Collections also hold a large born-digital collection of images – the Nicholas Kitto Treaty Port Image Collection (DM3051) – over 4000 colour images of surviving/restored pre-1950 architecture in the former treaty ports, photographed by Nick Kitto in 2008-2016. Kitto drew from these in his book  Trading Places, A Photographic Journey Through China’s Former Treaty Ports (Blacksmith Books, 2020).

The Custom House, Guangzhou, one of the oldest Custom Houses in China, photographed here by Nick Kitto in 2008. This image is on the cover of 'Trading Places, A Photographic Journey Through China's Former Treaty Ports' by Nicholas Kitto (Blacksmith Books, 2020).

The Custom House, Guangzhou, one of the oldest Custom Houses in China, photographed here by Nick Kitto in 2008. This image is on the cover of ‘Trading Places, A Photographic Journey Through China’s Former Treaty Ports’ by Nicholas Kitto (Blacksmith Books, 2020).

DM2956 is a record of the c.62,000 HPC digital images (i.e. the output of fifteen years digitisation by the HPC project), now stored in a DAMS (Digital Asset Management System). All 168 HPC collections are listed, as well as their archival DM references and whether the images in a collection have been added to the HPC web site, or not. DM2956 includes an outline history of the HPC project, which ended in 2021 – details here.

For the future – a new HPC web site is due to be launched later in 2022. The redesigned site, on a new platform, will draw images and metadata direct from the DAMS. There’s plenty more work to do inputting metadata into the DAMS. This metadata includes descriptive information about the image, names, dates, locations, keywords, etc, which makes images findable on the HPC site. All being well, some of the many thousands of already digitised China photographs that we hold in Special Collections, which are not yet on the HPC site, will gradually be added to it.

If you have any queries, do please contact us.

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