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Subject: Early Motion Picture Collection by Gatewood W. Dunston

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Gatewood W. Dunston (1908-October 18, 1956) was a motion picture projectionist and later, a collector and scholar of the history of motion picture technology who bequeathed his important collection to the National Museum of American History.

Keywords: motion picture history, motion picture equipment, motion picture apparatus, motion picture images, motion picture collecting, history of collectors, movie theater history, motion picture advertising, motion picture props, mutoscope, lantern slide, motion picture film

The Dunston accession, number 212314, included 864 items, comprised primarily of 294 theater slides, 162 stereo views, 150 lantern slides, 157 films, 59 early projectors, 6 editing machines, 6 posters, over 100 photographs and a mutoscope reel. Additionally, Dunston left his correspondence relating to the collection, which offers a look at this formative period in the historiography of motion pictures. The films, many of which were on nitrate, were transferred to the Library of Congress in the 1960s, but the remainder of the material was cataloged and is found at numbers 4994-5099 in the Photographic History Collection. The Dunston collection at the National Museum of American History remains one of the most complete and important showing the evolution and history of the motion picture projector, as well as the motion picture industry and art.

Dunston worked the projection booth at the Granby and Lowe’s Theaters in Norfolk, Virginia, where he lived until his death. He was a friend of the early Western star  and actor, William S. Hart, and obtained a number of Hart films, posters and even a Civil War-era pistol used by the actor in his films. It appears that Dunston began seriously researching and collecting movie cameras, projectors and memorabilia in the early 1940s, through correspondence with film historians Merritt Crawford and Terry Ramsaye, early projectionist Francis Doublier and a number of movie personalities and machine manufacturers. He was disheartened by the deaths of many motion picture pioneers in the 1930s and 40s, and by his perception that the history of motion picture technology was fading into obscurity. Dunston collected 35mm and 16mm copies of notable silent films, old projectors and cameras, glass theater slides, a small number of mutoscope items and editing equipment as well as stereo views and optical toys. As his health deteriorated in the early 1950s, he was forced to sell off many of his films, which were on nitrate and posed a fire hazard, and he wrote a will that stipulated his collection be left to the Smithsonian National Museum’s Section of Photography, now NMAH’s Photographic History Collection.

This finding aid is one in a series documenting the PHC’s Early Cinema Collection [COLL.PHOTOS.000018]. The cinema-related objects cover the range of technological innovation and popular appeal that defined the motion picture industry during a period in which it became the premier form of mass communication in American life, roughly 1885-1930. See also finding aids for Early Sound Cinema [COLL.PHOTOS.000040], Early Color Cinema [COLL.PHOTOS.000039], Early Cinema Film and Ephemera [COLL.PHOTOS.000038] and Early Cinema Equipment [COLL.PHOTOS.000037].

dunston cover

NMAH Photographic History Collection

Dunston Photographs, Documents, Etc.

National Museum of American History

Gatewood Dunston Research Notes

National Museum of American History

The Primal Lure Poster

National Museum of American History

The Captive God Poster

National Museum of American History

O'Malley of the Mounted Poster

National Museum of American History

Tumbleweeds Poster

National Museum of American History

Tumbleweeds Lobby Poster

National Museum of American History

Colt 1851 Navy Revolver

National Museum of American History

William S. Hart Poster

National Museum of American History

Motion Picture Film Pieces

National Museum of American History