Lithograph lobby poster for the 1925 motion picture Tumbleweeds, starring William S. Hart. The poster includes photographs of several scenes from the film, a silent western about the 1893 Cherokee strip land rush in Oklahoma.
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.
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 William S. Hart, and obtained a number of Hart films, posters and even a 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.
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.
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].