Sidney D. Gamble-from Duke Library

August 1, 2008

Wan Xian Bridge, Wan Xian, Sichuan Sheng, above; 13,500 Cash to Shu Fu Tsang, left. Black-and-white prints scanned from original nitrate negatives, by Sidney D. Gamble, 1917-1932. Archive of Documentary Arts; Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library.

Sidney D. Gamble (1890-1968) developed a passion for China during a trip to Asia with his parents in 1908. This early interest blossomed into his life's work. Gamble, the grandson of Procter & Gamble co-founder James Gamble, took three subsequent trips to the country between 1917 and 1932 and drafted numerous publications, including his monumental study, Peking: A Social Survey, in 1921.

A cache of Sidney Gamble's China photographs, long forgotten, was discovered in a closet by his daughter, Catherine Curran, in 1987. In 2006, Curran donated the entire collection to the Archive of Documentary Arts in Duke's Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library.

The collection contains approximately 5,000 black-and-white nitrate negatives made in more than five provinces, including Guangdong in the southeast, Sichuan in the west, and Hebei in the northwest. The images depict everyday life, public ceremonies and rituals, towns, villages, agriculture, river traffic, monuments, architecture, and the landscape of early-twentieth-century China.

While Gamble's publications are well known among China scholars, his stand-alone photographs have remained something of a secret. To further awareness of his work and to make the images readily accessible, the library digitized the photographs and has recently made them available in the Duke Libraries' Digital Collections portal.

The online launch of the Sidney D. Gamble Photograph Collection in April marked the 100th anniversary of Gamble's first trip to China and the first time the entire collection of photographs has been available to the public.