Thursday, September 28, 2006

Film of Seoul in 1899

You have seen this, haven't you?

It's a video made from a film said to have been taken in 1899 in Seoul. The picture above is not clear, but it does seem, however, that the city wall next to Namdaemun is tapering off, which would make it some time after 1907, when the walls were removed around Namdaemun and Seodaemun. It's not clear in this photo, or the film, that the wall is indeed missing, so it's still possible it was taken in 1899 (streetcars began running in Seoul in 1898).

A quick question: Does anyone know what gate it is we're seeing below?

As you can see, the film captures several different face

The site this video appears on says that it was taken by Elias Burton-Holmes. More information can be found about him here:
An American traveller, Elias Burton-Holmes, introduced film to the Korean royal family in 1899, and in June 1903 the first public screenings were held. These screenings were a part of entrepreneurial ventures by two American businessmen, H.R. Bostwick and Henry Collbran. A railway construction specialist, Collbran was appointed by Emperor Kojong as Manager of the Seoul Electricity Company and commissioned to introduce electricity and trams to Seoul. Emperor Kojong entrusted him with the electrification of Seoul because of local lack of experience, facilities and equipment. In order to maximise his profits, Collbran wanted to minimise the construction time. Therefore, he presented various public performances including wire-walking acts and dances of various sorts in order to encourage his workers. However, Collbran was surprised by the rapidly growing popularity of these performances. He therefore decided to make them a branch of his business, and this then led to the first public screenings.


Anonymous said...

That video was obviously filmed after 1910. If you carefully watch it, you could see an advertisement of Japanese medicine company Jintan(仁丹), and those advertisements on telephone poles were started late 1910. See these pictures.

Stefan Ewing said...
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Stefan Ewing said...

Working on a hunch and through the process of elimination, I'd say that the gate appears to be that of 경희궁. Compare the gate in the top photo on this page. The only difference would appear to be that the two side doors are closed in the film.

The palace (or what's left of it) is located on the bend in the road on 새문안길, the road that's the westward extension of 종로. (See its location on this map.) It's a museum today...the Seoul City Museum, I believe.

The first streetcar line ran along 종로 and 새문안길 (called at that time 신문로) between 동대문 and 서대문, so the presence of streetcar tracks on the foreground would jibe.

The only other palaces that streetcar tracks ran directly in front of were 경복궁 (and that's definitely not 광화문 in the background) and 덕수궁 (but tracks were not laid along 태평로—indeed, 태평로 was not even pushed through—until later in the 1910s or 20s...anyhow, that doesn't look like the front gate of 덕수궁 either). It's not any of the eight city gates, either (through or in front of six of which streetcar tracks would eventually run).

Stefan Ewing said...

Oh, by the way, thank you for that film! Wow! I had never seen or heard of it.

Now, if someone knew how to view some of the old movies like Arirang, or some early talking pictures....

Stefan Ewing said...

Oh, and that's interesting about Colbran & Bostwick getting into the entertainment business! I believe one of their first projects was to rig one of the palaces—whichever one Gojong was living in at the time...was it 창덕궁?—with electric lights.

Stefan Ewing said...

...And the name of the gate (drumroll, please) is 흥화문.

matt said...

Thanks for finding that Gate's name, Sewing. And thanks for that info mika. Thought it looked later than 1899.

Anonymous said...

HI -
Just thought I would add my own two-bits. I have not seen this movie, and unfortunately still can't - for some reason it won't run. I do know that Burton Holmes is said to have made the first movie in Korea - not sure if it is true or not - but he does have some pictures of what appears to be a movie camera mounted on a cart (rail) in his 1901 book. As for the power plant - the first power plant and electrical lights were in the late 1880s by a man named Robert Power(s). Don't have my notes here - but the story on how he got paid is cute - threatened the dark-weary Korean government with angry spirits.
Collbran and Bostwick used the idea of movies from a young tobacco salesman from North(?) Carolonia who sold them on the idea after demonstrating it and the subsequent increase of passengers (I am sure the tobacco helped too).
Great blog - really enjoy it
Robert Neff

empraptor said...


"advertisement of Japanese medicine company Jintan(仁丹), and those advertisements on telephone poles were started late 1910. See these pictures."

The pictures you posted does show that the telephone pole ad matches the Jintan ad you describe. So, is there further info on the year this ad was deployed in Korea?

Is this the same company you're referring to?

Morishita Jintan's about page

I don't read Japanese, but from Google's translation it seems the company was founded in 1893?

I had thought maybe if the company was founded around 1910, it would be a simple matter. Since that's not the case, we'd have to show that the specific advertisement wasn't used in Korea until 1910 to push back the date of the filming.

If someone could provide such information about the ad, it really would be obvious to those of us not so knowledgeable about the issue that the film originated after 1910.

I'm guessing you have a source you are getting this info from. If you (or anyone else) could post a link that'd be great. Thanks.

empraptor said...

Here are bigger images of Jintan ad from the video:

Direct link to video - the embedded video doesn't seem to work.

The images mika linked to must have come from another video?

Anyway, the ad seems to be bigger in this video and shows the letters above the logo better.

empraptor said...

Update - The links to images of ad are here:

Jintan ad
Jintan ad 2, clearer letters on top

Anonymous said...


This page shows Morishita Jintan's advertising history.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info, Mika.

From the pages you linked, I have to guess that this is the earliest form of Jintan's pole ads and was started in 1910?

Until my registar renews my domain name, the links I posted before can be found here:

Jintan ad
Jintan ad 2, clear letters on top