Photography in twentieth century Old Shanghai and especially in the International Settlement makes for an interesting study.  The western run photo studios published photo postcards (as was the trend those days) with many a times the subject being the finely attired Sikh policemen, soldiers or cavalry.  Messrs Denniston & Sullivan located on Nanking Road(today’s East Nanjing Road) was one such studio and in its repository included the images of Shanghai Sikhs and the opening ceremony of the Sikh gurdwara in 1908.

The Sikh Gurdwara : Denniston & Sullivan pic

The Sikh Gurdwara : Denniston & Sullivan pic

The studio opened in 1900 was operated by Denniston & Sullivan but soon changed hands. In 1906, the new American owners, L.L. Hopkins & J.J Gilmore retaining the studio’s original name stocked photography equipment, processing supplies, typewriters, magazines, etc and also firearms.  See this print ad, for instance, where fire arms sold by Denniston & Sullivan was advertised.  

denniston and sullivan

Shanghai was dangerous, harboring local and international criminals. As no visa was required to enter Shanghai, it also became a haven for those fleeing the law. The arms dealing, though, was a nefarious affair.


Another photo studio owned and operated by Ned Widler dealt in arms, probably on a larger scale. Widler purportedly met his death through poison because of his involvement in arms and was also accused of espionage (more on the Widler family in a future post).  His family member, Elly Widler was an arms dealer and wrote a book on his prison experience, titled’ Six months prisoner of the North Schezwan military.’


Picture of Elly Widler demonstrating his wares: the bullet-proof vest. Source: spysgrandson photostream on Flickr

elly widler spysgrandson flickr

Since there were several studios in Shanghai, selling of firearms would have required a license or permit I assume. A more in-depth examination of the various photo studios in the International Settlement would be required.