Held at: University of Pennsylvania: Penn Museum Archives [Contact Us]3260 South Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 19104-6324
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Pennsylvania: Penn Museum Archives. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
The University of Pennsylvania Museum began its collection of ethnographic objects and art from Asia almost as soon as the museum was founded in 1889. A number of Japanese, Korean and Chinese objects, including costumes, porcelains and household goods were donated to the museum as early as 1890. The Oriental section was established in 1892 with Stewart Culin as curator. In an attempt to acquire more objects from the East, Culin staged an exhibit of the museum's collection at the World's Columbian Exhibition in Chicago in 1893.
The first display of Buddhist images occurred in 1899 with an elaborate altar and colorful panels and hangings. The objects and images had been supplied by Maxwell Sommerville, the founder of the museum's Buddhist and engraved gem collections. The exhibit received mixed reviews from the press and audience. However, Buddhist images would continue to be important to the museum's representation of the cultures of Asia throughout its history.
Before 1899, the Asian collection was displayed along the staircase of the University Library tower. The objects were moved into the new Museum building upon construction and found a permanent home in the rotunda above the museum auditorium in 1916. The "Chinese rotunda" hosted the "first million dollar show" according to Board member Percy C. Madeira in 1916. Represented in the display of objects available for purchase for the museum's permanent collection were Chinese porcelains from the J.P. Morgan Collection, Chinese art from the Duveen Brothers of London, jade vessels and sculptures from Worch of Paris and paintings and reliefs from dealer C.T. Loo of New York, all on loan for the show. The news media reminded its readers that the great collection would be lost to the city "if no wealthy Philadelphian takes a notion to purchase it."
In 1915 and 1916, Carl W. Bishop, the Assistant Curator of Oriental Art, carried out a University of Pennsylvania Museum-sponsored archaeological reconnaissance in China, Korea, and Japan. Bishop again conducted a foray in 1917 and 1918 but excavation was blocked by politics, internal rebellion in China and problems with amassing a work crew and finding enough money to proceed. Eventually, Bishop did excavate at Anyang, China in 1929 while serving as Associate Curator at the Freer Galleries in Washington. C. W. Bishop's presence in China between 1915 and 1918 later led to his being implicated in the controversy surrounding the University of Pennsylvania Museum's acquisition of two stone reliefs depicting the favorite war chargers of the Emperor T'ang T'ai-Tsung, founder of the T'ang Dynasty (618-906 A.D.). The two sculptures of the horses Curly and Autumn Dew are currently on display in the Chinese rotunda of the University of Pennsylvania Museum. These sculptures were originally part of a set of six horse sculptures surrounding the Emperor's tomb in Shanxi Province where they were photographed in 1909 by Edouard Chavannes. In 1917, Bishop saw the remaining four sculptures in the Hsi-an museum where he was told that the reliefs of Curly and Autumn Dew had been taken to Beijing by the military government. The latter sculptures were purchased by the University of Pennsylvania Museum from the New York dealer C. T. Loo in 1918.
The T'ang horses continued to be surrounded by controversy after their arrival at the Museum. Disputes about the authenticity of the sculptures and whether they represented the seventh-century originals or later reproductions persisted through the 1920's and 1930's. (see "In Defence of the Horses of T'ang T'ai-Tsung", by Helen E. Fernald in the folder "Horses of T'ang T'ai-Tsung.") The legal and moral justifiability of the acquisition of the sculptures by the University of Pennsylvania Museum was also questioned particularly when it was discovered that the inscription accompanying the four sculptures remaining in Hsi-an claimed that the T'ang sculptures in the University of Pennsylvania Museum had been removed from China at the instigation of an American imperialist presumed to be Bishop. In 1978, Derk Bodde presented to Chang Yu-lang, Deputy Director of the Shanxi Provincial Bureau of Culture, documentation that the sculptures had been purchased by a New York dealer and that C. W. Bishop had played no role in their removal from China.
With the exception of early trips by William H. Furness, Alfred C. Harrison and Hiram M. Hiller in 1895 and some "archeaological reconnaissance" by Carl W. Bishop, no excavations in China have been conducted by the museum. Almost all of the collections were assembled through purchase and donations. George Byron Gordon, Assistant Curator of the General Ethnology section of the museum from 1903 until his appointment as Director in 1910 devoted considerable time and energy to acquiring Asian antiquities worthy of museum display. It was Gordon who recruited Carl W. Bishop in 1914.
Following the death of George Byron Gordon, Eldridge R. Johnson, founder of the Victor Talking Picture Company, presented the Gordon Memorial to the museum. This gift included magnificent carvings on semi-precious stone, eventually displayed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the famous Crystal Ball a treasure of the Imperial Palace in Peking.
George B. Gordon was succeeded as Assistant Curator by Carl W. Bishop (1914-1918). Following Bishop's tenure the Asian section has had a succession of curators with gaps between service when the section was represented by a Research Consultant or Keeper of the collection.
The textual records from the Asian Section collection series consists of 1.6 linear feet of correspondence and receipts. The records have been compiled from donors from 1890 to 1969.
The collection consists primarily of letters, correspondence, shipping information, invoices, insurance data, and receipts of artifacts bought or exhibited by the Museum, or donated to the Museum as well as background information on the artifacts. Notable donors as well as correspondents include Stewart Culin, William Pepper, Phoebe Hearst, and Worch of Paris, C.T. Loo, and Yamanaka and Co..
There is also a translation of the text “Discriptive (sic) of the Illustrations of the 47 Ronins,” collection No. 639.
Other Museum Archives records related to this collection can be found in: Carl W. Bishop papers and Helen E. Fernald papers.
- Bishop, Carl Whiting, b. 1881-d.1942
- Fernald, Helen Elizabeth, b. 1921-d. 1937
- Getz, John, b. 1853?
- Hearst, Phoebe Apperson, 1842-1919
- Johnson, Eldridge Reeves, b. 1867-d. 1945
- Loo, C.T., b.1880-d.1957
- Lyons, Elizabeth, b. 1912-d. 1989
- McCartee, Divie Bethune, Dr., b. 1820-d.1900
- Pepper, William, 1843-1898
- Scott, Alexander
- Scott, Hugh, Senator, b. 1900-D.1994
- Stevenson, Sara Yorke, 1847-1921
- Wanamaker, John, 1838-1922
- University of Pennsylvania: Penn Museum Archives
- Finding Aid Author
- Finding aid prepared by Gina Gariffo
- Finding Aid Date