22. Collector: Justus Doolittle (1824-1880)

Rev. Justus Doolittle (1824-1880), American Board missionary in China, is well-known for his publications, including

  • Social Life of the Chinese, with some accounts of their religious, governmental, educational and business customs and opinions, with special but not exclusive reference to Fuhchau [Fuzhou] (1865)
  • Social Life of the Chinese: a daguerrotype of daily life in China (1868)
  • A Vocabulary and Hand-book of the Chinese Language (1872).

He was also a collector of Chinese coins. Note the spade-money issued by Wang Mang on the spines of these books!

borg books

Social Life of the Chinese: Religious, Governmental, Educational, and Business Customs and Opinions – by Justus Doolittle (New York, 1865) – first edition (image source: Borg Antiquarian)

And the “facsimile of a Hong Kong cent” on the frontispiece of this book! There are numerous illustrations of coins in Chapter XXIII on Business Customs:

doolitlle image

Social Life of the Chinese: a daguerrotype of daily life in China – by Justus Doolittle (London, 1868) (Source: archive.org)

In A Vocabulary and Hand-book of the Chinese Language, he includes among his sources Hillier’s Translation of the Chronicles of Cash (preface, p.3):

doolitlle vocab

A Vocabulary and Handbook of the Chinese Language – by Justus Doolittle (London, 1872) (source: archive.org)

Doolittle died on 15 June 1880. His collection of Chinese coins was sold a year later by Messrs Bangs & Co., 739 and 741 Broadway, New York City, in June 1881, and a printed catalogue was prepared: Catalogue of American and foreign coins and medals, the collection of O.A. Jenison, of Lansing, Mich. Also, the collection of Chinese coins formed by Rev. Justus Doolittle, of China. Together with a fine and large collection of Union envelopes, the property of a lady of Boston. And a collection of old coin sale catalogues. to be sold by auction, by Messrs. Bangs & Co. … on Wednesday and Thursday, June 22, 23, 1881. A digital version of the Catalogue is available here:

[pp.44-47] Coins of China. Collected and classified by Rev. Justus Doolittle, an eminent Chinese scholar and numismatist: arranged in cards 5½ x 8 in. The references by numbers in red on the cards are to a translation of a Chinese work on Coins, “Chronicles of Cash: a New Arrangement” (See below, No. 1226a) references in black are to R. Wylie’s [sic] work, “Chinese Coins of the Ta-ts’ing Dynasty” (see below No. 1226b). Like most Chinese Coins, they are nearly all in a sort of bronze, varying in composition at different periods; they are generally carefully selected specimens, and it is said that many of the earlier ones are extremely rare. [nos 1182 – 1226b]

1226a   Brief notice of the Chinese work: “Chronicles of Tsien”: a new arrangement by C.B. Hillier; many hundreds of illustrations of Chinese coins from 2356 B.C. to 1623 A.D.; 8˚, paper. Hong Kong, 1852.

1226b   Chinese Coins of the Ta-Ts’ing, or present dynasty of China, by A. Wylie, with author’s autograph; hundreds of engravings; 8˚, paper. Hong Kong, 1857.


Doolittle’s grave in Sunset Hill Cemetery, Clinton, Oneida County, New York, USA (Source: Findagrave.com)

The Diary of Justus B. Doolittle, covering his life as a foreign missionary in Foochow [Fuzhou], China, until 1873 is in the Hamilton College collection (Clinton, NY), and a digital version is available here. A family photo is included at the end of the digital version – but there is something amiss here: the handwritten comments appear to be in three different hands, and the main caption has been questioned (with question marks in pencil).

justus doolittle photo

The caption appears to read “Rev [Justus B. Doolittle] from daguerrotype taken 1860 ??” (Source: Hamilton College Library – Digital Collections)

According to WU Xiaoxin’s Christianity in ChinaA Scholars’ Guide to Resources in the Libraries and Archives of the United States (Routledge, 2017, p.244) the diaries cover the period from c.1750 to 1783.


UPDATE (29 August 2017) – Wayne Holmen, editor of The E-Sylum, drew attention to this post, to which Bruce W. Smith left the following helpful comment (The E-sylum, Vol 20, No 33, Aug 13, 2017):

“You mentioned Helen Wang’s note on collector Justus Doolittle. He was an American missionary who lived in China from 1850 to 1873, mostly in the area of Foochow (now Fuzhou). His book, “Social Life of the Chinese”, contains a wealth of information on Chinese coins and amulets. I have a 1960’s reprint of the book, but have never seen the original with Wang Mang spade coin on the spine.

“His other book, “Vocabulary and Handbook of the Chinese Language”, is also very interesting. I have not seen Volume One, which I imagine is a Chinese-English dictionary, but Volume Two (695 pages) is a collection of miscellaneous information in Chinese and English, arranged in 85 chapters! Chapter 75 is on Chinese coinage and Chapter 79 is on the compradore and shroff. The latter is the employee responsible for examining and testing silver coins received in business, and the one who applied a chopmark to coins found acceptable. Volume Two is available as a print-on-demand reprint.

“Doolittle’s coin collection is a little more complicated that stated. According to American Journal of Numismatics, July 1866, Doolittle had already sold his collection to B. J. Lake, a Chicago banker, who loaned it to Lake Forest University. In 1872 the collection is said to have passed to Horace Fletcher of San Francisco. Then in June 1881 the collection was cataloged by W. Elliot Woodward and sold by Bangs & Company, consisting of lots 1425 through 1439. When Fletcher bought the collection, it consisted of 464 bronze coins.

“Alexander Del Mar (1836-1926) examined the collection and illustrated some of the coins in his “Monograph on the History of Money in China” (1881). This was reprinted in the American Journal of Numismatics in three parts during 1885. Most of the coins are actually forgeries, and my note on Del Mar’s monograph reads ‘A mass of misinformation; totally useless.’

“Doolittle’s diary he kept in China during 1850-1872, is at Hamilton College in Clinton, NY. For some comments on him see page 109 of “Autobiography & Across the Desert of Gobi” by Mark Williams [1834-1920].”


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