“Chinese Coins from the Scholar’s Study” at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, opened on 25 April. It closes on Sunday 24 September. It’s a small, but thoughtful display and well worth a visit if you can make it.
Curated by Dr Lyce Jankowski, it draws on the superb collection of East Asian money in the Heberden Coin Room at the Ashmolean Museum. There is an informative, and well illustrated piece – Chinese Coins from a Scholar’s Study – written by Lyce for The E-sylum, vol. 20, No.26 (June 25, 2017), Article 22 – and a shorter notice in Coins Weekly (15 June 2017).
The title “Chinese Coins from a Scholar’s Study” reflects Lyce’s research into the history and context of collecting, including her PhD “Les cercles de collectionneurs et de numismates dans la région de Pékin durant la première moitié du XIXème siècle” [A social network of coin collectors and numismatists around Beijing during the first half of the nineteenth century: exchanging coins and ideas] (2012). I’ve made a quick translation of the abstract below:
“The period from the end of the 18th to the first half of the 19th century was a golden age in Chinese numismatics. Following the publication of the Qinding qianlu 欽定錢錄 [Imperially endorsed record of coins] in 1751, numerous collectors developed an interest in coins and published catalogues, monographs and scholarly studies. Applying the methodology of evidential scholarship (kaozhengxue 考证学), they brought about a methodological revolution in the field of numismatics. The most representative work of this period is Li Zuoxian’s Guquanhui 李佐贤：《古泉汇》, published in 1864, which brought together the collections and ideas of a community of collectors who corresponded regularly, exchanged coins, rubbings and books, and met from time to time. By examining the correspondence among members of this circle, and the exchanges (sales and gifts) among collectors in the capital, it is possible to understand the extent to which informal exchanges contributed to the development of scholarly criteria in Chinese numismatics, and to unprecedented advances in the field. This study seeks to determine how the social network of collectors contributed to the very significant advances made during this period. It traces the emergence of science as a requirement of research among private collectors, and discusses the relationship between collectors’ taste and scholarly historical reflection.”
The title of the display is also a clever variation of the term “scholar’s studio”, which is often used for exhibitions and books featuring Chinese art, calligraphy, brushes, inkstones, books, rubbings and so on. It is an elegant way of (re-)introducing Chinese coin-collecting into the scholar-collector milieu. This point was neatly made at the Ashmolean by showing two complementary exhibitions at the same time: “Chinese Coins from a Scholar’s Study” and “Collecting the Past: Scholars’ Taste in Chinese Art” (an exhibition of Chinese paintings, 21 March – 22 October 2017), and by the events associated with both displays.
Lyce Jankowski was awarded a Sackler Fellowship (2014-2017) to study the collection of East Asian coins at the Ashmolean Museum. During the last three years, she has transformed the collection – researching the collection and its history, re-arranging it, labelling it, and has made great progress in cataloguing it. She has also been active in the fields of numismatics and art history, and has given presentations about the collection at seminars, symposia, workshops and conferences. For details, see her short video The East Asian Coins Project at the Ashmolean Museum and the papers and presentations she has posted on her academia.edu page.
Unfortunately, the Sackler Fellowship has come to an end, and Lyce has returned to Paris, where she will be teaching at the Université Paris Diderot – Langues et Civilisations de l’Asie Orientale (LCAO).
Lyce’s work at the Ashmolean makes this important collection accessible as never before. It also enables us to understand other collections more fully. For example, there are many links between the East Asian money collections at the Ashmolean Museum and the British Museum – Kutsuki Masatsuna’s collection, for example, is split between the British Museum (where it was known as The Tamba Collection) and the Ashmolean Museum. I wrote a history of Kutsuki Masatsuna’s collection in Catalogue of the Japanese Coin Collection at the British Museum (2010) and took the story as far as I could – the entire collection was offered to the BM, the BM purchased some of it, and the rest was donated to the Indian Institute, and subsequently transferred to the Ashmolean. Lyce’s work means we can now trace the story further.
UPDATE 27 Sept 2017 – for information about this display in Chinese, see 《牛津大学艺术与考古博物馆举办中国钱币特展》