Matthew Perry and his coins (some of which are medieval)

[This post inaugurates a brief period of unattended running till I get back from a rather complicated few days away during which I won’t be able to check on the blog. Please hang on for replies if you leave any comments, and see you all shortly.]

Commodore Matthew Perry, from a Japanese woodblock portrait

Commodore Matthew Perry, from a Japanese woodblock portrait

I try not to soak up too much of this blog with my day-to-day job since that isn’t ultimately how I want to spend my life, but when we do something shiny I like to share. Fellow Carolingianist Frances Parton, who has now left the Department, was just before she went able at last to set going a small display in the Fitzwilliam’s Glaisher Gallery about the coin collection of Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry, who was the leader of the US expedition of 1854 to open Japan to outside trade. This story is relatively well-known: Perry’s own account of it is online, and there is a splendid online exhibition at MIT of the different portrayals made by Easterners and Westerners at this point of contact with what was almost an uncontacted society, for at least the previous few centuries. What is less well-known, not least because Perry himself never mentioned it in his writing, was that he was also a coin collector, with a collection of more than 600 pieces from all over the world and from all through the history of coin use, and part of his collection is temporarily at the Museum. So we have the display, and we also have this online exhibition to go with, “Commodore Perry and the Opening of Japan. Naval Diplomat and Collector”. We’ve been very lucky in being able to raid the Library of Congress‘s image database; apart from that, I did some of the imaging and some of the coding, some more of the imaging was done by Amy Tufts, the database section was made magically operational by Dave Gunn inside a website framework made possible by Shaun Osborne, but the bulk of all of the cataloguing, imaging, design and HTML was done by Frances, so now that she’s at professional liberty again I advise any museum needing an addition to their staff to look most carefully. Also, anyone who might, you know, be interested in the material…

Bronze as of Emperor Claudius, from the Perry Collection

Bronze as of Emperor Claudius, from the Perry Collection

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