Des Moines

Han Dynasty Vases Rise From The Grave

The Weeks collected a wide variety of art and objects during their life time, and as the owners of Salisbury House used the many rooms to display their wares. In order to compile such a vast and unique collection, Carl in particular, worked with a number of dealers from around the world – today’s objects came from the Asian Antique Dealer, Edward Barrett.

Edward Barrett at the Great Wall of China

Carl made the acquaintance of Barrett in 1927 after expressing interest in acquiring Chinese antiques. Barrett was described as a short, sharp-faced, keen-looking man who was a metallurgist before transitioning into the the field of art dealership. In his introduction letter to Carl, Barrett referenced his other buyers and skill with language to prove his authenticity.

Per a letter from Edward Barrett to Carl dated March 9th, 1927

As this is our first dealing together, I would like to refer you any of these institutions, if you wish. The following people are among the most prominent ones; Mr. Steward Culin, of the Oriental Department of the Brooklyn Museum; Dr. E. B. Titchener, of Cornell University, Ithaca, New York; I am also well known to Dr. B. Laufer, internationally known curator of the Oriental Department of the Field Museum in Chicago: et.

I have been to China eleven different times; twice I went around the world (both east and westward). I speak Russian, Mongolian, and Mandarin Chinese. I am the only American that ever lived any length of time at Urga, The Capital of the Mongols (having lived there a year). I was formerly Chief Metallurgist for the Imperial Russian Government for all of Mongolia. So I am quite sure that I have more knowledge of the Mongols than any one else. Hence it is not difficult for me to get many things out of Mongolia that no other white man ever hears of.

Sales photo for the Han Vases

On May 16, 1927, Barrett contacted Carl about a pair of bronze vases dating to the Han Dynasty. Offered for the price of $1,000.00, Carl purchased the vases on November 25th, 1927, but only did so after his own people confirmed authenticity.

Han Dynasty Vase sketches – 9 inch high, 3 inch base

In his sales invoice, Barrett detailed a thrilling provenance full of discovery, excavation, possible grave theft, and intrigue. The documents associated with the vases stated that they were excavated by Edward Barrett in 1922 from an ancient Han dynasty grave in the provenance of Hunan, China, near the city of Cheng Chow.

The Han Dynasty – extending from 206 BC to 220 AD – was the second imperial dynasty of China and is considered by many scholars to be a golden age in Chinese history. Known for economic prosperity, the Han Dynasty saw the growth of a money driven economy and expansion of the empire through militaristic conquests.

The two vases are described by Barrett as being “evacuated at a depth of fifty feet below the surface, showing that many layers of earth had formed over the original burial place,” and “have a fine greenish patina and some iron rust from their long period in the grave,” along with a “conventional design”.

Characters read – ” Mong Giang Fu Dzo Bao Yung”

Both vases have inscriptions on the base in Han characters, also known as Sinitic language. According to Barrett, the six character inscription states – “Mong Giang Fu Dzo Bao Yung,” or in English, “The father of Mong-giang had these made for precious use.” Mong-gaing was a prominent female politician in ancient China. She is mentioned in Confucius’ The Spring and Autumn Annals. The ‘precious use’ listed in the inscription likely refers to the inclusion as a grave good.

Per Barrett’s notes on the objects, “the Chinese are adverse generally to having excavations made, and having great reverence for their ancestors, hence not many graves or tombs have been opened. Another thing is that owing to the lapse of so many centuries, all traces of the burial places have disappeared, and only occasionally have such grave bronzes been found.” Based on this omission, one can only speculate as to weather Barrett acquired these bronzes through legal methods.

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