CIHA 2016 in Beijing

34th World Congress of Art History

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Wholesale collectibles:An example from “Kuhn & Komor, curio dealers in the East”

Session 16 Commodity and Market


Kuhn & Komor were one of the most important curio dealers in East Asia from 1894 onwards. With branches in Hong Kong, Yokohama, Kobe, Shanghai and Singapore, they were a key attraction for Western travelers doing the grand tour of East Asia. They did not only sell antiques but also modern artifacts, such as gold lacquer, carved furniture, Satsuma and cloisonné ware, and were therefore employing a number of the best craftsmen. This paper focuses on a collection of Japanese coins acquired by Major George Uvedale Price (1853-1929) and kept at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford University museum, UK. This collection includes more than 600 banknotes, ingots, genuine coins and imitations. A similar collection is kept at the Museum des Kulturen in Basel, Switzerland. These objects reveal how dealers in East Asia answered the demand for antiques (and in this case for coins) as commodities. K&K managed the lack of supply by creating objects that were a mixture of genuine antiques and imitations. They not only answered two requirements of collectors: the search for quantity and the need to display. They also made these composite objects appealing for clients by treating them as a new collectible, thus creating a new demand.


Lyce Jankowski is a specialist of Chinese numismatics. She is currently in charge of the East Asian coin collection of the Ashmolean Museum and is teaching East Asian numismatics to Oxford University students.
She studied Chinese Art History in Paris (Sorbonne University) and in Beijing (Beijing Shifan Daxue). Her doctorate researches were on Chinese numismatic history and coin collectors networks during the Qing dynasty. She previously taught Classical literature (Latin and Greek) in Secondary Education and Chinese archaeology at the Sorbonne University (Paris) and the Catholic Institute (Paris). Her research explores Chinese coin imitations and late forgeries, building of knowledge through scholar's networks and literary genres in Chinese numismatics. She recently curated the exhibition 'Pax Mongolica (1210-1350) - Coins of the Mongol Empire' at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.