Report of the Director for the Year 1917

By: G. B. Gordon

Originally Published in 1917

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To the Contributing Members of the University Museum

The Museum started the year which is now coming to a close with a good outlook. There were many grounds for encouragement and we were able to look forward with continued confidence to a year of increased usefulness and larger activity. The loss sustained through the death of Mr. Coxe was in a measure repaired by the generous provision made by him in his will. The Museum is at the present time benefiting by this provision because it has within the year come into possession of Mr. Core’s bequest.

The City of Philadelphia for the first time made an appropriation from the public funds to supplement the funds of the Museum. The $25,000 appropriated by the City was given to sustain and reinforce a work already established and an educational institution which had been created for the welfare of the City without expense to itself. Whatever moneys the City may see fit from year to year to appropriate for this purpose is to be regarded as an investment on behalf of public education, because the collections acquired by the Museum either through these funds or through its own funds or through private gift are a part of the permanent educational equipment of the City and are free to the public at all times. These collections are increasing in value rapidly from year to year.

As we started upon the year 1917 Dr. Charles C. Harrison was elected President and the Board of Managers was strengthened by the election of Mr. C. Emory McMichael to fill the vacancy made by the death of Mr. Coxe.

The political and economic events of the year both at home and abroad, have been entirely unfavorable to constructive work in the Museum. Nevertheless it will be seen from this report that it has been one of the most successful years in the Museum’s history.

There have been several resignations. Mr. E. W. Clark, for some years a Vice-President, resigned from the Board after a long period of service during which he gave generously to the funds of the Museum.

Mr. B. Franklin Pepper, for twelve years Secretary and a member of the Board, resigned because he was about to enter the military service of the country.

Mr. George G. Heye resigned because, having acquired a lead- ing interest in a Museum in New York, he withdrew the collections which had been deposited by him in this Museum for eight years and will now devote all of his time to the development of the Museum of the American Indian.

The staff of Curators has been maintained at the same strength as last year except that Mr. H. U. Hall, the Assistant Curator of the Section of General Ethnology, entered the military service.

The Museum was kept open every day during the year and 53,594 persons visited the exhibitions.

The course of public lectures on Saturday afternoons was continued until March and was resumed again on the 10th of November, when Dr. Alexander Hamilton Rice gave a very interesting description of his South American explorations. On the same occasion the newly installed South American collections assembled by Dr. Farabee during his three years’ exploration in the Amazon valley were opened to the public. These exhibitions were seen and admired on that day by one thousand people. During the season of 1916-17 20,000 people attended the lecture course.

Teachers and pupils of the public schools have availed them- selves of the Wednesday afternoon lectures which are found by the teachers to supplement in a way satisfactory to them the work of the schoolroom.

In April last a special exhibition was arranged, of which the members of the Museum had a private view, and it was kept open to the public in its entirety for about three weeks. This special exhibition consisted of a number of Chinese works of art of a kind supplementary to the Museum’s collections; it also contained a series of European tapestries which were lent by the firm of P. W. French & Co. of New York. Three of these tapestries have since been removed and seven of them still remain hanging upon the walls of Harrison Hall as a loan.

The Eckley B. Coxe Jr. Egyptian Expedition continued its work during the year at Memphis with a short season at Dendereh. The reports received from Mr. Fisher, the Curator of the Egyptian Section, who is in charge of this expedition, show that at Memphis the expedition has undertaken a very important and highly creditable task of clearing the ruins of the Royal Palace of one of the ancient Pharaohs. Its foundations are buried at a depth of from eighteen to twenty feet in the debris, and the ruins of buildings of three later periods stand at different levels above it. As Memphis was the capital of Egypt and a city of first importance from its very earliest times until its latest, it was natural to expect that a royal palace at that place would be a structure of special interest and grandeur. It might be expected that discoveries would be made during these excavations which would enrich the collections in the Egyptian Section of the Museum. The discoveries of the Eckley B. Coxe Jr. Expedition have justified these expectations. Although the work is necessarily slow owing to the great depth and the great mass of material to be removed, we may feel satisfied that the results have repaid, in new collections for the Egyptian Section of the Museum, the money and labor that have been involved.

A large number of the objects discovered have been assigned by the Cairo authorities to the University Museum. These are at present stored in Egypt and will not be shipped until shipping is safer.

Although the present is obviously no time to begin building operations, it is proper that we should keep in mind at all times the needs of the building and that we should look forward to the time when conditions will be more favorable for the development of this part of our work. In this forward outlook the needs of the Egyptian Section are in the foreground. The new collections which the expedition now at work in Egypt is securing cannot be kept in the rooms of the Egyptian Section, nor is there any space in the present building which will be adequate to take care of these collections and make them properly available for the scientific and educational uses of the Museum. The only way in which these collections can be provided for will be the construction of a new wing for the Egyptian Section.

Although there has been no official expression on the part of the Board of Managers concerning these needs, I believe that I am justified in saying that the members of the Board individually and collectively recognize these facts and share the feeling that a new wing for the Egyptian Section bearing the name of the late President and constituting a suitable and dignified memorial to him and his work is one of the most important and agreeable tasks of the future. It is equally a duty to prosecute with vigor and continuously while the opportunity lasts, the assembling of collections so that the Egyptian Halls and their contents will together constitute a monument not inferior to anything of its kind in this country and one that will be in all respects worthy of the name of Mr. Eckley B. Coxe, Junior and his work.

An expedition was sent to China in February in charge of Mr. C. W. Bishop, Assistant Curator of the Section of Oriental Art, for the purpose of proceeding to the ancient capital of Sian-fu, for archælogical investigations. After his arrival in China several circumstances, including a revolution and floods, prevented Mr. Bishop from reaching his objective. In the meantime he reported that owing to the increased price of silver his estimates for expenses would have to be increased forty per cent. Owing to this unexpected increase and owing also to the general financial conditions created in this country by the war, it was decided in November to recall Mr. Bishop to this country and to withdraw the Chinese Expedition for the present from the field.

Letters have been received from time to time from Mr. Alexander Scott in India. Mr. Scott, as will be remembered, has been employed on special work for the Museum in assembling collections of the early art of India. The collections obtained, which consist of many examples of early sculpture and later metal work, are stored in Bombay. Mr. Scott is planning to come to America himself in the spring and to bring these collections with him.

Mr. Louis Shotridge continued throughout the year his work of collecting for the Museum in Southeastern Alaska. Mr. Van Valin was sent in June into the Arctic regions of Northern Alaska to make collections among the Eskimo there. He is spending the winter at or near Point Barrow. These two Alaskan expeditions have been provided for by the generosity of Mr. John Wanamaker, Vice President of the Board of Managers.

Dr. Stephen Langdon, Reader of Assyriology at Oxford University, who, having obtained a leave of absence from Oxford, was appointed Curator of the Babylonian Section of the University Museum for the year. He was given permission to return to Oxford in September. During the year Dr. Langdon catalogued and made accessible for scholars about 6,000 tablets in the collections obtained by the University’s expeditions to Nippur some years ago. In addition to this he helped students and scholars from the University of Pennsylvania, Bryn Mawr College, Columbia University, the University of Chicago and the General Theological Seminary of New York to make investigations and studies on their own behalf. He also gave instruction to these various students and scholars in his own special field. In addition to these labors he prepared from tablets in the Museum three volumes of texts and translations which were published by the Museum. He also prepared several articles for the MUSEUM JOURNAL dealing with tablets of special interest in the Babylonian Section of the Museum.

The most important single acquisition made during the year is the large Chinese sculpture which now stands in Harrison Hall opposite the entrance and which bears upon the pedestal the name of Mr. James B. Ford, the donor. Mr. Ford generously gave all of the money to acquire this magnificent piece of sculpture.

Other gifts of objects have been received from Dr. H. C. Wood, Dr. Charles D. Hart, Col. Joseph U. Crawford, Samuel P. Hanson, J. Maxwell Bullock, Miss Lydia T. Morris, Miss Alice M. Freeman, Miss Florence Sibley, Mrs. J. William White, Mrs. Westray Ladd, Miss Helen M. Campbell, Mrs. Hampton L. Carson, Miss Frances A. Roberts, Miss Elizabeth Lowry.

The Library of the Museum has received from Mrs. Charles Brinton Coxe the set of Curtis’ North American Indian which was the property of the late President, Mr. Eckley B. Coxe, Jr. The Library has also received from Mr. Charles P. Bowditch a reproduction of the MS dictionary of the Quiche Language of Guatemala.

Loans have been received from Mr. Hiram W. Hixon, Mr. John B. Stetson and Mrs. J. Kearsley Mitchell.

The purchases made during the year from the general Expedition and Collection Fund have been $81,051, distributed through all sections of the Museum. The Section of Oriental Art, in addition to Mr. Ford’s gift of the fine Wei Dynasty statue, has acquired a very fine example of an ancient Chinese rug and sixty-six additional porcelains from the Morgan collection. The collection of Persian art was also increased by some textiles and potteries and bronzes.

The Section of Greek and Roman Art acquired the fine grave stele of the Fourth Century B. C., together with a number of supremely fine examples of painted Greek vases.

In the American Section acquisitions were made extending from Mexico to the Arctic and including a very important collection of Mexican jade and gold ornaments.

The collections in the Babylonian Section and the Section of General Ethnology have also been enlarged during the year by purchases, while the Library has continued to grow by a careful selection of the standard works which relate directly to the activities of the Museum.

During the year new members were elected as follows. Four Fellowship, nineteen Sustaining and one hundred and sixty-two Annual.

It can be said without reservation with regard to the acquisitions made during the year by gift and by purchase, that these are not surpassed in interest or importance by any former year in the Museum’s history and are equaled by only one or two.

We have lost some of our workmen and some of our trained assistants. One of the curators, Mr. H. U. Hall, is in the army and five of the workmen and office assistants have gone into Government employ for higher pay. We will not attempt at this time to replace these people, some of whom have received special training for their posts. Their loss means that the work will be harder for those who remain and also that some of the work will not be done, but we intend to manage in such a way during the coming year that the work will be adequately taken care of and so that the collections shall not suffer.

These losses in the personnel which I have mentioned are a direct result of the war, but, everything considered, the Museum has fared very well in this respect.

In other respects also the interests of the Museum are likewise directly affected. At the same time that funds from private sources are necessarily more restricted, the cost of many of the materials needed in the Museum has risen greatly in some instances. In other instances these materials cannot be procured at all. The most serious example of this kind which we have to contend with is the increased cost of exhibition cases. This has been so marked that during the last year we have had no new cases at all, although these were much needed in the installation of the new collections.

A fourth condition which comes into the closest possible relation with our work is the great scarcity and increased cost of all good works of art of every kind from all parts of the world. The objects in which the Museum is interested afforded by the markets of the world since the war began have been very much less in number than in the years immediately preceding. During the last three and a half years the prices of all such objects have risen in a striking manner. The few things that have changed hands in the sales in Europe during this past summer have fetched higher prices than had ever been fetched before. This, of course, is exactly the condition that might have been anticipated as a result of the war, although it is exactly the reverse of what most Museums expected.

Whatever may be the difficulties, it is not the purpose of the University Museum to relax its efforts during these times, but rather to increase its exertions on behalf of the interests that are represented in its activities. There never has been a time when the value and usefulness of the Museum and its work have been more apparent than today. While the larger and necessary tasks for which the Government of the country is responsible and in which everybody shares, are being carried forward towards a successful conclusion, the Museum will continue to do its part on behalf of education and the public welfare. It will continue to provide, among other things, the best and most effective form of relaxation from the strain to which everyone will be subjected in the months and years that lie in the foreground of our experience.

G. B. Gordon,

Cite This Article

Gordon, G. B.. "Report of the Director for the Year 1917." The Museum Journal Supplement, no. 1917 (December, 1917): 243-249. Accessed June 17, 2024.

This digitized article is presented here as a historical reference and may not reflect the current views of the Penn Museum.

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