Features appear in each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage showcasing a variety of subjects from various periods and geographic locations in Pennsylvania.

The American Revolution ended with the surrender of the British at the Virginia tobacco port of Yorktown on October 19,1781. For merchant traders eager to engage in commerce with China, the war would not be over until a treaty with Great Britain recognizing American independence was signed. The British Acts of Trade had forbidden the import of any goods into the colonies that had not passed through Britain first and the British East India Company held a monopoly on trade with the Far East. Until Great Britain agreed that America was free of restriction by British law, no American vessel could dock at Whampoa Reach in the Pearl River, twelve miles south of Canton (now Guang-zhou), the only Chinese port open to commerce with the West. The Treaty of Paris, signed in September 1783, was the official signal for the first American trading ship, Empress of China to sail out of New York harbor on February 22,1784. Robert Morris (1734-1806) of Philadelphia was the principal investor in the venture.

The most prominent of the investors and probably the wealthiest American of his day, Morris had played a major role in securing freedom for the new nation. By the age of sixteen he had apprenticed with Charles Willing,a prosperous Philadelphia merchant. After Willing’s death four years later, Morris entered a partnership with his son, Thomas Willing. Willing ,Morris and Company’s successful investments in trade, shipping, and finance made Morris wealthy, enabling him to invest heavily in the Empress of China.

The Empress of China opened commercial and cultural relations between the world’s youngest and oldest countries. Morris and fellow investors filled the 360-ton merchant ship with lead, wine tar, turpentine, casks o f silver dollars, and ginseng, a cargo valued at $120,000 (the equivalent of nearly a million and a half dollars today).The return on their investment amounted to $30,727 – a staggering 25 percent! In the tumultuous years that followed, hundreds of merchants, speculators, and ship captains from East Coast seaports would seek their fortunes in the China trade, but few had any interest in the Far East beyond accumulating enough money to return home to a life of luxury. Two individuals of vision and curiosity who contributed significantly to knowledge of China were intimately associated with Philadelphia as businessmen and as residents. Their stories, although very different, trace interesting parallels and add a noble dimension to a history of commerce that is often considered callous, corrupt, and cruel.

Andreas Everardus van Braam Houckgeest (1739-1801), generally known as Andreas Braam was born in the Utrecht province of the Netherlands but became an American citizen at the age of forty-five. Upon retiring from the China trade, he settled seventeen miles north of Philadelphia, bringing with him a fabled treasure trove of Chinese arts, furniture, and porcelain, and notes on Chinese geography, natural history, and way of life. Nathan Dunn (1782-1844), born of Quaker parents in Piles Township, Salem County, in southern New Jersey, engaged in business in Philadelphia, and considered it his home. His business venture failed,and to recoup his fortunes, he set out to establish a trading house in Cantonthat would serve the interests of local merchants. While van Braam gravitated to the finest of Chinese arts and studiously acquired a thorough knowledge of the country, Dunn was more curious about the details of Chinese daily life and assembled a comprehensive collection of “everyday” objects and artifacts associated with mundane professions, ordinary individuals, and domestic pursuits. He, too, returned to Philadelphia with his eclectic bounty, establishing a museum to introduce the public to an appreciation of the lives of Chinese people. Van Braam left Pennsylvania just two years after his arrival and returned to Holland, apparently distressed b y what he considered shabby treatment, most likely a dispute concerning financial matters. Dunn became a pillar of Philadelphia society, generously supporting civic, charitable, and educational institutions, but a lawsuit alleging immoral conduct later led him to move his Chinese collection to London. Both van Braam and Dunn died within a few years of reaching Europe.

In 1756, at the age of seventeen, van Braam enlisted in the Dutch navy as a midshipman. By the time he turned nineteen, he had quit the navy and went to work as a supercargo for the venerable and powerful Dutch East India Company,founded in 1602, which held a monopoly on trade between Dutch ports and the East. During the China trade, a supercargo was an agent who consummated transactions for the sale or purchase of cargo in Canton, a position as important to the commercial success of the voyage as the ship’s captain. Van Braamserved int his capacity in both Macao and Canton until 1773. During a voyage to visit family in the Netherlands in 1763, he had stopped in Capetown, Cornelia Geertruida van Reede van Oudtshoorn, daughter of Baron van Reede van Oudtshoorn , governor of the Dutch Cape colony. His wife’s impressive pedigree may have prompted him to adopt the Houckgeest surname of his maternal grandmother who came from a family of artists. By 1773,van Braam had done well enough to retire to his homeland and enjoy the pursuits of a country gentleman in the rural province of Gelderland. While enjoying the luxuries his success afforded him, van Braam became keenly interested in the American colonies struggle for independence. “I must tell you, Monsieur, in the first place,” he wrote to Benjamin Franklin in 1777, “that I am entirely devoted to the Americans and their cause, and so I learn of all their advances with joy as it it were my own good fortune.” He brought his wife and five children to Charleston, South Carolina, in 1783, becoming an American citizen the following year, but a series of tragedies plagued van Braam and his family.

He tried his hand at overseeing a rice plantation and a store, but neither venture proved successful, leaving him in financial straits. Even worse, his four youngest children died in a diphtheria epidemic in the fall of 1784. By 1788, he had rejoined the Dutch East India Company, this time as resident director or head of factory, in Canton. (A “factory” in the parlance of the China trade was a complex that included businesses offices, warehouses, and living quarters for employees of foreign companies.) Van Braam departed Charleston in 1788, sailing for the Netherlands, where he left his wife and daughter Francoise Constantia Carolina Maria, born in 1785. His eldest child, Everarda Cathrarina Sophia (1765-1816), who had married, in 1785, Richard Brooke Roberts (circa 1758-1797), a professional American soldier, remained in America. Within a year after Roberts died, she married Staats Morris (1765-1826), son of Lewis Morris, signer of the Declaration of Independence, further strengthening the family’s ties with the Unit States.

Just three years after he arrived in Canton, her father wrote to Everarda, in 1793,that he had “accumulated a fortune sufficient to have a happy life at some fine countryseat in Holland” and that he intended to leave China. He had assembled a considerable collection of fine furniture, porcelain, and export wares, including a dinner service intended as a gift for Martha Washington. Fate intervened, however presenting an exciting opportunity he could not refuse.

He was selected to be part of a delegation to Beijing to offer felicitations to the self-styled Ch’ien Lung emperor (1711-1799), celebrating the sixtieth year of his reign. Ch’ien Lung, whose reign spanned from 1736 to 1795, among the most intellectual of China’s leaders and encouraged artists and artisans to create works of outstanding beauty and elegance. A true connoisseur he commissioned and collected priceless works of art with which he filled the imperial palace. The significance of this honor was not merely an opportunity to meet Ch’ien Lung and the rich and politically powerful of China. For van Braam and fellow participants, it was a rare chance to see what few Westerners had observed first hand – cities and villages in the interior of the mysterious country!

The Chinese suspected that the motives of Western traders were not purely commercial, and they bitterly resented the ravages that the opium trade inflicted on their citizenry. The opium trade had blossomed because the Chinese refused to purchase manufactured goods or foodstuffs from some countries; they would trade chiefly in several commodities, among them furs, ginseng, tobacco, copper, and mercury. They preferred payment in silver coinage or specie. Some ship captains circumvented this difficulty by stopping in Europe or in Africa on their way to China and trading their American-made cargoes for silver or products the Chinese would likely purchase. Unscrupulous others exchanged part of their cargoes in India for opium, a highly addictive narcotic drug prepared from the dried juice of unripe pods of the opium poppy, an annual plant with grayish-green leaves and variously colored flowers. Chinese laws prohibited the import of opium, but addiction grew so widespread and the demand so monstrous that corrupt officials could be handily bribed to overlook the contraband. For these reasons, China’s officials forbade Western merchants and adventures to travel beyond Canton.

Because few reliable published reports on Chinese geography, natural history and culture were available in the West, van Braam quickly grasped the uniqueness of the opportunity. He assembled a staff of secretaries, interpreters, physicians, and artists to assist him with making records, maps, and images of what he saw. He penned his diary entries of the journey in French, and, upon returning to the United States, had then translated into English and published in two volumes in Philadelphia by French emigre, M. L. E. Moreau de Saint Mery in 1797 and 1798. He added the tomes entitled An Authentic Account of the Embassy of the Dutch East-India Company to the Court of the Emperor of China in the Years 1794 and 1795, to a thirty-eight volume encyclopedia he had compiled and illustrated with the help of artists he had employed between 1790 and 1795. Subjects ranged from Chinese geography and natural history to manners, customs, and fine arts. Knowledgeable individuals in Canton helped supply much of the information. Van Braam collected furniture, decorative porcelains, and curious objects of fine craftsmanship purely for his personal pleasure.

Van Braam’s interest extended also to Chinese garden architecture. The few Western visitors who had been permitted to see gardens before him described them as incomprehensible, chaotic jumbles of rocks. Although it was mid-winter when he arrived in Beijing, van Braam was given tours of the Forbidden City, the imperial palace complex in the heart of the city, and the gardens of the old summer palace, the Yuan Ming Yuan. Despite the ice and snow, he noted “rocks piled upon one another in stupendous manner” and a “pleasant winding road, neatly paved with little pebbles, overshadowed by trees, passing sometimes ov hills, and sometimes through vallies.” He surmised that “in summer [it would be] a most delightful promenade.” On a sleigh ride along a frozen canal, he observed, “Its banks are composed of rocks, which, being used instead of bricks or stones, have taken, under the hand of man, a form which they seem only to have received from nature.” His appreciation of Chinese landscape art was not merely a passing, casual observation. “With what pleasure would I have sacrificed a sum of money to obtain a plan,” he wrote in another passage, “and a dozen of the most interesting views of this magnificent summer palace.” The Yuan Ming Yuan was destroyed by the British and the French in 1860 during the Second Opium War.

Given van Braams’s enchantment with all things Chinese, it’s not surprising that he built China’s Retreat (known also as China Retreat and China Hall) in Bucks County, at Croydon, three miles south of Bristol, on the Delaware River, after he arrived in Philadelphia o n April 24, 1796. His ship, the Lady Louisa, carried a cargo of sugar, wine, and brandy, as well as the belated “box of China for Lady Washington,” described by Martha Washington in her will as “the sett of china that was given me by Mr. van Braam, every piece having M.W. on it,” which she bequeathed to her grandson, George Washington Parke Custis. Items from the forty-five piece porcelain tea service in what has been called the “States” pattern, are highly prized by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian Institution, the White House, the Virginia Historical Society, Winterthur Museum and Count Estate, and Mount Vernon.

A sketch of China’s Retreat by friend and neighbor, artist William Russell Birch (1755-1834), depicts a residence with a pagoda-like cupola on the roof and curled eaves, which van Braam decorated with his exotic furniture an fine art. The house, with fifteen rooms, was commodious, and “the music room for his daughter was the width of the house, with vaulted roof, gilded and frescoed, and was noted for its fine acoustic qualities.” Birch included his portrait of China’s Retreat in Country Houses of the United States of North America, a book of twenty color plates, published in 1808 to promote taste in architecture and landscape design. In addition to his Chinese furnishings, van Braam also kept a library which included two thousands drawings of China and its inhabitants. The basement of the house was devoted to kitchens, servants’ quarters, dairy, wine cellars, pantry and store rooms, all paved in blue marble. The grounds included a stable for eighteen horses, coach house for a dozen carriages, barn, cattle stables, poultry houses, cider press, ice house, gardens, and peach, apple, and cherry orchards. After a career marked by ligh adventure in far-off lands, the fifty-seven year-old van Braam welcomed luminaries of his day to China’s Retreat, where they discussed international politics and commerce, especially trade with China.

Several Chinese servants arrived with van Braam aboard the two-hundred-ton Lady Louisa, and were among the earliest groups of Chinese immigrants to the United States. He and his unusual retinue at­tracted much attention wherever they trav­eled-crowds followed his carriage with its Chinese coachman and footmen through the streets of Philadelphia. Birch recalled watching his neighbor, with “his Eight Chinese in white,” plying the Delaware River. People clamored to see the collection of the individual they hailed as the “Chinese Embassador.” Philadelphians claimed van Braam as a local celebrity. He obvi­ously enjoyed the spectacle he created, whether in the city or in the country, but his happiness in Pennsylvania was fleeting.

By 1798, van Braam – whose grand­son Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Rob­erts described him as “deficient in pa­tience” and “possessed of the most un­governable temper” – had resolved to return to the Netherlands, confiding in Birch that “he could never rest where he had been so ill-treated.” The volatile and impulsive van Braam sold China’s Retreat, situated on approximately three hundred and sixty acres, to Walter Sims (circa 1760-1820), a ship’s captain, for eleven thousand pounds on July 2, 1798. He gave articles from his vast collection to daughter Eve­rarda that ultimately descended in her family in the United States (and several of which the Metropolitan Museum of Art included in its 1941 exhibition, “The China Trade and its Influences”). He sold at least one piece locally, an elegant rosewood bookcase with a door joined in a “cracked ice” design, to an unidentified Philadelphian in 1798. The Philadelphia Museum of Art even­tually acquired the bookcase, bearing van Braam’s initials, in 1970 (the same year, incidentally, that China’s Retreat was destroyed). Van Braam sold fifty­-eight lots on February 16, 1799, at the London auction rooms of Christie’s in what was to be the first of several sales. Subsequent sales never materi­alized, however, leading more than one historian to conjecture that the remainder of his collection was lost at sea en route to England. A few pieces descended among family members in the Netherlands upon his death at the age of sixty-two in Amsterdam in 1801.

Born to a Quaker family in 1782, Nathan Dunn was accepted in 1802, at the age of twenty, into the Monthly Meeting of Friends in Philadelphia. As a young man, he engaged in mercantile businesses until 1816, when it became apparent that he could not satisfy his mounting debts. The Philadelphia Meeting banned him on the grounds that he had favored some creditors over others, that he know­ingly and willfully overextended his credit, and that he had given “insuf­ficient evidence that he was qua!Hied to see his error.” Anxious to recoup his fortunes and restore his reputation, Dunn sailed in 1818 for Canton, where he remained twelve years, procuring rhubarb, tea, silks, porcelains, furni­ture, lacquer ware, and other valuable commodities for Philadelphia mer­chants in exchange for American gin­seng, mercury, lead, glassware, stoves, and tobacco. Under no circumstances would he trade in opium.

Because Dunn refused to deal in the opiate, he became a favorite among the hong merchants, who served as inter­mediaries between foreign traders and the Chinese, and among artists who painted portraits of foreign merchants and ship captains and their vessels. The hongs in­troduced Dunn to their customs and practices of daily life and to the artifacts people used in their homes and occupations. He began acquiring a few rare and curious artifacts, but his insatiable acquisitiveness swiftly ac­counted tor a comprehensive collection that reflected many aspects of Chinese life and included tools, clothing, fur­niture, table articles, and ceremonial objects. William Whiteman Wood, a Philadelphian who had established the English language Canton Register, sup­plied Dunn with natural history speci­mens, including animals that taxider­mists had prepared. His artist-friends created pictures of Chinese scenes and he commissioned life-sized (and life-like) figures representing merchants, religious functionaries, craftsmen, and men and women of the upper classes that could be displayed with tile items they used.

Dunn remained in China until 1831, accumulating a considerable fortune in addition to his collection of artifacts. His decision to leave may have been influenced by fears that the burgeoning opium trade would lead to war between China and the Western trading nations. A statement he includ­ed in the catalogue of the museum he established in Philadelphia leaves little doubt about his perception of the illegal and immoral nature of the trade and of his sympathy with the Chinese resolve to eradicate it. He pointed out that the annual profits of twenty million dollars from the trade that was shipped from China in the form of bullion and taken to London, “kept specie in England from seven to nine percent below par.” If the Chinese were to put a stop to the opium trade, the currencies of England and the United States would suffer serious conse­quences. Yet, he concluded, “if the sum were ten times as great as it is, it could not affect the question in its moral bear­ings. No amount of pecuniary advantage can make that right which is wrong in itself. Opium is a poison, destructive alike of the health and morals of those who use it habitually, and, therefore, the traffic in it … is nothing less than making merchandise of the bodies and souls of men . .. The introduction of opium into China is contrary to the laws of the land and consequently can be ef­fected only by an act of public and gross dishonesty.”

Despite the Philadelphia Meeting’s estimation a dozen years earlier that Dunn was morally deficient, when he returned to the city one of his first gestures was to host a dinner for former creditors and to place under the plate of each payment for the amount he owed plus accumulated interest. He built a “Chinese cottage” in Mount Holly, New Jersey, as a summer house, where his half-sisters Rhoda Osborne and Phoebe Osborn served as hostesses. Philadelphia architect John Notman (1810-1865) designed the cottage-located across the Delaware, just ten miles from van Braam’s palatial China’s Retreat – which drew the attention of many. Architect and arbiter of the taste of his day, A. J. Downing, lauded Dunn’s residence as “one of the most unique specimens of domestic architecture in the coun­try.” Downing reproduced a drawing and ground floor plan of the cottage in A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening, published in 1841.

Dunn threw himself into the cultural and philanthropic life of Philadelphia, becoming a member of the American Philosophical Society and the Academy of Natural Sciences, a manager of the Philadelphia House of Refuge, a founder of Laurel Hill Cemetery, and a bene­factor of Haverford College, which he helped save from insolvency with a gift of more than twenty thousand dollars in 1840.

His most significant achievement was the creation of a Chinese Museum in 1838. Dunn’s museum was part of a reorganized version of Charles Willson Peale’s Philadelphia Museum Company, originally a display of natural history specimens. Peale’s grandson, Escoll Sell­ers, persuaded Dunn to join the board of directors of the Philadelphia Museum Company and suggested he exhibit his collection on the main floor of a new building to be built for exhibitions at Ninth and George (now Sansom) Streets. Dunn put up twenty thousand dollars (the equivalent of more than three hundred thousand dollars today) to buy the land for the building and leased the ground floor from the museum compa­ny for sixteen hundred dollars annually for ten years. His exhibit opened on De­cember 22, 1838, to great public acclaim. He invited more than one hundred of the city’s intelligentsia to an opening reception to view the objects and life­like costumed figures depicting nearly every aspect of Chinese life, from the Mandarin, or upper class, to the working class of blacksmiths, soldiers, actors, and artisans.

Philadelphian Sidney George Fisher (1809-1871) attained significant distinction for his writings on political and constitutional questions during the Civil War era to merit inclusion in the lofty Dictionary of American Biography. He chronicled the city’s social scene for nearly forty years, from 1834 to three days before his demise on July 25, 1871. His ebullient description of Dunn’s exhibition typified the excite­ment shared by curious museum-goers, about one hundred thousand of whom each paid twenty-five cents to visit the exhibit over three years. (Half of these visitors also purchased copies of Dunn’s exhibition catalogue.) Fisher and a friend toured the Chinese Museum on Christmas Day in 1838, a visit which the diarist recorded.

At 10 George Smith came in and we went to see Mr. Nathan Dunn’s museum of Chinese curiosities, opened for the first time yesterday. It is arranged in the lower room of the fine building lately erected by the Philad: Museum, and certainly nothing could be more interesting or more splendid. Mr. Dunn is a bachelor of large fortune, which he accumulated during a long residence in China, and whilst there he amused himself by collecting this vast and magnificent assemblage, which cost $50,000 there and $8000 to put it in order for exhibition. It now forms part of the Museum, and a permanent ornament & honor to our city, and is a spectacle unique in its kind and 1 suppose unequalled in any country. It exhibits a perfect picture of Chi­nese life. Figures of natural size, admirably executed in a species of fine clay, all of them portraits of individuals, are there to be seen, dressed in the appropriate costume, engaged in their various avocations, and surrounded by the furniture, implements and material objects of daily existence. The faces are expressive, the attitudes natural, the situations & grouping well conceived, and the aspect of the whole very striking and lifelike. Mandarins, priests, soldiers, ladies of quality, gentlemen of rank, play­-actors and slaves; a barber, a shoemaker and a blacksmith employed in their trades; the shop of a merchant with purchasers buying goods, the drawing room of a man of fortune, with his visitors smoking and drinking tea & servants in attendance; all sitting, standing, almost talking, with the dress, furniture and accom­paniments of actual life. Some of the costumes are of the richest & most gorgeous description, and the furniture is exceedingly beautiful. I had no idea that the Chinese were so luxurious & refined. In addition to these figures there is a vast variety of articles of every description. Models of country houses and boats, weapons, lamps, pictures, vases, images of Gods, and porcelain vessels, many of them most curious and beautiful, and in a number, infinite. Mr. Dunn was in the room himself and explained to us the nature and uses of many things. All the figures and pictures were done by native artists. He has not had time as yet, & will not have room even in that large hall, to arrange all his treasures. Noth­ing could be better conceived or executed than the whole affair, and it is highly creditable to his taste and liberality. The profits, after paying current expenses, are, I understand,to be given to some charitable institution. He certainly could not have spent his money in a way that would give more pleasure to others, or afford more satisfaction to himself Staid there, & highly interested and pleased, till 12.

Two years later, in 1840, Englishman James Silk Buckingham, much taken by Dunn’s collection, wondered aloud if its proprietor had considered relocating it to England. Dunn at the time found him­self embroiled in a scandalous lawsuit in which a Lewis Curry charged him with making indecent advances “Ln the pit of the Walnut Street theatre” in 1835. Com­monwealth v. Dunn – the first reported sodomy case in Pennsylvania and among the first in the nation – ultimately reached the Pennsylvania Circuit Court, where a judge on November 10, 1841, determined the plaintiff’s case to be “steeped in perjury, marked with contradictions and impossibilities, and wholly unsustained by a shadow of proof.” (Cur­ry had apparently engaged a third party, an individual identified as Sheppard, in “a conspiracy to extort money” from Dunn.) The judge dismissed Curry’s accusations as blatant blackmail – but not without chiding Dunn for “weakness, a morbid sensitiveness, and want of that knowledge of human nature, which nothing but an acknowledged benevolence can justify or excuse, in yielding to these extortions.” The unpleasantness of the experience may have prompted Dunn to consider leaving Philadelphia, at least for a time.

In 1841, Quaker philanthropist, politician, and abolitionist Joseph Sturge (1793-1859), of England, traveled in the United States with American poet John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892) to exam­ine the slavery issue. He visited Philadel­phia and toured the Chinese Museum, after which he recommended Dunn move his collection to London. Sturge recognized the value of Dunn’s artifacts as a resource from which “one may learn more of the Chinese than by the labori­ous perusal of all the works extant upon them that have ever been written.” De­signed by Notman in the Chinese style, a building was constructed for display of the collection at St. George’s Place and Hyde Park Corner, and Dunn notified Philadelphia Museum officials that he intended to remove his display. London­ers embraced the exhibition with as much enthusiasm as had Philadelphians. William B. Langdon, whom Dunn knew in China and the United States, assumed the role of the collection’s curator in London and ex­panded and revised the exhibition cata­logue. Langdon also christened the collection “The Chinese World in Miniature.” Periodicals of the day claimed that Dunn had escorted Queen
Victoria and Prince Albert on a private tour.

Dunn had little time to enjoy the renown of his collection in England; he died of malaria in Vevey, Switzerland, on September 19, 1844. Without his stewardship, the collection languished. Tt was sent on a tour of the English provinces and then returned to the United States, although nearly half of the objects had disappeared. The re­mainder found its way to P.T. Barnum’s museum in New York. In December 1851, the surviving pieces were sold at auction in London and scattered, just as van Braam’s had been. During a four-day celebration in Norristown in September 1884 to mark the centennial of the creation of Montgomery County, Norristown resident Phoebe P. Aaron displayed “Two large china Bowls, 140 and 150 years old,” described as having been “Brought from China by Nathan Dunn, whilst owner of the Chinese Museum in Philadelphia.” A century later, in 1984, the Philadelphia Museum of Art mounted an exhibition commemorating the role of Philadelphians in the China trade, but not a single piece of porcelain, ivory, lacquer, silver, or furniture from Dunn’s collection could be identified for inclusion. Only a portrait of the collector by British artist George Chinnery (1744-1852), who fled in 1825 to Macao to escape his debts, remained in the possession of the family. The painting, created about 1830, descended through the family for nearly a century and a half until Frances Coffin Gaskell, With her husband Joseph H. Gaskell, gave it to the museum in 1970.

It’s no little irony that Nathan Dunn, determined to ignite and nurture the public’s appreciation for Chinese culture, was not – except for the Chinnery portrait – represented in the Philadel­phia Museum of Art’s “Philadelphians and the China Trade, 1784-1844,” although the museum did dedicate the accompanying exhibition catalogue to him. In some ways this is not so surpris­ing: at this time objects of daily life rarely turned up in museums because they are precisely that: so ordinary that few think they are worth preserving and interpreting. Materials that do survive are frequently relegated to regional and special-interest museums that document local ways of life. Several pieces owned by van Braam appeared in the exhibit. His heirs and those who purchased objects from his collection recognized their value and took pains to preserve them and to pass on their history and provenance. Museum curators traced pieces from his collection by relentlessly tracking down descendants and by investigating auction records. The disparity in the fate of these outstand­ing collections is traceable to differences in the personalities of the collectors. Van Braam was introspec­tive and private, even scholarly in his in­terests, and his social relationships were intensely personal and private. He was devoted to his family and his affection for America was tied to bis admiration of individuals such as Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and William Russell Birch. He did not seek popularity. Dunn, on the other hand, was a bon vivant, expansive and gregarious, and known for his good humor, generosity, and public service. He took an active role in guiding the progress of projects that interested or amused him, including his Chinese Museum, first in Philadelphia and then in London. He failed, however, to real­ize that the enthusiasm with which he assembled and presented his collection would not extend beyond the grave.

What Andreas van Braam and Nathan Dunn shared was an abiding, seemingly insatiable, curiosity about China. They both saw beyond the financial promise in the China trade, taking an ardent interest in Chinese geography, art, customs, history, and culture. Although China was not a world power in their day, these prescient individuals recognized that knowledge and appreciation of a trading partner is equal in importance to the goods being exchanged.


Travel Tips

Chinese export porcelain has been long prized by collectors – both public and private – for its vibrant colors, unusual forms and, of course,historical significance, providing evidence of America’s trade with China.

For a half-century, beginning in 1604, Dutch traders imported fine porcelains made in China, which they distributed in Europe. This first phase of commerce ended in 1657 when the Chinese placed an embargo on Western trade because of political unrest and rebel­lion. By 1698, the Dutch resumed trade with China, which began welcoming competing traders from France and England. In 1784, the first American ship, The Empress of China – with Philadelphian Robert Morris as the principal investor – set sail for the exotic and mysterious continent. The delicacy and intricacy of the porcelain, as well as its elaborate and exotic designs and decoration, created an enormous demand, not only in Europe but also in America during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The earliest decorations were oriental in appearance, but Western engravings were copied by the Chinese to incorporate distinctly European and American scenes to heighten the porcelain’s appeal.

Affluent individuals here and abroad ordered extended services and tablewares emblazoned with their coats of arms, family crests, monograms, or intertwined initials. Early Philadelphians who or­dered such porcelain included Benjamin Chew Jr., John Ross, Robert Morris, Charles and Ann Champion, Samuel Morris, and Joseph and Elizabeth Cooper.

Between 1776 and 1784, the William West Sr. family occupied Hope Lodge, Fort Washington, Montgomery County, one of the fin­est Georgian period houses in the nation. In 1965, a West family de­scendent donated a service of more than fifty pieces of China trade porcelain to Hope Lodge, the centerpiece of which is a magnificent handled tureen. On view at Hope Lodge are pieces of Chinese export collected by Alice Degn (1869-1953) who, with her husband William (1864-1940), occupied the historic house from the early 1920s until their deaths.

The State Museum of Pennsylvania’s community and domestic life collection includes sixty pieces of Chinese export porcelain, the earliest of which, a bowl, was donated in 1943. Thirty years later, in 1973, the museum received a bequest of twenty-five pieces ofChina trade porcelain, including a fine pierced fruit basket with under­ plate. The finely reticulated basket and stand, examples of the popular rose medallion pattern, were manufactured in the early nine­teenth century. The State Museum also holds a selection of teapots, cups, saucers, and garden seats.


For Further Reading

Barnsley, Edward. History of China’s Retreat. Bristol, Pa.: Bristol Printing Company, 1933.

Crossman, Carl L. The China Trade: Export Paintings, Furniture, Silver and Other Objects. Princeton, N.J.: Pyne Press, 1972.

Davis, William W.H. History of Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Pipers­ville, Pa.: A.E. Lear, Inc., 1975.

Goldstein, Jonathan. Philadelphia and the China Trade, 1682-1846: Commercial, Cultural, and Attitudinal Effects. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1978.

Eberlein, Harold Donaldson, and Cortlandt Van Dyke Hubbard. Portrait of a Colonial City: Philadelphia, 1670-1838. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1939.

Lee, Jean Gordon. Philadelphians and the China Trade, 1784-1844. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1984.

McNealy,Terry A. Bucks County: An Illustrated History. Doylestown, Pa.: Bucks County Historical Society, 2001.

Mudge, Jean McClure. Chinese Export Porcelain for the American Trade, 1785-1835. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1962.

Oberholtzer, Ellis Paxson. Philadel­phia: A History of Philadelphia and its People. Philadelphia: S.f. Clarke Publishing Company, 1912.

Wainwright, Nicholas B., ed. A Phila­delphia Perspective: The Diary of Sidney George Fisher Covering the Years 1834-1871. Philadelphia: Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1967.


Myra K. Jacobsohn, of Springfield, Mont­gomery County, is professor emeritus at Arcadia University (formerly Beaver Col­lege) in Glenside, where she taught biology for twenty-seven years. Her most recent contribution to Pennsylvania Heritage, Old World Influences on Pennsylvania Gardens,” appeared in the Spring 2005 edition.