EG: We are Elizabeth Gettinger and Anne Steptoe and today is July 14, 2009 and we are here in the Guest House of Dumbarton Oaks interviewing Cécile Morrisson.
CM: Yes, and you know it’s Bastille Day but you didn’t choose the date on purpose.
EG: Okay, maybe you can start out by just telling how you first heard about Dumbarton Oaks and came to be involved here?
CM: I became involved with Dumbarton Oaks because I studied numismatics with Philip Grierson, the great master in the field. When I was a young researcher in France in Paris in the CNRS I was the pupil of Paul Lemerle and he oriented me towards numismatics because there were no Byzantine numismatists in France and the collection in the Bibliothèque Nationale had not been published. So he, Lemerle, arranged with the then director of the Cabinet de Médailles, Georges Le Rider, who later became the president of the whole National Library in France, that I would come and publish the collections with the help of – under the tutorship rather – of Philip Grierson. So, that’s how I met Philip Grierson in 1963, generally, 1963, in Paris. And he was a wonderful person, very generous of his time, of his knowledge and we became close friends. He visited me in Tunisia where my husband was a young professor of economics in Carthage and we toured Tunisia with him. That must have been in 1967. His trip around the Mediterranean was more or less sponsored by D.O. and he visited Sicily and then came to Tunisia and we had a great time together. In 1968, just before the May ‘68 events in France, I defended my thesis. This was in the Sorbonne before the riots and the occupation by Daniel Cohn-Bendit and the other students came in. That was in January ’68. In late ’69 or ’70 my dissertation, which was the catalogue of the Byzantine coins in the Bibliothèque Nationale was published. At the same time Philip Grierson and Michael Hendy were working on the D.O. catalogue for Grierson and Michael Hendy on his great path-breaking study of the coins of the twelfth and thirteenth century. And so we exchanged a lot of information. I benefited greatly from their science for my own work and then we were, I mean both Philip, Michael, and me, very good friends at the time. I did not come to visit D.O. until 1972 when my husband was asked to come to the World Bank for a month. And so this was a wonderful opportunity for me to accompany him, though it was quite difficult to organize because we had already three children at that time and we had to dispatch one to a friend, another one to the grandfather. But we managed. And at that time the France ship was still sailing regularly across the Atlantic. But unfortunately, we had the crossing booked on the France but the World Bank changed his schedule and so we had to go on what was it? Queen Mary? No, Queen Elizabeth? Well, one of the Queens anyway. And so the food was not as good. My husband was able to come back on the France but I had to fly back because I had to look after the children earlier. So, this was August 1972 and Dumbarton Oaks at that time – I don’t know what August is like now but at that that time it was a sort of desert. There was Philip Grierson who was working on the coins in the basement every summer because he was still teaching in Cambridge. And there was, whom did I meet at that time? Well, of course, the good friends of Philip who happened to be there, including Betty Benson, Elizabeth Benson, who was the curator of the Pre-Columbian Collection. The Pre-Columbian museum had just been, as far as I remember, open, and around the Johnson’s rotunda there were hardly any trees, there was no vegetation, probably because of the recent construction works. And so they had inside this – do you say the rotunda? Well, anyway they had that kind of winding light that they have on police or ambulance vans to prevent birds to come in to the glass panels and die of the shock. So, this is one of my early memories of D.O. And at that time the coin room was in the basement where now John Nesbitt’s office is. The coins have moved quite a lot in this building. I don’t know about their earlier location but that you will find in Philip Grierson’s hand-written, well type-script memoirs. But they were where John Nesbitt is. Later they moved to the place where the book conveyer now is. And when the construction works took place we had them moved from their former place to the present coin room, which used to be the office of the director of Pre-Columbian Studies, Jeff Quilter, before the construction finished. So, that is my early connection with D.O. And then, well, it was a long time before returning to D.O. because by then we had our fourth child in 1977 so that was a great large family. But in 1986 I came as a visitor, as a participant to the Byzantine congress, which took place in part in Georgetown University, of course for the big meetings, but for smaller workshops or roundtables I remember chairing one on Byzantine numismatics in the Study, what used to be the Study. That was really a great experience. D.O. – Philip Grierson was then writing what he called “DOC Zero” which is the pre-volume one of the coin catalogues, which was a joke of him that is was DOZ Zero. He was writing with a young British scholar called Melinda Mays. And Melinda and Philip were living in here and I remember seeing them here.
EG: So, did you notice changes in Dumbarton Oaks between the initial time that you came here in 1972 and then when you returned in 1986?
CM: Well, I did not know D.O. well enough to notice any change. I assume that there must have been changes brought in by Giles Constable’s directorship, what were the dates of Giles? Do you remember?
AS: He came in 1977.
CM: Yeah, so, you say he began in...?
AS: I think he began in ’77 and maybe went...
CM: Yeah, so that was his period when he opened D.O. to others. He abolished many hierarchies but not all of them. You see, I was too much of an outsider and August was not a real D.O. part. We were put up in the Wisconsin Avenue apartments. You’ve probably heard about them.
EG: How were they?
CM: Well, for me it was comfortable. But people complained of the noise. But of course August was a very quiet season of the year. At that time I remember coming from France to this country. You would say, oh Washington or American cities are very dangerous and my husband was always fearful. He was afraid of getting robbed or attacked on the street but nothing of that kind happened and we had a wonderful time with Philip Grierson’s old friend, Julia Warner. She was in the publications department for a long time but then she was probably already retired. And she was always so hospitable to Philip Grierson’s friends and she would invite a host of us to go to the Chevy Chase country club. In ’72 that looked to me so grand like going directly into Gone With the Wind time, you see, the porch and so on.
EG: Were there a lot of other European scholars at Dumbarton Oaks in 1972?
CM: Well, you see it was a desert so I don’t know. I was the only one probably in August. There was a period when you saw probably more European scholars than any other period. It’s under Angeliki’s Laiou’s directorship because for, I don’t know the exact reason, she never told me, but she spoke beautiful French. And she was very Francophile. It was, she took on the Board of Senior Fellows, first Jean-Pierre Sodini, the French archaeologist, and then Jean-Michele Spieser and as far as I know going through the record of the website they were the only French fellows ever appointed on the board.
AS: But did Dumbarton Oaks have a reputation in France?
CM: Oh, but of course. I mean it’s a question which the answer goes without saying. Dumbarton Oaks has had French scholars coming from the early times of Mrs. Bliss like Henri Focillon, Sirarpie Der Nersessian, who was an Armenian expert of Byzantine art history residing in France and ever – when Philip Grierson would come and give lectures in Paris he would ask me to make an appointment for him to visit this old friend of his who was a charming, tiny little lady and a wonderful scholar.
EG: And what kind of reputation did Dumbarton Oaks have within the field of Byzantine numismatics? Was it known?
CM: Dumbarton Oaks – I mean Philip Grierson built Dumbarton Oaks as the reference for Byzantine numismatics because it was, it is one of the largest collections of the world and it is only for the earlier periods, let’s say between late fifth century to early eighth century that the D.O. catalogue has been sort of completed or rather superseded by the work of the Austrian scholar called Wolfgang Hahn in Vienna, who did a corpus while Dumbarton Oaks is only a catalogue of our holdings. But D.O. holdings for numismatics, we have more than ten thousand coins and they are very well kept and are also tried to enlarge the collection and to maintain its importance.
AS: Would you say it’s still the predominant place for Byzantine numismatics?
CM: Well this is – I would say so but I am not the kind of boasting person so there are other centers for the study of Byzantine numismatics, the one in Vienna is important but really there is no place like – There is, of course, the Birmingham collection is a very important one but it’s catalogue has not yet been published so its holdings are not well known, but the curator there Vicky Eurydice Georganteli who is married to Dimitir Angelov, a Byzantine scholar who is also a disciple of Angeliki Laiou. Well, Vicky Georganteli is planning a publication probably online of the collection. One of her assistants is here for the summer seminar and told us about this database. And they have students in Birmingham who are writing dissertations under her direction, so this might emerge as a center. But probably not like – here we have been conducting the summer seminar on coins and seals since 2002. This is now – it was interrupted because of the construction works and now it’s the third one taking place.
AS: Could you talk a little about just the history of the course more specifically?
CM: Well, this was a suggestion of Alice-Mary Talbot that we launch this like – well the model may be the summer seminar of the American Numismatics Society, which started in 1953 and was the occasion for Philip Grierson to come to New York and then get involved with D.O. But the seminar for the ANS is a general one for all the fields of numismatics and it was – Alice-Mary had a good idea that we could have the same thing specialized in coins and in seals. I think that before the first seminar on coins and seals Nikos – Nikolaos Oikonomides, who unfortunately died in 2000, so untimely – had had such a sort of informal seminar in the summer but just for seals. So, we launched this joint seminar on coins and seals together with John Nesbitt and it is very fruitful because coins and seals are very close to one another as a discipline, so they have many points in common while in the Byzantine times there were often, at least the imperial seals, they were produced in the same workshops as the coins. So, this really makes sense to have the two together, and it is a very good to introduce young scholars preparing their dissertation or having just finished their dissertations, to introduce them to the use of coins and seals as an historical tool.
AS: Is there a typical participant? Is it mostly graduate students who participate in the summer courses?
CM: Yes, mostly graduate but not always. We are flexible. This year I think that most of them have not yet defended their dissertation. But what is a pity is that this year we don’t have any what I would say proper American students. We have one student from Harvard who is very, very good, and she’s of Turkish origin but she’s called Ece Turnator and she was preparing, well is still preparing a dissertation under Angelikis Laiou’s supervision, so – well she is going ahead under Mike McCormick. But her coins and seals are also immaterial. She is mostly interested in ceramics but coins and seals add to her array of knowledge.
EG: So, you also worked here at Dumbarton Oaks in I think 1993 as a Visiting Scholar?
EG: How did you get involved?
CM: Well, that was a wonderful time. Angeliki and I had met in Paris when she came to deliver the lectures, her lecture which came out as a book as Mariage, Amour et Parenté. If you read French it is worth reading. Well, I met her then nearly for the first time. Well, she had been coming to Paris to research her book on peasant society but then I was younger and I just saw her working with Lemerle on the unpublished archive of Mount Athos, and I had no further contact with her. But I met her then in 1990 when I was still Director of the Cabinet de Médailles, which meant much administrative work, but I remember inviting her for lunch near the Bibliothèque and we made good acquaintance then. And she, as I had retired from the Cabinet de Médailles because I could not lead three lives at the same time, I could come to Dumbarton Oaks as a visiting scholar in ’93. And I am glad you are asking this question because it was such an experience. I mean all the resources of D.O., the library, the collection and it was Thanksgiving and Christmas time, so I had my first Thanksgiving lunch at Angeliki’s place – so that is in the former Director’s House. And Angeliki was a wonderful cook and it was really the most extraordinary Thanksgiving lunch I ever, ever had. At that time Panayotis Vocotopoulos was also there. I remember he took part in this lunch. He was living up Wisconsin Avenue, and I also remember having some parties in the apartment up Wisconsin. And my other experience there was – I was still there late in December, late enough to participate in, do you say, the Christmas party? Yes. So, in the Music Room with the grand piano and there was Virgil Crisafulli playing – well more or less as he could – the piano and we could sing carols at that time. I don’t know if you’re still allowed to sing carols, if it is – is that politically correct now or not?
AS: I’m not sure.
EG: I sing them with my family.
CM: Okay. So –
AS: It sounds like there was a vibrant social side to the Fellows’ experience. Is that a fair assessment?
CM: Well, yes, I remember one of my colleagues in France telling that, “Oh, Cécile, vous avez des mondanités.” Mondanité is a social event with a bit of deprecatory in tone because I had been put up in what was called at that time the Guest House or the Duplex, which is the house where the security now stands – the corner of S and thirty-second – and it was a wonderful big house. I felt lost all by myself in that, you can’t imagine. Well, you had the Kazhdans on one side and that was great because I have fond remembrances of being invited by Musja Kazhdan and having been brought with Philip Grierson and other scholars – that was really a very sort of family life. And on the left-hand side of this house – so that there was the guest house where they put important persons, I would say. It had been Sirarpie Der Nersessian’s house so Philip Grierson would always say the Dame Der Nersessian’s house. Nikos Oikonomides would have stayed there in the summer with his family, wife and two girls, and Giles Constable’s assistant, Judy Siggins, I’ve been told, lived there. And it was really grand. You have a kitchen, a big lounge, the terrace was built as a veranda where you had breakfast looking over the grove, which at that time was a sort of wild forest. It was really very, very poetic. On the second floor there were, you say an office room, and two rooms, one bathroom, and there was still on the third floor – there were two or at least one bedroom and another bathroom. So, in 2000, Dumbarton Oaks hosted a small workshop on Arab-Byzantine coins which could not anymore be held at the American Numismatics Society, and so we were a little group of Fellows gathered here and I had two of them staying with me there. But this Arab – well, I’m going astray probably. You were asking me about social life in D.O. I mean this is for me wonderful because in Paris there is no more such social life because of transportation and people nowadays are too stressed with their work, and I think you see the rhythm of scientific work, the pace has greatly increased with all the new media, the internet access, etc. In former times, when I did my dissertation there was no Xerox, only stencils, and no Xerox so that means you went into the library and took notes for your work. I mean work was on a slower basis. Now instantly you get all the documentation or nearly what you need so people you see – publish or perish – and there is less social life than was before. But in D.O. you still have social life or at least at that time because of all the – we had a great social life. I visited very often the old friends of Philip Grierson, like Fanny Bonajuto, an old Italian lady who had been active in the publications department, Irène Underwood, the widow of Paul Underwood, whom I still visit now because she is still living in the area and has been interviewed as I know. And so yes, and of course, Sue Boyd. I made a great friend of and this is one of the great assets of D.O. and it opens your mind, you share much information. And Tony Cutler, for instance, was a Visiting Scholar in one of the years I visited because, of course, since 1998 when I was appointed as the successor to Philip Grierson, has been coming every year twice a year so that it’s a great opportunity to listen to lectures and so on.
EG: What was your daily life like as a Visiting Scholar? What sort of responsibilities did you have?
CM: In 1993 when I – I had to – I delivered a public lecture which was entitled “Physics and Economics: What have they brought to our knowledge of the Byzantine Economy?” And I hoped that at some time, some point, the people who think numismatics are only sort of stamp collecting would think more about what numismatics or coin knowledge can bring to history. Well, what were my duties as a Visiting Scholar? I think I may have – yes, I gave I think two seminars on coin names in the Paleologan period or that kind of thing. But it goes back a long time and I cannot remember exactly what else I did. I think it was – I mean being a Visiting Scholar is not like I am now, where I am responsible for many, many things, which I can tell you later. Yes, twenty minutes. It is more for your own research, so I think I was really working a lot on these Paleologan coins and the Paleologan horde, and it ended up I think in a paper I delivered for the Hunger festschrift. Herbert Hunger had retired and there was a big meeting in Vienna in which Angeliki also participated.
AS: You’ve been involved in a lot of publications during your time here.
CM: Yes, I made a note here. I’ve been giving – well, this was in my letter of commission by Angeliki which is somewhere in the archive, that I should not only look after the collection but also participate in colloquia, give seminars, and participate in colloquia or symposia. And that I did, well, actively, not only asking questions from the first row. I did for the symposium, the colloquium on Byzantine typikon. I gave a paper then and also the symposium on – well, the first and most important colloquium is that which was organized on the occasion of the publication of the whole series of D.O. catalogues. The publication of volume four by Michael Hendy, volume five by Philip Grierson. They appeared in ‘99 and we had in March ’99 a symposium in honor of that and in honor of Philip Grierson and some of the papers were published in DOP 2001, I think, without unfortunately a heading that these papers belong to this symposium. But on this occasion, well, I’m going a bit astray, but it’s important mentioning that together with the symposium, I organized with Sue Boyd an exhibit in the little space where the textile gallery now is in the courtyard on coins, and this exhibit, fortunately, they accepted to take pictures ahead of time because it was on only for six months. But they had taken good pictures of the whole setting, every showcase, pictures of the individual coins and so in the next year we were able to put it online and it is still online, and this was I think one of the first coin exhibits ever put online. Now you have other websites with coin exhibits, but, well, without boasting too much, I think this is one of the best. But to go back to publications, yes, after this Grierson colloquium, the one on the typikon, there was the symposium organized by Jean-Michele Spieser about late Byzantine Thessalonica. and I gave a paper on coinage. And I remember because then Ned Keenan was the Director and I had – it was the beginning of digital imaging and I was not very good at that. But I had got an image of a unique coin in the Bibliothèque Nationale in digital format while all the others were slides. And when I wanted to show the – I did not know about Powerpoint then, but I just wanted to show the image which was on my laptop. But I’d forgotten that when you – the sleep mode, you see, comes automatically and then the image would not show during my paper and that was a – I had to describe the coin instead of – so, that was one of the symposia. And then, of course, I organized the spring symposium on trade and markets in 1998, the last symposium in which Angeliki could participate. And I’m now beginning to edit the volume. I’ve gathered all the papers and Ageliki’s paper, and I’m editing the footnotes so that it will be published as well. Maybe I’m forgetting – yes, I have not written the book but devoted much time to help Clive Foss publish the little book, well it’s little in size but very important in content, on Arab-Byzantine coins. I mentioned this Arab-Byzantine forum in 2000. Then Clive had brought his collection of two hundred coins and they got photographed by one of the participants and I remember that then I got the idea that it would be nice to be able to publish them. But Ned Keenan was very open to the idea that we could buy the collection for D.O. I’ve been adding a few coins to it from then on but we merged it with the few coins, which we had before of this very important series for the history of the transition from the Byzantine culture to the Umayyad Arabic identity and for a period of which you don’t have direct sources but only later historical sources. So, the coins are there, they are really more or less datable and they are contemporary evidence for that kind of transition so they are a very important thing. And I also devoted some time to collaborate with John Nesbitt to his publication of imperial seals. I’ve been, you see, proofreading the manuscripts not for typos but for information which I could add to his own, being a numismatist. And I think that this is the first time that imperial seals are studied together, I mean closely together, by a sigillographer and a numismatist, and what is interesting in this book is that John is giving for each imperial type – he gives the image of the corresponding type on coin. So it’s important.
AS: You were talking a little bit earlier about acquisitions. I wonder if we could go back to that because –
CM: Oh, yes.
AS: – we’ve heard over and over again that it’s become more difficult to acquire anything in recent years. I’m sure you have plenty of –
CM: Oh, well – I must say that I know about the problem, and I try not to encourage, you see, that, but it’s very difficult to know the source of the coins which are put on the market. So, whenever possible I try to buy coins with a pedigree going back to before 1978 or so which is what happened when I bought coins at the Zurich sale which was called the “despot sale,” and in fact it’s the collection of a Greek doctor who I have known for years who is called Petros Protonotarios, and I know he bought his coins long time ago. So, I’m treading on safe grounds. But it is a very good question because – well, they will go on the market anyhow. I mean only in the time of the communist regime in Eastern Europe were metal detectors not working for two reasons, they had not the money to buy this stuff and the police were everywhere and the police were your neighbor, it was the State. For instance, in Bucharest in that time when you were living in a condo, nine neighbors were spying on the tenth one. It’s a – I mean, in five minutes it’s very difficult to deal with this question. In Great Britain they have devised a scheme which is called a portable objects scheme I think which promotes a good cooperation between the detectorists and the museums so that at least we know of the existence of the coin and where it has been found. And it has incredible increased the knowledge of Anglo-Saxon early medieval coinage. So, my predecessor, Philip Grierson, who had a very – more a collector and historian’s mind than an archaeologist’s, so he was very happy about that. I have mixed feelings you see, so. But it’s difficult to find a balance. But of course I would not be buying the tetradrachm or that kind of stuff. I’ve been – recently in 2007, I was given the opportunity to buy a horde of Paleologan bronze coins of the fourteenth century found in Thessalonica before World War Two. It belonged to a French doctor called Henri Longué. The coins were in Mulhouse, Alsace, in his collection, but they were stolen in the war, so we only had les frottements, the pencil rubbings that he had made of them before and published in the Revue belge de Numismatique in 1950. But later on this horde reappeared on the market and was bought by Simon Bendall from Paul-Francis Jacquier who is a French coin dealer living in Kehl, opposite Strasbourg on the Rhine. And Simon Bendall published it again with photos this time in the American Numismatics Society Museum notes and in 2007. Because Jonathan Shea is working now on this horde, which we were able to buy on block from Simon so that it could be still studied for – it is a very difficult coinage because many of the coins are over-struck and badly, they are cup-shaped coins on which the imprint doesn’t take very well. It is still worth studying again, and Jonathan is going to do that with my help. So, this is a safe accession because we know how long it goes back to. But if I would see a horde like that unprovenanced on the market I would not, of course, go with that.
EG: So, you mentioned an exhibition earlier and, sort of, the online exhibition. Was there a lot of interaction with the museum?
CM: Oh, yes, of course. You see, I always say I have two authorities because I’m partly working under the Director of Byzantine Studies and as I said organize the seminars with Alice-Mary’s request. And I also work in close association with Sue Boyd and now with Gudrun Buehl, also very good friends because I mean the registrar is looking after coin accessions coming in. For instance, for the new installation of the museum I collaborated a great deal, we discussed about the best way how to show coins and I suggested that the map of the Byzantine Empire which is in the museum could have the addition of coins to show the place they were minted and that kind of thing. It is great collaborating with the museum staff and we intend now a changing, rotating showcase of coins. You know this showcase which is under the emperor’s roundel and the people like the idea that Gudrun had of having seats under this showcase so that you can look at coins with – I insisted that there should be magnifiers so that people can look at coins themselves. This is always difficult, to exhibit coins because most of them are tiny. And we also collaborated on the showcase with balances and coin weights. There are many related objects with coins and jewelry which incorporate coins. Oh, we are running short.
AS: If we could pause for one second and change the tape that would be wonderful. And I think we were talking about exhibitions.
CM: Yes, but I think we had finished about that more or less collaborating with museum staff and the difficulty of showing coins. I think we did it.
EG: Could you talk a little bit about the Economic History of the Byzantium?
CM: Yes. It was really one of the great projects of Angeliki. She started it. Let’s say, going backwards, the book was published in 2002 by D.O., the Greek translation took a long time. Angeliki had to check all of that and it was published in Greece only in 2006. But you can imagine what work it meant because she first had to check the translation. Some texts were written by French authors. We spoke of the collaboration of French, and there were many French scholars in that collective work. So, she first checked the translation from French to English and then she checked all the translations from the English into the Greek and from the written French into Greek. I mean, she was, it is really a monument of her – not only of her scholarship but of her managing skills. The project had started under the sponsorship of the National Bank of Greece Cultural Foundation, and she had invited me to sit on the board together with Niko Oikonomides and a Greek archaeologist called Charalambos Bouras and a Greek specialist of legal history, the history of law, called Pitsakis, Constantine Pitsakis. And we had meetings for that in Athens every year ever since I think 1994. So, although it was not exactly a D.O. project it was a D.O. publication. So, we could work on it in D.O. when – well, it is really a D.O. achievement that this was published here.
EG: So, you’ve been at Dumbarton Oaks during the terms of several different directors such as Tyler, Laiou, and Keenan, can you talk a little bit about that?
CM: Oh, no, no. William Tyler goes back much earlier. I think you will see – Philip Grierson mentioned Tyler. When I came first in August 1972 I didn’t see him because he was on summer vacation. That was the time of John Thacher and then of course it was Angeliki who invited me in ’93 so I worked – well, in fact the situation of how she appointed me is in Philip’s memoir, note the two pages I gave you because I excerpted said and Philip said that, “Yes, in 1998 my connection with Dumbarton Oaks came to an end. I had for some time intended to resign when DOC was published, for this would mark the completion of the task set me by Jack Thacher when I was appointed in the 1950s and I was becoming increasingly anxious to be able to devote myself fulltime to my rival medieval European coinage publishing project in Cambridge.” In fact, Philip only published two books of this huge fifteen volume-planned series, and when he died in 2006 he was trying to complete the volume on the Burgundian coinage, the Low Countries. “I was also,” says Philip, “in my late 80s” – in fact, he was 87 now – “finding the discomforts of transatlantic travel less acceptable than I had in the past, at least if one could not afford Concorde,” – but once he paid himself a flight on Concorde – “or did not have the good fortune as once happened to me to be moved from economy to business class on an ordinary flight.” But the last time Philip visited us in 2002 he was then 91, and I took him to the airport and I was very worried because he might tire queuing, standing on line too long for check-in. So, I had inquired whether I could, you see, get some priority for him and the people said yes, if you put him in a wheelchair. My god, what have I proposed because he found that so humiliating that he was very cross with me, and I did not do anything about a wheelchair. But I took him to the airport and then I let him stand in the ordinary line and I came whispering to the lady at the counter and said, you see this old gentleman, can you take him in the check-in line for business, and so she did. So, I come back to the situation of Philip, “But my departure was accelerated by Angeliki Laiou’s decision announced in October ‘97 to retire as director in ’98 and return to full-time professorial duties at Harvard. For we were in agreement that we would like to see the French Byzantinist Cécile Morrisson take my place. It was I who had started her numismatics career,” – as I told you and quote, - “she was in the judgment of both Angeliki and myself the most eminent living specialist in Byzantine numismatics and monetary history.” Well, leave it to Philip. “Since there was no guarantee that Angeliki’s successor, who might not even be a Byzantinist, would be equally informed in the field, we agreed etc. that I would resign in the spring of ’98 and that she would take steps to secure the appointment of Cécile whose readiness etc. has been ascertained in advance.” So, here you have the story of how I came. But I’ve forgotten the beginning of your question.
EG: I was just asking about the different directors that you knew.
CM: Oh, the different directors. Yes. So, then, of course, when I began to work as the numismatics adviser that was under Ned Keenan who was always very generous with coins because he set up a proper accession budget which Philip did not have and did not require. He only was asking for money when there came something to acquire. I got a proper budget and even special funding like for the first collection or for the Zurich sale which I mentioned – that was still in Ned Keenan’s time. And of course, the most important thing that he did was the construction of the library and the renovation of the main building. But Ned has always been very hospitable and I remember noticing – maybe it was because of my age – that very often I ended – I always ended up being seated at his right. And well, Ned was always very, very friendly with the students also. Only I remember that he would not yet accept Alice-Mary’s suggestion that they be invited to his dinner party together with the Summer Fellows because they were not considered real proper Summer Fellows. That is, as I said, Giles Constable abolished many hierarchies here – that the pool was not allowed to the ordinary staff but only to Fellows. That kind of thing ceased with Giles, but there were still things like that remaining in Ned Keenan’s time. And of course, well, I’ve known Jan Ziolkowski ever since he appeared in the house and he is also very open to numismatics and coin dealings and I am very grateful to him for that.
AS: So, you would say there hasn’t been much change in the numismatics program over different directors?
CM: No, there have been many changes in the rest of D.O. but with coins not. The main change with coins was that, I mean, the building, the maintenance and enlarging of the collection which Philip in the old days would have – I mean, the rate of his accessions was sliding down not only because he was aging but also because he wanted really to achieve, complete the D.O. catalogue. And you see accessioning coins is a time consuming task because whenever I’m not in D.O. I keep, you see, going through the catalogues or over the internet to see what is missing, what would be interesting to us, and then I have to correspond with the dealer, etc. When you deal with painting, you spend a huge some of money on only one object and that is done for one year. When it goes with coins and you buy them or fifty of them every year that means a lot of time spent.
EG: I guess just sort of as a wrap up –
CM: Yes, I wanted to – you spoke about social events and friends at D.O., and I wanted to show you this picture of – you can probably bring it closer to the –
EG: Yeah, can you see that Anne?
AS: Here, I think I can zoom in.
CM: Okay, because on this you can see – it must have been taken in the – I think I have the date somewhere else on another photo. But it must have been, well, it is on the old list somewhere and you see Philip seated with Alfred Bellinger and –
AS: Sorry to interrupt but maybe just a little bit lower. Just a little bit more.
CM: Is that okay?
AS: Yes, that’s just fine.
CM: So, you have Philip on the left. Is it on the left? Here is Philip, here is Alfred Bellinger, Mrs. Bellinger is here, and Julia Warner, our dear friend, who died in 2002 is here in the middle. And here is a wonderfully good looking young lady called Julia Cardozo and her mother I think was still attending concerts in the late 80s. Yes, I forgot the Friends of Music, of course. When I come to D.O. this is the time where I have the opportunity to listen to good music, speak with the artists, and Valerie Stains and her replacement make a great good choice.
AS: Did any of the scholars ever participate there? We’ve always gotten the sense that it was more of something provided for the public and the Washington D.C. area?
CM: Yes, it is quite Washingtonian I suppose but Fellows are entitled to a free ticket. And indeed they take this opportunity and listen to music. Oh, speaking of music, Philip Grierson liked music. Well, he liked working with music. I also at that time liked working with music but not exactly the music which Philip liked, you see. And he stayed – I forgot to have a look in the – because at that time there was no iTunes or mp3 of that kind so he had a cassette player and a whole collection of cassettes of various composers – but much more late nineteenth-century for my tastes than I would have liked. He was a fan of Smetana, Moldau, Aaron Copland, Planets, Shostakovich symphonies. And his friend Fanny Bonajuto had given him a cassette of La Norma, which I really liked very much. But La Norma as sung by La Callas was really a treat, but that was not his favorite. And he only had one Bach by Glenn Gould and that was nearly – maybe a few Mozarts – the fortieth symphony or the Night Music, that kind of thing. But this is one of the daily life in D.O.
AS: Should we wrap up?
EG: Sure, just to start the wrap-up, I was kind of wondering how you see the role of coins and numismatics at Dumbarton Oaks in the future? Do you see that role changing at all?
CM: Ah, well in the future. It depends on providence and the authorities here. You see, I will be seventy next year so, as I said to Angeliki when I came in charge, I would not stay later than eighty. But maybe they would like me to go away earlier than that. I think that coins and seals really should be kept alive in this house because it’s the only place in the world where you have so large collections together with books, together with experts, and this is a knowledge, tradition, and expertise which should not be left fallowed. It should not be just, you see, to be the testimony which goes with the published catalogues and that is all. I intend to set on its track an online database starting with the unpublished post-accession coins which are not in our catalogues and then maybe enlarge to the rest of the collection. I have also been sort of, you say, coddling or courting a collector of Byzantine coins residing in Cincinnati, and I hope at one point he will decide to donate his collection to D.O. That is his intention. His negotiations with Ned Keenan were too legal-minded and that got, well, he got offended from some of the points that the Harvard lawyers were asking for. But with Jan’s help we have soothed the question again and I am in good contact with him and with Mike Brolin who looks after his collection. So, whenever there is a big sale we coordinate so that we don’t buy the same coins, we don’t compete with each other so I hope that this will be an enlargement to the collection in the future. What I very much hope is that when I’m not anymore in the picture there will be someone residing in D.O. to look after the collection. Because it needs to be able to look for a coin, to look for a seal, it needs not only a knowledge of the accession number or – you need to know, for instance, the list of emperors in your head to know exactly where to look for the coin, to help people consulting it. I really wish that D.O. will maintain this tradition of having someone like John Nesbitt or me looking after the collection. And as I said coins and seals are a very near, very close discipline so you may find someone who can look after both of them. Good question.
EG: Well, thank you very much.
CM: Thank you for your understanding.