Philip Grierson (Interview)
AMT: Philip, this is a sad week for us here at Dumbarton Oaks, because it’s your last week before you retire after forty years of service.
PG: Last two days of actually being here.
AMT: Your last two days. And I thought it would therefore be a good opportunity for a talk with you, to discuss all the changes you’ve seen at Dumbarton Oaks over all these decades, and perhaps the contributions you’ve made to the development and publication of the coin collection at Dumbarton Oaks. Can we start with some personal history? How did you first get interested in coins?
PG: I became interested in coins relatively late in my life. By the 1940s I was a professional medieval historian, my particular interest being the Carolingian period and the southern Low Countries. But, at Christmas 1945, when I was staying with my parents in Ireland, I found an old box of miscellaneous junk and, amongst other things in it, a copper coin with a large “K” on it. I hadn’t the faintest idea what it was, though clearly it was neither Roman nor Greek. So, I brought it back to Cambridge and took it to Charles Seltman, a friend in another college who was an expert in Greek coins. He told me that it was Byzantine, and taking down from his shelves Volume 1 of Wroth’s catalogue of Byzantine coins in the British Museum, he identified it for me as a half follis of the emperor Phokas. I said, “This is really extraordinary. I’ve never thought of owning a coin as old as this, or indeed of owning a coin at all. But I’d like very much to buy some coins to show to students.” “Well,” he said, “go to Spink in London, a very reliable firm, and they will certainly have coins that will interest you.” And about a week later I was in London and called on Spink’s, where I met the head of their coin department Leonard Forrer (who was called “Old Forrer” because his son was eventually to come back and join the firm) and I asked him if they had any Byzantine coins. He proceeded to show me a few. I explained that I was not a collector but was prepared to spend up to five pounds in buying coins to show students.
AMT: Five pounds?
PG: That was how I started. This sum rapidly expanded, for to my surprise I had some spare money and coins in those days were very cheap. I had spare money because during the war years one had not been able to travel abroad, as I had done regularly in the thirties. Nor had one been able to spend money on other things. Coins for their part were very cheap because of the liquidation of a very great private collection, the Lord Grantley collection, in a series of London sales during the previous two years. Because of war conditions there had been no competition at most of these from abroad, so the London dealers had virtually divided up this vast collection of something like 50,000 European, Asiatic and American coins between themselves. These coin were now on the market at very low prices, and I was able to build up a good collection surprisingly quickly.
AMT: I had not remembered that the very first coin you had acquired through your father was a Byzantine one. It does indeed seem to be an omen.
PG: An omen, but it is now a coin in the collection here.
AMT: The timing of your developing interest in Byzantine coins seems to have been very fortunate. It was a good moment to be in the field.
PG: Very good and fortunate – fortunate indeed for anyone starting to collect any kind of coin.
AMT: What were the particular strengths of the collection of Byzantine coins that you eventually amassed?
PG: I don’t think that it had any particular strength, but I was able to buy representative coins of most periods. I built up a quite a good collection of gold coins, which seems quite surprising, but in those days you could buy a solidus of Theodosius II for perhaps four pounds, which even at that time was quite a small sum. There were very few Paleologan coins on the market, but apart from these, I was able to form a good representative collection.
AMT: At what point did you branch out into other medieval European coinage?
PG: Immediately. There was no “branching out.” It simply happened that because I’d shown Mr. Forrer a Byzantine coin, he put me on to the cabinet of Byzantine coins and with them the coins of the Ostrogoths and other peoples of the Dark Ages. And so, it was quite natural for me to go on into other coins. But, from the very beginning I was making a collection of West European coins that were relevant to my lectures and my teaching.
AMT: So, about ten years then after you started collecting, you became involved with Dumbarton Oaks, is that correct?
PG: I became involved with Dumbarton Oaks through being invited by the American Numismatic society in 1953 to come and help them run their summer seminar. This took place because I gave a lecture, in Belgium – three lectures in fact – all dealing with the way in which early medieval coins could be used to modify the great Pirenne theory about the breach between Antiquity and the Middle Ages. I was lecturing in Belgium simply because my connections before the war were largely with Belgium. I was actually working on the origins of the County of Flanders when war broke out. After my lecture in Brussels, I was called on the next day by two professors of the Université Libre de Bruxelles who said, “You probably don’t know it, but we have a professorship in numismatics in existence. It is now vacant. We liked your lecture last night, and we wonder if you would like to apply for this post.” So, I applied for this post, and I got it, to my surprise. Cambridge University were a bit uncertain about whether they approved my having it, but nonetheless, since it didn’t entail a great many duties, they agreed. And I gave as an inaugural lecture one on coins and history and published it in 1951, or so, in English for the pamphlet of the Historical Association. This was bought by the American Numismatic Society, read by their president, who said, “Look, I think we’d like to develop this matter, try and organize a summer school for students from the university, and invite Mr. Grierson over to come and help run it.” So, I got an invitation to come for six months.
AMT: So, excuse me, 1953 then was the beginning of the summer sessions at the ANS? They hadn’t had them prior to that?
PG: Maybe 1952, the one before I came. I think the first one was 1952. The 1953 one was the one they asked me to come and help run. And my connection with Dumbarton Oaks came about because Alfred Bellinger was one of the major speakers at their summer seminar and was a member of the governing council of both the American Numismatic Society and Dumbarton Oaks and he suggested that since I had a particular interest in Byzantine coins, on which I had published a number of articles by then, that I should come down and spend a weekend here and look at the collection they had brought here.
AMT: Now, Bellinger was a professor at Yale.
PG: Bellinger was a professor of Latin at Yale.
AMT: And how much time was he spending at Dumbarton Oaks at this point?
PG: None. I mean, he simply came down for meetings and things like that.
AMT: But he had been involved in the initial collection of coins at Dumbarton Oaks?
PG: No, the initial collection of coins was that of a private New England collector, Hayford Peirce, who was a wealthy amateur and a friend of the Blisses. He had recently died, and his widow was anxious to sell the collection. What induced Mr. Thacher to go and buy it, I haven’t the faintest idea. But, he was a good museum man, he acquired anything relevant to Byzantine studies, and he bought the collection in the late forties. Then they hired somebody named James Breckenridge, who at that time was a student at Princeton and subsequently a distinguished art historian, to come and spend a year here and classify it, put it in order, label it and so on. So they had then this big collection without really knowing how to develop it further.
AMT: About how many coins were in that collection?
PG: I think about between four and five thousand.
AMT: Oh, so it was really substantial.
PG: It was a really big collection. It was not all Byzantine, there were a lot of late Roman, and there were a certain number of medieval and Muslim and so forth.
AMT: Well, then whose idea was it to put a lot of effort into developing a world class collection at Dumbarton Oaks?
PG: Well, it was basically mine. Thacher invited me down here at Bellinger’s instigation, and we both spent a few days here together. I mainly remember that I spent it sightseeing, but I evidently did a lot more because I had quite a lot of correspondence in the following months with Jack Thacher and since I was well paid by the American Numismatic Society, I reckoned that I had enough money to come back and spend the summer of 1954 in New York again. He asked me, he said, “If you do that, you and Bellinger come here, and also go to Harvard and look at the Whittemore collection, which was left them in 1950 and which they don’t know what to do with, and draw up a report for both Mr. Coolidge at the Fogg and myself here, suggesting what to do.” And I suggested that the only possibility of developing it was on the Dumbarton Oaks side because the Whittemore side was restricted by Thomas Whittemore’s will. And, basically, Thacher said to me, “If we create an honorary post for you here, with the duty of making this the best collection in the world, and then of publishing it, will you take it on? We’ll give you a thousand dollars a year to buy coins with, but if you want any special sums, the Blisses, I’m sure, will be forthcoming.”
AMT: But Thacher clearly was very supportive.
PG: Thacher was very supportive from the very beginning. He wasn’t interested in coins himself: they didn’t lend themselves to display and he was very much a museum man. He liked medals, and medals could be used for display, and gold medals were, late Roman gold medallions, they had bought a number of them in the interval. But, he realized that a great collection of coins could lay an important part in the development of Dumbarton Oaks as a research institute, and so that was basically the use.
AMT: So, were the bulk of your acquisitions made in the fifties and sixties?
PG: Almost all. I mean, more than nine tenths. I bought three important collections en bloc. My own collection, in 1956. When I was asked to look after Dumbarton Oaks, collect the coins here, I realized that I would have to stop collecting them myself and would have to concentrate on West European coins. This didn’t bother me, because my main interests were West European. So, I agreed that I would sell them my collection at an independent – or sell them as much as they wanted of my collection – at an independent valuation. I needed the money earlier than I expected because a great collection of western European gold coins, the R.C. Lockett collection, came on the market in February 1956. This I had not foreseen. And I needed all the money I had to buy coins. So, I arranged with Baldwin’s in London, a well-known firm of coin dealers, to make a valuation, and they allowed me – the Blisses agreed to buy it, and they allowed me – the actual sale didn’t take place until I think April or May, while the sale I wanted to buy coins at took place in February. But Baldwin’s gave me the necessary credit for buying the coins that I wanted at the sale. So, that was the first coin collection I bought. The second and much the most important was the Bertelè collection, put together by an Italian diplomat in the twenties and thirties – Tommaso Bertelè – which was by far the greatest collection of Paleologan coins in the world, far surpassing any museum. He had been in touch with Pierce’s friend Royall Tyler, another friend of the Blisses, as early as 1950 to try and sell it. But nothing seems to have been done and Royall Tyler died and the matter was simply in suspense. Well, when I came about it was up to me then to carry the thing through, which I did. I knew Bertelè already by correspondence from about 1947 onwards, and I met him at his home which was then in Rome early in the fifties. And so, I bought his collection in part in 1956 and the remainder in 1960. There were a great many complications about the sale, but they don’t matter to you. The third collection was one I bought in Vienna at the suggestion of Bertelè, put together by a retired Austrian Army officer, who was not a great scholar but it was great hobby of his, Captain Schindler. And he had died, and the ownership of the collection was contested between his widow and a son of a first marriage, who maintained it was a family heirloom and she couldn’t dispose of it. The courts gave in her favour but she was anxious to get rid of it, because of the publicity. So I saw her in early 1960 and then arranged the purchase later in the year. So, between us, we bought something like between ten and fifteen thousand coins in that ten years.
AMT: From those three collections.
PG: From those three collections.
AMT: What about some of the individual coins you’ve gotten. Are there any you’re particularly proud at having snared for Dumbarton Oaks?
PG: Of course, the major thing was the Paleologan coins, because that was something quite unique, but of really nice coins, I would put a coin with he heads of two empresses, the last empresses in the Macedonian line, Theodora and Zoë, which was struck during their six weeks reign in 1042. A small hoard of about half a dozen had come to light a year or two previously. They had been previously completely unknown. And, I managed to buy one of the five or six.
AMT: So, as far as you know, there are six in the world.
PG: As far as I know, there are only six in the world. There are a few forgeries that came once on the market, but there are about six as far as I know.
AMT: Well, it has ended up being a very well known coin because of the great interest in the subject matter.
PG: Well, and I’ve used it on a cover of a book and so forth. It’s very beautiful.
AMT: Yes, I find it very attractive.
PG: Yes, it is very attractive, though it doesn’t bring out at all the personalities of either of the people concerned, of which we have quite a good knowledge from the description in Psellos, who makes out the contrast in character between the two ladies. That is one, and there is a marriage medallion of Licinia Eudoxia and Valentinian III that is extremely rare and very beautiful, showing Christ blessing the pair – sorry, showing Theodosios II giving his approval to the marriage of the pair and we have also another related coin which is, I think, still unique, but possibly not, of the marriage later in the century of the Empress Ariadne and Anastasius I in which Christ has to appear blessing the pair because there is no longer a father still around to do it.
AMT: Did you buy both at auction and directly from dealers?
PG: Yes, both. Sometimes I – I bought many directly from dealers once it was known what my interest was, but I bought a great number at auctions, sometimes going myself, if I really wanted to be sure of getting it, or if I thought that one could make some arrangement with other possible purchasers and we could say I won’t bid against you on this if you don’t bid against me on that, that kind of thing.
AMT: Did it ever pose a problem that you were so well known that if you were recognized and it was known you wanted a particular coin that that would raise the price?
PG: I don’t think so, because it would be evident to me that this would happen and the dealer would know that he would not get any more of my business if he did that. So, I don’t think it’s been suggested that this can – I’m sure it can take place, but I don’t think it ever did take place.
AMT: Well, beginning in 1953 then, you started making regular visits to Dumbarton Oaks, which have continued until now.
PG: Well, the regularity really should date from ’55. I did in fact come in ’53 and ’54.
AMT: And beginning in ’55 you received a formal appointment, is that right?
PG: Yes. I could come for as long as I wished when I wished, insofar as there was accommodation. I wouldn’t receive any stipend, but my travel expenses and my living expenses would be covered and likewise any expenses involved in going to sales in Europe and so forth were covered.
AMT: And, on the average, how much time did you spend here each year?
PG: I think I spent an average of two months a year over those years. I think there was only one year, in 1956, I was engaged in buying the Bertelè things and I negotiated that more easily in Europe. I think I didn’t come in ’56 but I think I’ve been, I would say, every year except perhaps one or two since then.
AMT: So, that would add up to a number of years. I don’t know if you’ve ever made the calculation.
PG: It’s about seven or eight years, I think, of my life. It’s been for me during the second half of my life my second home.
AMT: I think that for viewers of today we’d be most interested in hearing about what Dumbarton Oaks was like in the ’50s, because there aren’t too many people who remember – what was the physical plant like, who was here, what can you tell us about the place?
PG: Well, it was much smaller than it is today because effectively only the central part of the building existed. The Pre-Columbian wing was built on later and the Garden wing was built on later, so that it was the frontage on 32nd Street and going back as far as it does now, as far as the Orangery, and everything that is in that long, solid block existed. There was no air-conditioning.
AMT: Indeed, there was no air-conditioning for a long time.
PG: No, a long time. The professors’ studies were on the third floor, and it was appallingly hot in summer there. The library was much smaller than it is today.
AMT: So, there were no stacks on the third floor.
PG: There were no stacks on the third floor. The only stacks were on the second floor.
AMT: So, were most of the books then housed in the present-day second floor Reading Room?
PG: They were housed in the second floor Reading Room, and I think – I’m not sure. I suspect that some of the present studies were used for books, but I don’t, to be honest, remember.
AMT: So, the studies were on the third floor, that is one of the biggest changes then of which there is absolutely no trace. And those had originally been the maids’ rooms, is that correct?
PG: Yes. It’s possible there were some books on the third floor. There may have been. I find it impossible to believe, now, that they could all have been fitted into the second floor. But, basically, one somehow assumed that just the professors’ studies were on the third floor.
AMT: Now, in the fifties it was an almost exclusively Byzantine community, isn’t that right?
PG: It was an exclusively Byzantine community. There was no Pre-Columbian section, not at all. A Garden Library – Mrs. Bliss had a Garden Library, something of a Garden Library.
AMT: But there wasn’t a room for it.
PG: There wasn’t a room for it. And where they were, I am not absolutely certain.
AMT: And do you remember who was on the permanent faculty when you came?
PG: The permanent faculty consisted of Bert Friend, who was Director of Studies just before I came, but I met him in ’53-’54, a professor of Art in Princeton, but I don’t think he was ever in residence. I may be wrong there. Resident there were Milton Anastos and Glanville Downey, of straight historians. Of art historians there was Ernst Kitzinger, who lived in what I think had previously been a dog kennel in the grounds, which is now the Gardener’s House. And, Paul Underwood who lived on Fulton Street, and Bob Van Nice who lived a good deal further out Wisconsin Avenue. They were the art historians. Sirarpie Der Nersessian also was living in what I still think of as the Der Nersessians’ house, one of the two at the corner of S Street and 32nd Street.
AMT: Which is now used as the Guest House.
PG: Which is now used as the Guest House. The head gardener had the house in which the Kazhdans lived until last year.
AMT: Was that Matt Kearney?
PG: Matt Kearney lived there.
AMT: And Kitzinger became the Director of Studies then just about the time you began.
PG: Yes, 1957 I think he began. When Cyril Mango and Ihor Ševčenko came on the staff I don’t really remember.
AMT: I think it was in the beginning of the sixties.
PG: Yes, it must have been about then. I associate, I think, Ihor may have been there on a visit when I first came because I can remember him and the great Roman Jakobson being here, and us having dinner in the Fellows Building.
AMT: And the Fellows Building at that time was used for the visiting Fellows, is that right?
PG: Yes, but it had very limited accommodation, and rather primitive in character. It was not used in the summer at all because it was regarded as uninhabitable, for lack of air conditioning. And what is now the kitchen was the East cottage, a separate, smaller version of the West Cottage where Father Dvornik lived. I should have mentioned Father Dvornik as one of those who were permanent residents. And it had become the place that I was regularly put up in, subsequently, until it was torn down in Giles Constable’s time. It was converted into the kitchen in Giles’s time and the main building was made much more habitable than it had been previously.
AMT: Now, in the ’50s were three meals a day served in the Fellows Building?
PG: Yes. I’m fairly sure that certainly at some time three meals a day were served.
AMT: Because that continued into the sixties, I remember.
PG: And then came to an end, curiously, despite the expansion of the kitchen. Yes, there were three meals a day which was, in my case, very bad for my figure. One winter when I was here for about a six months’ stretch, when I broke it going home Christmas, I found I had put on what in English nomenclature was about a stone in weight, about twelve pounds, fourteen pounds, and it gave me such a shock that when I came back I didn’t come in to dinner and the kitchen staff took umbrage thinking that I was reflecting on their cooking. But I was really reflecting on my own vanity.
AMT: Well, that was the problem, their cooking was too good, I guess!
PG: Their cooking was too good. And the helpings were made in the kitchen, by the kitchen staff, and they were awfully substantial. They would create an immense plate.
AMT: They would serve you a plate full of food.
PG: They would serve a plate full of food, much more than one would normally take.
AMT: Tell me how involved the Blisses were with Dumbarton Oaks in the ’50s.
PG: Mr. Bliss, I think, not at all. I got to know him slightly, and I found him always very charming, one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. But Mrs. Bliss was still very active in planning the gardens. You remember that in the late ’50s and ’60s, the pebble garden dates from that and the Oval dates from those periods and she had a great part to play in both of those. She would provide them the money over and above the endowment and she used to come and watch and be sure that the right kind of stone was picked for the pebble garden and so on and so forth. I suppose she may have – I am sure she attended symposia and public lectures and of course concerts, but otherwise I only associate her with coming in very often and serving tea. These were slightly awkward, one had to have a tie about, and turn up wearing a tie, and her conversation was at once interesting and intimidating. She assumed one came from a higher social class than one did. She would ask me, “And what news have you got of dear Tony?” And I racked my brains, and I couldn’t think of a Tony, and then I realized that is was Sir Antony Eden that she was talking about, and things like that. When Michael Hendy came, she assumed as a matter of course that he was the son of the former director of the National Gallery, Philip Hendy.
AMT: Well, her serving of tea continued into the sixties, because I still remember when she presided over tea. Did the Blisses ever invite the Fellows to their home?
PG: A little, rather to the resentment of some of the more permanent professors, who said you’ve got to be a European to be invited there, no good being an American. But they did, yes, I certainly had dinner there several times. I was taken once to a concert, in Constitution Hall, which impressed me enormously because a concert at which one of Shostakovich’s works was produced and was played and I had the pleasure and the privilege of hearing him twice within a month, once in Warsaw, in a concert where he was present and then in Constitution Hall as the guest of the Blisses. And I remember her saying to me soulfully as we came away, “He is really one of the greats.”
AMT: Well, that is an extraordinary coincidence that you were able to hear him twice. Then, the physical expansion of Dumbarton Oaks occurred mainly in the ’60s, in the early ’60s.
PG: Somewhere around 1961 and ’62.
AMT: And, how did that affect, well, first of all, where your study was, and secondly the location of the coins, where were the coins originally housed?
PG: The coins originally were housed in not a proper safe but really a converted filing cabinet in Mrs. Bliss’s office and that held say 4,000 coins.
AMT: What was Mrs. Bliss’s office, where was it?
PG: Sorry, Libby Bland’s office, which was on the corridor as you come in immediately on the right, where Sue Boyd now is. But there was very little space in it. Fortunately, in the reconstruction of this part of the building, a special coin room was provided on the northwest corner I think it would be, or the northeast corner, southwest corner – at any rate, the room opposite this. That was the original coin room. The coins were moved, the ones that we got in ’56 and earlier, were moved downstairs with great difficulty. That safe was got rid of, and that one over there was bought.
AMT: I’m not sure how they got that safe into this room.
PG: Down the steps from the outside. It was brought in from – straight from the road and down the steps and wheeled along the corridor, as that even much bigger one. That was how. I don’t know how it got through the door because it wouldn’t get through it now.
AMT: The door looks quite narrow.
PG: I don’t remember. I wasn’t here when it was carried.
AMT: But it must have been quite an operation.
PG: It must have been quite an operation. I wasn’t here when it was done. But anyway, for the main catalogues in the sixties – in the sixties the room was the one over there. It was very nice, it was larger than this with plenty of space.
AMT: And what was this room used for?
PG: This was visual aids. Photographs.
AMT: Photographic archives. And then about when did you move into this room?
PG: About 1970, with the arrival of the Pre-Columbian material it became far too big for the rest of it. And Betty Benson made a case for taking over that room, and we were moved over here.
AMT: Maybe we should talk a little bit about the catalogues, which have certainly been one of your primary concerns during all your years here. First, you had to build up the collection and then make sure they were published. I know that a lot of people were involved in this process, beginning with Alfred Bellinger, and then later Michael Hendy and Melinda Mayes.
PG: Yes, Melinda Mayes only marginally and in one volume. She was not a Bzantinist and I think had no intention of becoming one. Michael Hendy became a distinguished one. Bellinger came and actually lived in the Der Nersessians’ house for three years from about 1963 to about 1966 or so.
AMT: Was he primarily a Roman numismatist?
PG: He was a Hellenistic – Hellenistic and Roman. His most important and valuable work was one on Greek Hellenistic coins, but he did a lot of Roman coins, but above all he made his name by publishing excavation coins. He was a very efficient cataloguer, he was very systematic in his work and a very good observer, and you would only set him down with a tray of coins and six hours later you would find a careful listing of them all. He was marvelous that way. He wrote everything in beautiful handwriting and so on. His approach to the business was rather different than mine, because he wanted simply to produce a catalogue on the lines of the British museum one, taking Wroth’s volume as his model, and that is true of the first volume. And it is on the whole very well done. But I wanted to – I felt that this enormous, magnificent collection should be made the basis for rethinking the whole of Byzantine coinage, particularly looking at the written literature and references, and not treating it as if it were simply an appendix to Roman coins. So, if one goes and looks at Wroth’s 1908 British Museum catalogue, you’ll find the coins that we would call basilika simply called silver coins, even miliarisia he didn’t know. None of the terminology that we now use then existed. And that really was the work, not simply of me, but of a great number of other people – Père Laurent and the others who wrote about coin names without usually knowing very much about the coins themselves.
AMT: But, the catalogues that you were involved in typically have very extensive historical introductions.
PG: Yes, and numismatic introductions.
AMT: And numismatic introductions.
PG: You see, he [Bellinger] has none, in the first one. Well, he didn’t really see the need for them, and furthermore, he was getting on in years and realized that if one did it on that scale, one would never, one wouldn’t finish in his lifetime and he naturally wanted to do things in his lifetime.
AMT: Was this a real innovation in the creation of coin catalogues?
PG: No, I wouldn’t say so. The British Museum catalogues of Greek and Roman coins have long and pretty magnificent introductions and indeed the old – the Wroth did have, but Wroth was not a Byzantinist. How he came to do his catalogue, I frankly don’t know. I’m afraid to find out. Because he really was an expert on Hellenistic coinage, Parthian coinage, and outside British medals, he had written very well about English medals, and also on the pleasure gardens of eighteenth-century London. He had other interests. But he had no Byzantine background at all. The same was true of Bellinger. Bellinger was a fine Greek scholar, but his real interests came to an end with the fourth century, with Constantine he was very interested in. And he did make important discoveries in the later period when he applied his mind to it. He made one of the most important steps forward – was the dating of the anonymous bronze, which he did on the basis of material from Corinth in the 1920s.
AMT: These are the anonymous folles?
PG: The anonymous folles.
AMT: So, that was Bellinger, because I know people have grappled with it since – refining his classification.
PG: Yes, it was he who made the first serious study on the basis of overstrikes. He had thousands of coins, he found many of them overstruck both on each other and on the “signed” series which existed from the 1050s onwards and allows more precise dating, and basically it’s his work. He was slightly muddled in its setting out, so that we don’t really – his numbering of the classes does not correspond to the numbering of the plates. And so, for both we take Margaret Thompson’s classification when she published the coins from the Agora. So that she really perfected his work.
AMT: Now, did Bellinger die while he was still working on the coin catalogues?
PG: No. He effectively had retired. I think he developed Alzheimer’s. It was a time when one didn’t speak about it or really even know what it was. But, really, he left Dumbarton Oaks in – soon after the appearance of Volume 1. His wife died shortly afterwards, and this was a terrible blow to him and then, as far as I know, he developed Alzheimer’s and lost all academic interests.
AMT: So, this was in the sixties.
PG: It was about, yes, ’71 or ’72.
AMT: But Michael Hendy had become involved prior to that, in the mid-sixties.
PG: Michael Hendy came about – I met him when he was an undergraduate at Oxford when he came over to spend an afternoon in Cambridge. And I found he was interested in the coins of the Comnenians and Paleologans. And this was such a strange interest that I came to be in touch with him; I invited him over to Cambridge once or twice. I think he was the only undergraduate to have ever attended a college feast at my college, generally reserved for very high academics. And when he took his degree at Oxford, he got a grant to go and study – a British Council grant – to go and study coin finds in Bulgaria, and spent several months at Sofia and elsewhere. On the basis of that, he realized that he could revise entirely the coinage of the Comnenians and I was able to arrange without any difficulty that he should get a fellowship here and come here and write what is his great book of 1969 on the coinage of the Comnenians and their successors. When this was finished, Thacher kept him on for a further year to do Volume 4 of the catalogue well ahead of what Bellinger and I were working on.
AMT: Which was the Comnenians.
PG: The Comnenian period and the successor states after 1204. This he did, and the plates which were made up – and quite why nothing then happened I don’t know, it just stuck. He got a post in Cambridge, and then moved on in a few years to a post in Birmingham, but he didn’t lose interest in coins, (he became an eminent Byzantine scholar), but he just made no progress with the catalogue. I think he really felt that if they want the catalogue, they must pay me to come here.
AMT: Well, fortunately in the end, it’s now virtually finished, and will be published either the end of this year or next, along with your own, whose plates we see in front of us, and the galley proofs that you are deeply immersed in correcting.
PG: So, it’s been a source of great pleasure to me over many years. But at the same time, it’s only been a part of my interests because I’ve published extensively on Western coinage.
AMT: Well, as you constantly remind those of us at Dumbarton Oaks, you do not consider yourself a Byzantinist.
PG: I do not consider myself a Byzantinist.
AMT: But back to your Byzantine interests, if anyone looks over your list of Byzantine publications, obviously they’re almost all on coins, but there is one which sort of sticks out as being different, your very substantial article in DOP 16 on the tombs and obits of Byzantine emperors. How did you come to write that article?
PG: Pure accident. Happenstance. In the summer of, I suppose, about 1960, Glanville Downey gave me an offprint of an article that he had published. He was interest in – he had written on the Church of the Holy Apostles and was interested in the emperors that were buried there. He discovered in Paris a list of tombs of emperors that were buried there and this is part of the Patria. He didn’t know that it was, but it was. This was pointed out at once. At any rate, he gave me this article, and I read it. When I was back in Cambridge that fall, I was working on the coins of the Lombards and using Schiaparelli’s edition in the Fontes of sources of Italy, their edition of the Lombard charters. When putting it back on the shelf, I saw a book with the title “Origo civitatum Italiae,” which I had never heard of, edited by a Venetian historian, Roberto Cessi, took it down and started looking at it. And, to my stupefaction, in one of the very early annals of the Annales Altinate of Venice, I discovered a list of Roman emperors and the dates of their death and quite a lot about their sarcophagi and where they were buried and so on. And, in the course of doing this, this had been published in the 1860s and as far as I know no Byzantine historian had ever spotted this list of emperors, which were clearly something translated from Greek, because one could see the corruptions of this bad Italian into which it was translated. He sometimes hadn’t understood and had muddled the words and run two words together and so on. It was clearly a translation and it was in fact a translation of a missing chapter in the Constantine Porphyrogenitus De Cerimoniis. We know it was the missing chapter because it’s listed in the Greek table of contents but the quire which would contain it is missing in the Leipzig manuscript, the only one that is complete. And that is how I came to publish that, I did a lot of research on the tombs and dates of death and so forth and it was provided with an appendix by Cyril Mango and Ihor Ševčenko, who had discovered in the patriarchal library in Istanbul a palimpsest of a page of the missing Greek text.
AMT: That was the first of your articles that I ever read. I can’t remember now why I needed information from it, but I was very impressed by your detective work.
PG: Well, it was fun.
AMT: Well, in closing, maybe you could reflect just a little bit on some of the changes you’ve seen at Dumbarton Oaks over the past forty-five years.
PG: Well, how does one reflect on something like this? It’s been a vast expansion. A recent book has said that – has criticized Dumbarton Oaks on the ground that it lacks the distinguished professors like Milton Anastos and so on. I don’t myself believe that this is true. There are many more Fellows, there is a vast amount of valuable work I think done every year and I, always, I learn things every day from younger Fellows who are here. And, of course, you see, it is now expanded into two fields that in those days hadn’t been thought of: the History of Landscape Gardening and Pre-Columbian.
AMT: Yes, that certainly is one of the major changes.
PG: These are both major changes.
AMT: Do you feel it’s a somewhat more open and less formal institution that it was when you first came?
PG: It’s somewhat less. It is less, but I was never uncomfortable, and I like the lack of formality.
AMT: I do remember myself that there were days in the old days that one would not wear blue jeans to lunch, for example, and that certainly is no longer true.
PG: That is no longer true, or shorts to lunch. No, I suppose that took place gradually, but that took place as part of the general informalization of costume over the years.
AMT: That’s certainly true.
PG: It’s something which is quite part of our own everyday life.
AMT: I think one of the major changes that has been wrought here was due to the introduction of air conditioning. Because then Dumbarton Oaks began functioning as a year round institution.
PG: Yes, that is certainly true. That, of course, was a much later thing. In the East Cottage, when I lived there, they eventually put an air-conditioning thing in the window of my bedroom but I never had any in my sitting room. And it was, if I had to come in the summer, which, when I was still teaching in Cambridge I did have to come in July or August because our new term would start in the beginning of October. It was very hot, and it was much nicer to have air conditioning.
AMT: Well, I want to thank you very much for taking the time to talk with me today, especially when you’re so busy trying to finish up these galley proofs, and wish you well in your retirement –
PG: My retirement, my retirement!
AMT: Your retirement from your position as Advisor for Byzantine Numismatics at Dumbarton Oaks, and we look forward to your return next spring when there will be a special celebration in honor of the publication of Volumes 4 and 5 of the catalogue. So, thank you Philip.
PG: Thank you.