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Royall Tyler to Robert Woods Bliss, January 13, 1927

Lloyd Triestino
Piroscafo “Helouan”
13 Jan. 27Thursday.

Dear Robert,

I think I told you, in my long letter from Cairo, nearly all I have to say about the silver things, and on reflection I am confirmed in my opinion: (a) the price being asked at present is a ridiculously high one, and there isn’t much danger of his getting it; (b) the candlesticksPair of Lampstands, Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, acc. no. 57.634-635. are the things you really want, and (c) it might be very useful to come to some understanding with Eric Maclagan and perhaps DaltonOrmonde Maddock Dalton (1866–1945), a scholar of Early Christian and Byzantine antiquity who entered the British Museum in 1895. He became keeper of the British and Medieval antiquities in 1921 and retired in 1927. He is especially known for his monumental Byzantine Art and Archaeology (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1911) and his survey East Christian Art, A Survey of the Monuments (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1925). (of the Brit. Mus.) so as to be ready to jump when the time comes—provided of course that they would want the chalices etc and would be willing to let you have the candlesticks.

After hearing three conflicting accounts of Abu’s relations with Kalebdjian, I have pieced the story together, tentatively, as follows:

Abu was induced to take the treasure to Paris last year by a person “Mr. C.” who was leaving Egypt because he had got the sack from his job, and who lured on Abu with hopes of selling to a millionaire. The objects were photod in Paris, and Mr. C. appears to have whispered a word about them to K. of the rue Balzac, who went to the photographer, got hold of the negatives, cut Abu’s name off them, and then started offering the things about, unknown to Abu, to the Metrop. Museum and elsewhere. Moreover, Mr. C., promising Abu that he would be introduced to a millionaire U. S. collector, got Abu to take the things to K’s place, where a monocled Armenian was produced as the millionaire, and spoke very haughtily to Abu.

The result was that Abu conceived an unfavourable opinion of K., and swore he would never sell the things through K. This is why K. insisted on getting his commission direct from the buyer, and why it was necessary for K’s man in Cairo to approach Abu through a third party, the dealer KhawamKhawam Frères, an antiquities shop in the central bazaar of Cairo. The Khawam family had moved to Egypt from Syria in 1860, and Sélim Khawam opened the Cairo antiquities shop in 1862. At the end of the nineteenth century, the eldest son Jean and then his brothers (Amin, Fernand, and Joseph) began working for the business. In 1912, the Khawams were certified as official antiquities merchants by the Egyptian Antiquities Service. See Sharon Waxman, Loot: The Battle Over the Stolen Treasures of the Ancient World (New York: Times Books, 2008), 125. to whom Abu had given a £12,000 option expiring the 31st inst.

Thus the unfortunate Abu is surrounded on all sides by people to whom he must give commissions—unless he sold to the S. Kensington, for he got into touch with Eric direct, and not through any intermediary.

I have no doubt that K’s story would differ materially from this one, but I rather think the above is pretty near the facts on the main lines.

I don’t think there is the slightest hurry about the whole thing, for some time will pass before Abu has convinced himself that if he wants to sell at all he will have to do so at a price considerably below what he says he paid. I also suspect that when he has done the necessary thinking he will come in a proper frame of mind either to us or to Eric.

You might think it all over, and let me know whether you’d like me to broach the subject of a possible deal to Eric. I would defer doing so till I met Eric, as it’s a rather difficult matter to explain by correspondence, and as I said before there’s no hurry.

We enjoyed the visit to Egypt immensely, and the only fly in the ointment was the disappointed expectation of being able to report to you that the treasure was of A-1 quality.

We spent 3 days at Luxor, and saw the Valley of the Kings,The Valley of the Kings, a valley in Egypt on the west bank of the Nile River, opposite Thebes (modern Luxor), where from the sixteenth to the eleventh century BCE, tombs were constructed for the pharaohs and powerful nobles of the New Kingdom (the eighteenth to the twentieth dynasties of ancient Egypt). the best of the Tombs there and at the Valley of the Queens,The Valley of the Queens, a valley in Egypt on the west bank of the Nile River, opposite Thebes (modern Luxor), where from the sixteenth to the eleventh century BCE, tombs were constructed for the wives and children of the pharaohs and powerful nobles of the New Kingdom (the eighteenth to the twentieth dynasties of ancient Egypt). Deir-el-BahriDeir el-Bahari (Deir el-Bahri), a complex of mortuary temples and tombs located on the west bank of the Nile, opposite the city of Thebes (modern Luxor) in Egypt. The complex includes the Eighteenth Dynasty mortuary temple of Queen Hatshepsut. and Karnac.Karnak, the modern Egyptian city, formerly part of ancient Thebes on the east bank of the Nile River, which has a temple complex that was begun in the Middle Kingdom and that continued into the Ptolemaic period, although most of the extant buildings date to the New Kingdom.

Karnac and Luxor,Luxor, the modern Egyptian city, formerly part of ancient Thebes on the east bank of the Nile River, which has a temple complex begun in the Eleventh Dynasty. the Ramesseum,The Ramesseum, a mortuary temple of Pharaoh Ramesses II located in the Theban necropolis on the west bank of the Nile River across from Luxor. the Tombs of the Kings, including Seti’sMenmaatre Seti I, a pharaoh of the New Kingdom Nineteenth Dynasty of ancient Egypt. His well-preserved tomb is the deepest of all the New Kingdom royal tombs and the first to have decorations of low relief sculptures and paintings in every passageway and chamber. and Tutankamon’s,Tutankhamun, an Egyptian pharaoh of the New Kingdom Eighteenth Dynasty. His nearly intact tomb was discovered in 1922 by Howard Carter (1874–1939), and the discovery of this tomb and its artifacts is credited with the renewal of public interest in ancient Egypt. are washouts, and the whole architecture and monumental sculpture of the XVIII and XIX Dynasties also. There are exceptions, as at Deir el Bahri, and some of the less pretentious tombs, but the bulk of the stuff is awful.

What is superb beyond all expectations is Sakkara,Saqqara (Sakkara), a necropolis in ancient Egypt for the capital city of Memphis. Saqqara has numerous pyramids, including the Step Pyramid of Djoser. the Granite Temple of the Sphinx,The Granite Temple, an Old Kingdom valley temple that stands near the Sphinx at Giza and that is directly connected with the Second Pyramid (Pyramid of Khafra) by means of a causeway that leads from its entrance up to the entrance of the mortuary temple of that pyramid. and the Cairo Museum.The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo, a museum with an extensive collection of 120,000 ancient Egyptian antiquities. We spent a magnificent day at Sakkara with Cecil FirthCecil Mallaby Firth (1878–1931), a British Egyptologist who worked on the excavation of the Step Pyramid complex of Djoser and who was appointed chief inspector of Saqqara in 1927 by the Egyptian Antiquities Service. who is excavating there, and saw the III Dynasty Temple he had just dug out, with the most perfect limestone masonry I’ve ever seen anywhere, joints so fine that you can barely see them, let alone getting a fine knife blade between them, and fluted columns as delicate and beautiful, more so indeed than the finest Greek stuff of the Vth B. C. And the reliefs in the tombs of TiThe tomb (mastaba) of Ti, located at the northern edge of the Saqqara necropolis. The tomb, which has painted reliefs, was discovered by Auguste Mariette (1821–1881) in 1865. and others of the V Dynasty are marvels—such portraits of every kind of bird and beasts, baby hippopotami, sporting with their mother, crocodiles, geese, ducks, hoopoes, cranes, egrets,—and also lovely ladies dancing.

After seeing Sakkara and the Granite Temple of the Sphinx, which is absolutely unadorned, simply built of huge, perfectly faced granite blocks, it is a dreadful shock to come to Luxor and Karnak and see those enormous temples, built of hideous sandstone like the brownstone of which “fronts” used to be made in N Y and Boston, and covered with mechanical sculpture turned out to order by the mile, and utterly devoid of any but historical interest.

The XVIII and XIX DynastiesThe New Kingdom Eighteenth Dynasty, ca. 1850–ca. 1292 BCE, and Nineteenth Dynasty, ca. 1292–1187 BCE. could produce good things on a small scale, but nothing they did can compare with the Old EmpireThe Old Kingdom, 2616–2181 BCE. stuff. In the Cairo Museum there is jewelry of the I DynastyFirst Dynasty, ca. 3100–2190 BCE. which is as accomplished technically and far finer as art than any of the Tut stuff, and the XII Dyn.Twelfth Dynasty, 1991–1802 BCE. jewelry is also superb.

Another disappointment were the Cairo mosques, but the Arab Museum,The Museum of Islamic Art, Cairo, established in 1880. the Coptic Mus.The Coptic Museum, Cairo, with the largest collection of Egyptian Christian (Coptic) artifacts in the world. The museum was founded by Marcus Simaika Pasha in 1910. and the Coptic part of the Egyptian Mus.The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, Cairo. are superb.

At Alexandria there is a most interesting museumThe Graeco-Roman Museum, Alexandria, founded in 1892. with Coptic stuff, and a magnificent private collection belonging to one Benachi [sic],Antonis Benakis (1873–1954), a Greek collector in Alexandria. Benakis established the Benaki Museum in Athens in 1930 with a collection of more than 37,000 Islamic and Byzantine objects. a Greek, very rich cotton merchant. His special hobby is FatimiteThe Fatimid Islamic Caliphate (909–1171), a Muslim caliphate that spanned a vast area of the Arab world between the Red Sea in the east and the Atlantic Ocean in the west. and AbbasidThe Abbasid Caliphate (750–1258), the third of the Islamic caliphates. textiles,See É[tienne] Combe, “Tissus fatimides du Musée Bénaki,” Mélange Maspéro 3 (1935–1940): 259–72. and he has a marvellous series of turbans, but not a single one in the same street with yours,BZ.1926.2. about which he had heard from Mallon. He is going to move his collection to Athens, and you must see it when you go there.

Much love from all of us to Mildred and you.

R. T.

I shall be at Budapest till Feb. 26 and then go to Geneva for the Fin. Com.The League of Nations Financial Committee consisted of officials approved by the British, French, and Belgian finance ministries, central bankers, prominent businessmen, and private bankers from Switzerland and Holland. meeting.

I didn’t present any letters at Cairo at all, as I didn’t want to waste time.See letter of December 18, 1926. I ascertained, however, that there’d be no difficulty about the treasure leaving Egypt, as it was not found in Egypt.See letter of December 29, 1926. Abu has a declaration from the Eg. authorities making that quite clear.In the collection of Gwyneth Thompson Todd, Australia, is a similar letter from Royall Tyler to Eric Maclagan, director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Associated Places: Cairo (Egypt); Egypt
Associated Artworks: BZ.1926.2