Photocopying the Treaty of Nanking in January 1843 / Part 2

R. Derek Wood

Part 2

Collen’s Album at GEH

The Album of Collen’s photographic prints of the Treaty of Nanking was offered to George Eastman House in 1952 by Kurt L. Schwarz, rare books dealer in Beverly Hills, California.(17)  The dealer wrote that he had ‘a number of customers interested in the field of Chinese History who will be eager to own this document’ but he would not quote a price to anyone else before receiving a response from Beaumont Newhall at GEH.  He also made an intriguing comment: ‘While somewhat faded, the Chinese text is still perfectly legible...while the great Chinese seal that was printed in red on the original, has not reproduced so well, but is still visible.’ As can be seen from the British original protocol treaty surviving at the Public Record Office in England, the Chinese seals are indeed printed in red, but that was common with other documents of the period. So it certainly has to be borne in mind that Schwarz himself or one of his specialist customers or advisors might quite simply have been merely making a reasonable assumption about the original colour.  However, the fact that he took the trouble to make this specific remark about Chinese seal ‘that was printed in red on the original’ suggests more that this information was derived from conversation between the dealer and his vendor. Schwarz’s remark is certainly suggestive that his vendor had been in contact with the original manuscript in Taiwan.

It would seem that at the time GEH purchased the item no information was sought as to where or how the dealer acquired the album. Incidentally, in the experience of the present researcher, that type of curatorial negligence is encountered far too often, and perhaps this case could serve as a warning and an encouragement towards improvement in professional expertise. Without such a record at GEH or in California to provide some guidance, the present author once believed that, because of the characteristics of the binding, the source of the Collen Album was indirectly from the Foreign Office itself. However, in the light of the newly revealed fact that the Chinese-held manuscript of the Treaty was removed by the Nationalists from mainland China to Taipei in 1949, it is most likely that Collen’s photographic copy now at GEH is the one that had been sent by the British Foreign Office to China in 1843. So the direct provenance of Collen’s album on its arrival in California not long before February 1952 is most likely to have been Taiwan, by courtesy of a member of the Kiang Kai-shek forces who had fled there [Taiwan] from China.

Between December 1949 and 1952 the American government had become heavily involved with Taiwan and a large number of American military personnel had been sent there. The journey of Henry Collen’s photographic album represents something leading towards almost a full circle: leaving London in the care of a military representative of the British Empire in 1843 it seems to have reached New York State in 1952 as a result of American military and political activity across the Pacific.  When Ch’i-ying, the principal Manchu/Chinese delegate reported back to his Emperor during the weeks leading up to the signing of the protocol Treaty in August 1842 he thought that the principals proposed by the British ‘truly indicate, as your majesty had said, their insistence upon material profit’(18) Perhaps the arrival of Collen’s photographic copy of the Treaty in California in 1952 can also represent part of an ongoing saga of links between Foreign policy and military activity with private commercial opportunity.

The major outstanding problem concerning Henry Collen’s photographic copy of the Treaty of Nanking has now been solved by the events in Taiwan in June 1997 as recounted above. But in the period since 1982 when Larry Schaaf first published a description of Collen’s album (19) it has also been possible to reconsider some of its characteristics which (with Dr. Schaaf’s help) are worth discussing here.

‘The Chinese Version copied by the Photographic Process of Mr. Henry Collen’ is the subtitle written on the label on the cover of the album at George Eastman House. The wording of the label, mentioning Collen in the third person, indicates the album was assembled by someone other than Collen himself, although a person who was acquainted, or at least with knowledge that it was he who did the work. The handwriting on this label was also written in a script that is not Collen’s(20).  Neither is it the handwriting of the Sir Henry Pottinger (who signed the protocols at Nanking and became the first British Governor of Hong Kong) nor that of Lt. Colonel Malcolm, who took the Chinese Government’s copy of the Treaty back to Hong Kong after ratification in London.  The label is basically rectangular but with the corners cut across. An identically shaped (though smaller) label is also fixed to the cover of the original treaty held in the Foreign Office until it was transferred to its present home in the Public Record Office. As well as having the same type of label, the red binding of the album at GEH is very strikingly identical in size and character to that of the thin volume containing the original Foreign Office document, with the sole difference that the latter has the two small words ‘FOREIGN OFFICE’ impressed into the surface of the front cover immediately below the label and in the centre of the back cover. It is thus likely that the same binder (the Foreign Office had their own printing workshop) did both volumes, although as the original volume also contains some other relevant later documents (manuscript Supplementary Treaty and printed Tariff of Duties) that binding could not have been done until 1844 at earliest.(21)

The Album at GEH, like the original manuscripts, does also have the text of the Treaty in English. It was not necessary for Collen to photographically copy those pages of English text as it was easy for any clerk to do that work. The handwriting of the English text of the album copy is not identical to the manuscript in London. Although it is on a similar type of paper in mode of manufacture the water marks of the English text sheets of Collen’s copy alternate between an emblem of Britannia with ‘Tassell & Smith 1841’ while the pages of the original British Government’s copy of the ratified Treaty in English alternate with the emblem of Britannia and ‘T. EDMONDS 1841’.

The pages of the original ratified Treaty in London have brownish-red impressions of the Seal of the Imperial Envoy (qin chai da chen guan fang(22)) at the inner edges of pages that were originally folded boundaries before binding. Images of these impressions do also appear very faintly (23) on Collen’s photocopy. The extreme faintness of the images of those seals is unlikely to be due to a problem of light sensitivity of the photographic process as all early photo-sensitivity was to blue light only and the red-brown colour of the impressed seals would have been recorded almost as if black. Yet compared with the density of the Chinese characters, the images of the Chinese seals are extremely faint. In 1982 Larry Schaaf reported ‘There are traces of ink-retouching on some of the characters where the photographic version has faded, but on the whole the photographic copy is remarkably readable even after the lapse of almost 140 years’. On re-examination in 1994, this time with the advantage of comparison with the Chinese characters as written on the original text in the Public Record Office in London, it became easier to judge that very extensive rewriting over the characters had taken place. It could be seen that sharp edged black Chinese characters on Collen’s photocopy were placed, or traced, over the photographic images by someone (presumably Collen) with no understanding of Chinese. The nature of the pen strokes was different to the sweeping trait of the strokes made by the original writer, who was presumably J. Robert Morrison, the British translator at Nanking. Some of the Chinese phono- and picto-graphic characters on the pages in the Collen Album have not been fully over written and the uncovered remaining parts of such characters not only show a difference in the quality of calligraphy, but a greatly reduced intensity of that photographic silver image.

The photographic images both of the Chinese impressed seals and the Chinese characters have probably faded to the same considerable extent, the characters only appear so much stronger than the seals because there was no good reason to emphasis the latter with ink. It should be clearly understood that the reproduced presence of signatures of the three Manchu officials and of the English diplomat (emphasised with pencil), the now very faint faded images of Chinese impressed seals, as well as that of a prominent image of a dense British wax seal and ribbon on the last signature page of Collen’s photocopy have always demonstrated that it was not taken from some office copy, but truly photographically obtained from one of the official signed and ratified manuscripts of the Treaty.  After comparing the ratified manuscript held in London the commonsense indication was that Collen’s photographic copy would have been taken from the signed and sealed counterpart copy that left London for China on 5 January 1843. However although that was the most likely situation it was still necessary to be cautious about that conclusion, as it was also apparent that two signed protocol manuscripts of the Treaty were prepared for each side at Nanking. The last article (art. xiii) of the Treaty as prepared in August 1842 stated

The ratification of this treaty by Her Majesty the Queen of Britain, &c., and his Majesty the Emperor of China, shall be exchanged as soon as the great distance which separates England from China will admit; but, in the meantime, counterpart copies of it, signed and sealed by the plenipotentiares on behalf of their respective sovereigns, shall be mutually delivered, and all its provisions and arrangements shall take effect.

The last part of that article xiii is written in four lines on the right half of the signature page of the Chinese text on both of the surviving manuscripts, but the spacing between the written Chinese characters varies. Only the last two characters appear on the fourth line of the London manuscript (see figure 1.) while on the signature page of the manuscript now in Taiwan the last six characters of the Chinese text flow over on to the fourth line. On the signature page of Collen’s photographic copy the same six characters at the end of article xiii are reproduced on the fourth line. On that simple comparison alone it is immediately obvious - and closer examination of other factors confirm the immediate impression - that the album at GEH contains photocopies made in December 1842 from the manuscript now in Taiwan.

Acknowledgement: Dr. Larry Schaaf has made an important contribution while in USA to this study through correspondence making it possible for the author in England to overcome an inconvenience placed by the Atlantic Ocean in examining Collen’s album at George Eastman House in Rochester, NY.

Last page (with signatures) of the Manchu/Chinese section of the Treaty of Nanking

Figure 1. Last page (with signatures)
of the Chinese character text of Protocol of the Treaty of Nanking
(Public Record Office, London: FO 93/23/1B, f 13).
This Crown copyright document is reproduced by permission of the Controller of HMSO.

R. D. Wood:  November 1997 [first appearance Online, not published in print]

Part 1 | Footnotes (parts 1 & 2) | Form and FO
Home Page |