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Philadelphians and the China Trade, 1784-1844

July 1–September 23, 1984

The port of Philadelphia was a major center of the China trade in the 18th century, rivaling those of Boston, Salem, and New York. Large ships sailed down the Delaware River laden with silver dollars, raw cotton, and ginseng, and returned many months later with tea and a rich assortment of the decorative arts of China. The sophisticated tastes of Philadelphians assured a ready market for the delicate porcelains, fine silks, furniture, toys and miniatures, works on paper, and decorative objects of ivory, lacquer, tortoise shell, and silver. To celebrate the 200th anniversary of the sailing of the first American ship to China, the Museum will examine Philadelphia's position in the trade through an exhibition of over 300 objects which were commissioned by Philadelphians or which arrived on ships at the city's port. These represent some of the finest objects produced by Chinese artists for the American market. Philadelphians and the China Trade was organized by Jean Gordon Lee, Curator of Far Eastern Art. The installation will be organized around the portraits and possessions of key Philadelphians associated with the China trade. In addition to works from the Museum's extensive collection, objects will be borrowed from descendants of Philadelphia China traders and patrons, from local institutions, and from other collections in the United States, Hong Kong, and the Netherlands. In a cooperative venture between the two institutions, the Philadelphia Maritime Museum has organized a related exhibition of ships' manifests, documents of shipping routes, and exchange goods of the China trade, which will be shown in an adjoining gallery.

Main Building


Miss Jean Gordon Lee

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