The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 13, Number 22, May 30, 2010, Article 19


Bruce Smith also forwarded some great information on Howard Franklin Bowker and his collection of Chinese coins. -Editor

Howard F. Bowker I can now reveal a secret I have been keeping since 2007. One of the foremost and most knowledgeable collectors of Chinese coins during the 1940's to 1960's was Howard Franklin Bowker, a U.S. Naval officer. Though he wrote dozens of articles, he is not as well known as his friend and correspondent, Arthur B. Coole, probably because his only published book was a bibliography of East Asian numismatics published in 1943 by the ANS.

Coole had published a bibliography on the same subject in 1940, but Coole's work was primarily on Chinese and Japanese works, while Bowker's was on western language works. In later years, the two worked together with Kozono in Japan, and in 1967 an updated bibliography was published under all three names as volume one of Coole's Encyclopedia of Chinese Coins.

For 30 years, from the 1930's into the 1960's, Coole and Bowker corresponded, mainly about books on Chinese coins and paper money. Those letters were saved by Bowker's family and I now have copies of them (filling 3 ring-binders) in my library.

Bowker died in 1970 and in his will left his coin collection to the Smithsonian, where he had been (volunteer) curator of Asian coins in the 1950's. The Smithsonian, however, would not make arrangements to receive the collection, and not long afterwards, Bowker's wife died. The collection went to Bowker's only surviving son, Irving (his other two sons died in World War II), but still the Smithsonian would not make arrangements to receive the collection.

I heard about this in 1973 from Ward D. Smith, author of Chinese Banknotes, and a long time friend of Bowker's. In the 1980's I wrote about this collection and the Smithsonian's reluctance to accept it in my magazine, East Asia Journal, and I contacted Dr. Vladimir Clain-Stefanelli, numismatic curator at the Smithsonian, about the matter.

Dr. Stefanelli told me that they were not pushing the matter because they were afraid Bowker's son might contest the Smithsonian's claim to the collection. I visited the Smithsonian in 1994 and brought up the subject with Richard Doty (Mrs. Clain-Stefanelli who was curator then, was out of town). He had not heard about it but promised to bring it up with Mrs. Stefanelli. By this time, I had lost track of where Bowker's son was living, and the collection was lost as far as anyone knew.

In 2007, Michael Chou (Champion Hong Kong Auctions) suggested we try to find the Bowker collection. In time I was able to find Irving's widow (he had died in the 1990's), and early in 2008, Michael and I went to see the collection for the first time. For our visit, the family put up several tables in the garage, and laid out boxes and boxes of coins, all neatly filed away in Bowker's original printed envelopes. We found out that the family had contacted the Smithsonian several times about donating the collection, and the Smithsonian finally told them they were not interested in the collection. They did, however, accept the donation of Bowker's collection of Chinese stamps.

Under these circumstances, after we examined the collection for two days, Michael made the family a generous six figure offer. They were clearly shocked that it was worth so much, but Irving's widow insisted that Howard Bowker's wish that it be donated should be honored. Michael Chou offered to arrange to donate the collection to the Shanghai Museum, and Mrs. Bowker agreed, but the Shanghai Museum turned down the offer, since they already have the most extensive collection of Chinese coins in China.

Ultimately, parts of the collection were donated to the Shanghai Mint Museum, and parts to the Shenyang Finance Museum in Shenyang (formerly known as Mukden, in Manchuria). Ceremonies were held in both museums earlier this year. Details on the donations and a detailed biography of Bowker I wrote in 2008, can be found on the Champion Galleries website: The site comes up in Chinese, but if you click the ENGLISH button in the upper right, everything will appear in English.

Bowker collection

Howard Bowker also had one of the largest libraries on Chinese coins outside of China. I was fortunate to be able to obtain most of this library, and have added it to my own. Unfortunately some books which I knew were in Bowker's library are missing. On one of our later visits with the family, we found out that when Howard Bowker died, his wife was ill and already in the hospital. Bowker's home, in Oakland, California, sat empty for some months, during which time it was broken into and robbed several times. The family has no idea what was stolen, aside from the TV's and other household items. We are all fortunate that the burglars apparently didn't think the books were worth stealing or burning.

Wayne Homren, Editor

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