Kavan Ratnatunga forwarded an interesting article about the tribulations of the Chennai Government Museum in publishing a book on Roman and Byzantine coins. He writes:
When I visited the Museum in Chennai in 2012 September, I did purchase the catalog by T.G. Aravamuthan on Venetian Coins, but did not buy the one on roman coins since it did not appear to be interesting at a quick glance. Now I know why.
Below is a short excerpt of the well-written article. Be sure to read the complete version online. The image is of the book's author, T.G. Aravamuthan.
A catalogue of coins is the last place to expect a story of intrigue. But the Chennai Government Museum’s book of Roman and Byzantine coins belies that. Beneath its deceptive appearance as a clerical list of objects, the catalogue carries an absorbing story of a temperamental scholar and the museum’s shameful ignorance of its own history. It is also a sad account of the falling standards of Indian museums and raises the question whether they are reliable repositories of the past any more.
The story begins in 2002 when the museum decided to publish a catalogue of Roman and Byzantine coins. The Government Museum, Chennai, holds the largest collection of Roman coins outside Europe — a fact not known to many. In March 2002, the book was released and R. Kannan, then Commissioner of the museum, explained that it was a reprint of the 1942 catalogue compiled by T.G. Aravamuthan, curator of numismatics between 1932 and 1942.
What Kannan and his staff did not know was that the museum had never printed the book and that the publication had actually been abandoned during World War II. Following the government’s decision to divert type-metal for war purposes, the press removed the types from the frames of the composed pages and melted it to make ammunition.
In 2002, when the museum found the proof pages in its files, instead of reading it in full or checking the history, it assumed that it had the entire book and printed 1000 copies. The incomplete proof pages are still sold as a professional catalogue. Senior museum officials insist that the catalogue was completed and published in 1942. A letter dated January 7, 1960, from the assistant superintendent of the museum to Aravamuthan states clearly that the museum had the proofs to only the first part of the catalogue printed in 1942 and nothing was set to print after that.
What the museum officials also did not know was that the museum tried to complete the catalogue in 1952 and again in 1965. By then, the relationship between Aravamuthan and the museum officials had soured. When the irritated superintendent sent a caustic reminder and issued a veiled threat, Aravamuthan, who was almost 70 years old, dared the museum to take action. Why ‘hunt out one who had ceased to be its employee’ and whose work the museum had ‘sabotaged,’ he retorted.
Aravamuthan later relented and promised to complete the catalogue. The trail of the correspondence with the museum, which his family generously shared, ends in 1967. Three years later, in 1970, Aravamuthan died at the age of 80. The catalogue was not completed.
To read the complete article, see:
Coining a catalogue
Wayne Homren, Editor
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