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Royall Tyler to Robert Woods Bliss, August 9, 1952

Grande Albergo Bernini-Bristol

Roma

9.VIII.52

Dear Robert,

I have just spent 4 hours solid with Bertelè,Tommaso Bertelè (1892–1971), an Italian diplomat, scholar, and collector who specialized in Byzantine numismatics and history. and I have taken away with me (on loan) a typewritten catalogue of the collectionDumbarton Oaks would acquire a collection of some five thousand Byzantine coins that had been assembled mainly in the Balkans by the Italian diplomat and scholar Tommaso Bertelè (1892–1971). Dumbarton Oaks acquired the coins in two groups: in 1956 and 1960. with prices, as well as several articles etc. by him on it.On August 2, 1952, Robert Woods Bliss had written John Thacher: “Père Laurent also wrote Ermaloff [sic] that in Rome there is an important collection of gold Byzantine coins to the number of 6564, many of which the Padré asserts are unknown elsewhere (?) and which the owner now desires to dispose of. They apparently belong to a man named Bertelé. This is something, it seems to me, that bears investigation and I am wondering if there is anyone at D.O. now who knows anything about that collection.” Père Laurent (Vitalien Laurent) (1896–1973) was a French priest, theological historian, and Byzantine sigillographer. Boris Nicolaevich Ermolov (Ermoloff) (1891–ca. 1967) was a Russian expatriate and longtime friend of Thomas Whittemore. He was the librarian of the Byzantine Institute in Paris. Dumbarton Oaks Archives, Administrative files, John S. Thacher correspondence, 1949–1953.

I won’t attempt to go into detail now; it would take reams, and much more time than I dispose of. But, briefly, there’s little (ca. 150 pieces) gold not much more electrum and silver, the balance of the 6000 or so pieces being copper. But there are quantities of unica in it, and the whole thing is a monument to the industry and passionate interest of the owner. The copper starts with the VI c Justinian IJustinian I (ca. 482–565), Byzantine emperor between 527 and 565.—there may be a few Anastasius,Anastasius I (ca. 431–518), Byzantine emperor from 491 to 518. already—and goes on down to the end represented by what he considers to be a coin of the last Emp. Constantine Dragades.Constantine XI Dragaš Palaiologos (1405–1453), the last reigning Byzantine emperor, from 1449 to 1453.

Important points: (1) one could deal on a basis of not buying most of gold, if as I think we have it already; (2) one could argue about price; (3) what one did buy could be delivered in Switzerland—say Geneva; (4) he would part a once with the sections of the collection which he has already published, or studied to his own satisfaction. Other parts (late bronze, mostly) he would only release when he has finished studying them, to be paid for when handed over.* This would amount to payment by installment.

*With maximum delays for each series, and penalties to be paid by him for failure to deliver on date.

The late bronze, particularly XIII–XV cent., is of enormous historical interest, and indeed a new chapter of Byzantine numismatics, which WrothWarwick William Wroth (1858–1911), senior assistant keeper of coins and medals in the British Museum. He authored the two-volume Catalogue of the Imperial Byzantine Coins in the British Museum (London: Printed by Order of the Trustees, Sold at the British Museum, 1908). treats very hastily, or summarily, for lack of adequate material.

I’m utterly exhausted—he’s a non-stop talker, and to get him even to listen to a question is like trying to reverse a locomotive and make it run t’other way—but I’m very happy to have seen him. As you gather from the above, I think D.O. ought to have it.

Incidentally, poor ErmoloffBoris Nicolaevich Ermolov (Ermoloff), a Russian expatriate and longtime friend of Thomas Whittemore. He was the librarian of the Byzantine Institute in Paris. copied the address wrong—I have his pneumatique before me—he typed 9 via Mazzini, the correct address being 9 viale Mazzini. However, no harm done.

We must talk about it exhaustively when you come to Paris again, with catalogue in hand.

I leave tomorrow for Istanbul (Park Hotel), where I may be for a good week.Tyler went to Istanbul to inspect the Georges Zacos collection of Byzantine seals on behalf of Dumbarton Oaks. See also the letter of August 12, 1952. He also may also have gone to Istanbul to discuss the Radio Free Europe “Istanbul Project,” sponsored by the National Committee for a Free Europe. The project was to provide radio coverage to Bulgaria and Romania by installing a wave transmitter and broadcast studios in Istanbul. After that, I don’t yet know. Anyway, I’m due back in Paris October 31.

Murderous heat here; but Rome lovely. Fondest messages to you both.

Yours,

R. T.

P.S. Sangiorgi is out of town. No wonder, in this temperature.

Of course, I went over the whole of Bertelè’s collection. What luck to find him here! He’s going away next week, for 2 months.Robert Woods Bliss recounted Royall Tyler’s impression of the Bertelè collection to John Thacher in a letter dated August 28, 1952: “On reaching Orly Airport Monday evening, whom should we find there with the usual crowd seeking its luggage but R.T., who had just flown in from the Near East. It was a most agreeable surprise, because we feared lest we should not see him during our 24 hours in Paris en route to England. Yesterday he lunched with us and told us of his four hours’ talk with the man in Rome, about which you know from R.T.’s letter which I sent you from Munich (or was it some place else!). He brought with him a series of pamphlets written by Tommaso Bertele and others on various matters relating to numismatics. These treatises I am sending you under separate cover. Good fortune smiled on R.T. because he caught Bertele just on the eve of his departure from Rome, and was thus able to go into the matter with much detail, although, from Royall’s account, the talking was all done by his host! He feels that the collection is a very important one and that it contains many rare and some few unique pieces. He cannot recollect now just what ones in this collection suplicated [sic] those at D.O., and it is fortunate, therefore, that he has been able to obtain (and I am sending with the treatises) a complete catalogue of the collection, which will be very helpful in enabling whoever studies this subject to compare the Bertele lot with those now at D.O. and with the Titwillow Collection at Fogg. R.T. believed that there are many of the coins which we should acquire—providing always that they do not duplicate what we already have. For that purpose, a very careful comparison with the existing collection at D.O. and at Fogg is necessary. He has the definite impression that Bertele would be willing to dispose of certain coins if he could not sell the entire collection at one time. In this connection, Bertele wants the matter kept confidential for obvious reasons and it is also to our interest that his offer should not be known outside of ourselves. Royall also feels that, if eventually we should not reach any agreement with Bertele, the catalogue should he [sic] returned to him, specially as he says that it is one of two copies only. You will find with the catalogue a Projetto di Contratto. . . . Returning to the Bertele lot, R.T. calls attention to the richness of the copper coins and also the electrum pieces. With what I am sending you and with what I have written here, together with what was contained in Royall’s two letters which I have previously sent you, I think you will be well on the road to starting a long Winter’s work!” Dumbarton Oaks Archives, Administrative files, John S. Thacher correspondence, 1949–1953.