Where Are They Today?
by William Max Miller, M. A.
One of the KV 55 gold foil sheets now in
the M. M. A. (Photo: Lanny Bell, from
Martha Bell, JARCE 27 , fig. 1.)
In 1998, a report appeared stating that other gold foil sheets from KV 55 had been auctioned by Sotheby's and purchased by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1979. The MMA does have gold sheets from KV 55, but they have been in the museum for many years prior to 1979. W. C. Hayes, in The Scepter of Egypt (vol. II [New York, 1953-1959,] 294), refered to six sections of gold foil in the Metropolitan (MMA # 30.8.55 A-F) which came from KV 55. He described them as "Six rectangular and trapezoidal sheets of heavy gold foil, fallen from the underside of the lid [of the coffin]" (See also Reeves, DRN, 57, n. 146, and Geoffrey Martin in BdE 97 , 120.) Martha Bell's paper (JARCE 27 , 99-137, referred to above) also discusses the MMA's KV 55 gold sheets and provides photographs of them (taken by her husband, Lanny Bell.) There are also photos of these objects accompanied by brief catalogue card entries at the MMA. Monica J. Verona of the MMA's Thomas J. Watson Library, Central Catalogue, has kindly provided photocopies of these, which may be seen by clicking on the letters which designate each sheet: MMA # 30.8.55 A B C D E F. George B. Johnson also published a paper (KMT [9: 1], 57-66) which discusses the whereabouts of various items from KV 55, including the six gold foil sections in the MMA. A photo accompanying the article shows the gold sheets, and Johnson explains that they were originally awarded to Davis by Maspero along with the well-known canopic jar and stopper and several other small objects from KV 55. These objects eventually went to the Metropolitan. Susan J. Allen, Senior Research Associate & Librarian of the Department of Egyptian Art at the MMA explained that Davis left his Egyptian collection to the museum in his will of 1911, which specifically mentions the six gold foil sheets. However, since Davis died in 1915, the 1930 accession number assigned to these objects in the MMA's catalogue needs some explanation.
John Larson has researched a lengthy court battle between the MMA and Davis's widow which ensued soon after Davis's death in 1915. Apparently, Davis's wife objected to her late husband's bequest of his Egyptian collection to the museum. Larson notes various articles in The New York Times which attest to the court proceedings, beginning in the March 25, 1915, edition (on p. 1, column 3) which ran an item now abstracted in the newspaper's index as "widow objects to will giving Egyptian collection to MMA." The will went into probate in April, 1915, and was tied up in court for 9 years before an initial decision was reached. Larson calls attention to a New York Times item in the March 18, 1924, edition (on p. 26, column 2) which is abstracted in the paper's index as: "collection of antiquities in MMA lost to Museum by decision of U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals." A day later, the newspaper announced that the MMA planned on fighting the decision. Their appeal reached the Rhode Island Supreme Court in 1926, and Larson notes a New York Times item for December 30, 1926 (on p.14, column 4) which recorded a Supreme Court decision favoring the MMA's claim to the Davis Egyptian collection. This decision was upheld in May, 1927, in the U.S. Circuit Court.
During these years of litigation, the KV 55 gold sheets apparently remained in the MMA (along with other objects from the Davis collection.) Susan Allen explained that the gold sheets came to the MMA in 1915, and John Larson spotted the first written reference to them in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Forty-sixth Annual Report of the Trustees For the Year Ended December 31, 1915 (New York, New York, U.S.A., MCMXVI), where they are referred to as "six pieces of gold leaf from Tomb of Queen Tiyi." The same Annual Report also stated that these objects were still "on loan" from the Theodore Davis estate. Although the ultimate ownership of the Davis collection had been decided by the U.S. Circuit Court in 1927, Larson explains that the Davis Bequest was not finalized until 1930, when the Metropolitan could finally officially add the Davis objects to their accession records. (This explains the 1930 accession date assigned to the gold foil sheets.) Larson notes that the museum announced this event, for which they had waited 15 years, in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Sixty-first Annual Report of the Trustees, 1930 (New York, New York, U.S.A., 1931) which states (on p. 9): "The final settlement of the estate of Theodore M. Davis has brought into the permanent possession of the Museum one of the most important private collections of Egyptian antiquities formed in recent years."
Susan Allen describes the Metropolitan's gold sheets as uninscribed, but notes that one fragment bears traces of the feather pattern which decorated the KV 55 coffin. Allen also stated that the gold sheets are not markedly wrinkled or creased [personal communication.] However, the photos in George Johnson's KMT article and in the MMA catalogue show gold foil sheets which seem to appear wrinkled. Susan Allen states that these objects are currently on display in Gallery 17A at the Metropolitan, so visitors to the museum can judge for themselves regarding how wrinkled or unwrinkled the sheets are. Martha Bell described the sheets as having "multiple nail holes of varying sizes, some torn, some rectangular, marking attachment to the wooden basis. There are discolored spots, as if from now-darkened unguents." (JARCE 27 , 99.) The edges of the MMA gold sheets also appear smooth and straight in the MMA catalogue and in the Johnson and Bell photographs, and look different in this respect from the ragged-edged ones at the Cairo Museum described by Forbes in his KMT "Editor's Report" (KMT [12: 1], 2-3.)
At least two more gold foil sheets from the KV 55 coffin exist, and were listed in the same Sotheby's sales catalogue in which the Davis-Buttles-Allen collection, discussed above, first appeared back in 1976 (Antiquities [December, 1976, Sale 3934, Sotheby Parke Bernet Inc., New York].) The 1998 report stating that these gold sheets had been auctioned by Sotheby's to the MMA in 1979 proved to be incorrect. Susan Allen was quite definite in her assertion that the Metropolitan had not bought the gold sheets sold by Sotheby's [personal communication.] The present location of these objects is not known, but perhaps, with the interest in KV 55 currently at an all-time high point, more information concerning them will resurface.
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