For twenty years, collector Nguyen Van Pham has been traveling around the country gathering a unique collection of seals, including the seal of the Tay Son Dynasty, originating from Binh Dinh, his hometown. These objects used to be symbols of power to the Mandarins in the past were only kept by people, who always live with deep ties to the history of the nation.
Treasure of seals
Every person has a different passion and for Nguyen Van Pham, that passion is ancient antiques that came to him accidentally. “In 1992, when I returned to my hometown, I saw bronze seals being sold by local people. I suddenly liked and wanted to own them. I bought my first seals at that time”, Mr. Pham said.
At first, Mr. Pham did not fully appreciate their value. After that, with the help of experts of Han script and his research into the history of each dynasty, he could feel all the quintessence and hidden messages of every seal. Presently, he owns more than 300 seals, which were made of bronze, gold and gems, from the Tran to the Le, Tay Son and Nguyen dynasties. He especially loves seals of the Tay Son because this is his hometown.
Each seal has its own “position”, such as Big Admiral, Commander-in-Chief and Province Chief. He said that seals not only symbolized the power of their owners but is also a historical vestige that represents the soveriegnty of the nation, a hallmark of our governmental system from the past.
Seals not only symbolized the power of their owners but also a historical vestige that represents the soveriegnty of the nation, a hallmark of our governmental system from the past.
In his collection, 12 seals of the Tay Son Dynasty are the most precious to him. According to Associate Professor Hoang Xuan Chinh, Deputy Manager of Vietnamese UNESCO, these are very precious and rare seals because they were the seals of admirals, who survived after a serious battle with the army forces of Emperor Nguyen Anh. When running to other territories, in order to hide their real condition, they threw seals into the rivers. Therefore, those seals have remained there until now and are rare vestiges of Tay Son – especially the victory against the Qing enemies in 1789 – that have been preserved.
In this set, the Tan Hoi Nien Dong Tao seal, carved during the winter in the year of Tan Hoi, 1791 is very special because it was made one year before the death of King Quang Trung. Other seals such as the seal of Canh Thinh (in the year of Binh Thin, 1796) granted for Big Admiral and the Aide-de-camp of the King. Additionally, the seal accompanied with the royal proclamation of the chief of Phu Cat district (in 1821) is also valuable.
Taking loving care of ancient bronze seals, Mr. Pham passionately emphasizes the features and the distinction of each seal. He explained, “Small positions were granted a smaller seal. The heavier and the more quintessential the perimeter and the seal is, the more power and stronger the mandarin was”.
Heart of the seal collector
His greatest joy in his journey to collect seals was when he found the Than Ve Tuong Quan (dated in 1562), because its owner took the highest position of all in his collection. He also has the seal of Hong Duc Nhi Nien (from the second Le Dynasty in 1471).
As a seal collector, Mr. Pham has undergone many joys and sorrows with unforgettable memories. Sometimes, he had to travel to the North three times within six months to buy his favorite seal. He even spent many years searching for a particular antique without ever succeeding. It is also difficult to understand some of the writings on the seals. Therefore, he studied Han and ancient Vietnamese scripts himself and with the help of some experts he could translate the meaning of these words.
Collecting seals is not only to satisfy his passion, but he also pays much attention to the fates associated with them, as they are vestiges of a dynasty and the upheavals of their owners. He has been wrapped up in his work of finding the meanings of inaminate seals and considered that as his duty for national history and its predecessors. He shared, “Collecting seals has become a part of my life”.
Apart from the collection of seals, Mr. Pham is also famous for a collection of antiques from the Tay Son Dynasty. He also keeps many precious ancient objects such as the jewelry of ancient people and bronze, ceramic and porcelain antiques…that orginated from the Sa Huynh, Oc Eo, Champa and Dong Son cultures.
However, the collecting is not always proper. “One day, a foreign collector bought a seal that I could not afford to buy. I used to toss and turn for the whole month when thinking that a precious national treasure was kept in another country”, Mr. Pham shared.
Therefore he respects what he is possessing. At present, Mr. Pham is the Deputy President of HCMC Accossiation of Antiques.
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