Nathan Dunn's Chinese Museum

127 Pages Posted: 12 Apr 2012 Last revised: 14 Nov 2015

Date Written: August 15, 2011


Philadelphia merchant and philanthropist Nathan Dunn (1782-1844) made his fortune as a mercantile trader in Canton, China in the 1820’s. He amassed a vast collection of objects representing both fine arts and daily life in a Chinese society that granted only limited access to foreigners. Upon his return to Philadelphia, he displayed his collection in a museum that drew international attention. For its tens of thousands of visitors, Dunn’s museum taught much about a land few of them would ever be able to see for themselves. In the wake of the Opium War, Dunn relocated his museum to London in hopes of improving English public opinion of the Chinese.

This monograph was written as an undergraduate honors thesis for Department of History at the University of Pennsylvania in 1986 under the supervision of Dr. Susan Naquin. In addition to describing Dunn’s experiences and his museum collection, the thesis explores public knowledge and sentiments regarding China among early 19th century Philadelphians and the early history of American museums and exhibitions.

Keywords: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Canton, China, China trade, Opium War, Charles Willson Peale, P.T. Barnum, Quakers, Museums

Suggested Citation

Caplan, Aaron H., Nathan Dunn's Chinese Museum (August 15, 2011). Available at SSRN: or

Aaron H. Caplan (Contact Author)

Loyola Law School Los Angeles ( email )

919 Albany Street
Los Angeles, CA 90015-1211
United States

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