Jade motifs often represent the ancient relationship between gems and humanity; they tell important stories and traditions. These stories come to life in a rare, spectacular set of books, The Bishop Collection: Investigations and Studies in Jade, recently acquired by GIA (Gemological Institute of America).

Limited to just 100 copies, the two-volume set catalogs the massive private jade collection of Heber Reginald Bishop (1840-1902), a noted 19th century businessman and philanthropist. An avid collector of antiquities, jade was his last and most notable specialty. The collection began with Bishop’s purchase of the Hurd vase – one of the finest objects in jade that ever left China – from Tiffany & Co. in 1878. Bishop’s jade collection was donated to, and is still housed in, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The unique and comprehensive catalog documents this extensive collection and was published in 1906. The other 99 copies are in private collections, museums and libraries.

Left: Watercolor illustration from volume 1 of The Bishop Collection: Investigations and Studies in Jade by Heber Reginald Bishop, 1906. Artist's Brush Holder (Pi T'ung), Ch'ien-lung (1736 - 95) Nephrite. Image by Emily Lane/GIA.
“The acquisition of The Bishop Collection marks a special moment in the Institute’s legacy of procuring historic gemological material that adds to our wealth of knowledge and is accessible to all,” said Susan Jacques, GIA president and CEO. “Mr. Bishop created his collection to share the wonder of jade and we are thrilled to take the important step of making both volumes of this incredible work available to researchers, gemologists and eventually the public.”

Set number 85 now resides at The Richard T. Liddicoat Gemological Library & Information Center at the GIA headquarters in Carlsbad, California. The Institute plans to create a high-quality, freely available digital version of the work, to be included in its digital archive for significant works from the GIA Library, https://archive.org/details/gialibrary.

“These incredible books bring to mind what the philosopher Confucius meant when he wrote, ‘jade is like virtue and its brightness represents heaven.’ The beauty and level of detail represented in this catalog are truly one of a kind and we are fortunate to add these volumes to our extensive library collection,” said Robert Weldon, GIA Director of the Richard T. Liddicoat Gemological Library & Information Center.

It took more than three years to produce the 100 folios, which were first published in 1906. All of the sets were originally donated to heads of state, museums and libraries to conserve their significance; no copies were available for sale. The set acquired by GIA – number 85 – was given to Mr. Bishop’s local library in Medford, Massachusetts, where his family settled after emigrating from Ipswich, England, in the 17th century. The 100 sets cost $100,000 to produce, equivalent to just under $3 million dollars today. Once the books were completed, the plates were destroyed and the type scattered, securing the works’ true rarity.

Right: Display of The Bishop Collection: Investigations and Studies in Jade by Heber Reginald Bishop, 1906. Purchased at Skinner’s March 25, 2021 Asian Works of Art auction. Pictured from left: Retired GIA Library Director Dona Dirlam, GIA President and CEO Susan Jacques, current GIA Library Director Robert Weldon. Photo by Emily Lane/GIA.
The two leather bound volumes contain 93 plates which include original watercolors by artist Li Shih-ch’üan, 36 lithographs, 31 copper plate engravings, 17 woodcuts and 28 research articles on every aspect of jade. Many specialists were involved with this work, including mineralogist and mineral collector George F. Kunz who was in charge of the mineralogical investigations and describes Dr. Robert Lilley as the editor of both volumes.

Printed on American hand-made paper, each book measures 25 x 19 inches (63 x 48 cm) when closed. The combined weight of both volumes is 102 pounds (46 kg). The Bishop collection is recognized as the most complete assemblage of jade objects in the world.