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Photograph of Commodore Perry

Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry


Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry (1794-1858)

Matthew Calbraith Perry was born at South Kingstown, Rhode Island, on April 10 1794. His father, after being imprisoned by the British in the Revolution, had a successful career in the American Navy as well as the merchant service, and Calbraith and three of his brothers would go on to join the navy making the Perrys a prominent naval family.

Perry received his first naval appointment in 1809, acting as midshipman aboard the USS Revenge, commanded by his older brother. During the early part of his naval career he fought in the War of 1812, patrolled Liberia in 1819-20, and was then involved in suppressing piracy and the slave trade in the West Indies. He commanded a series of ships during the 1820s and 30s, before being promoted to Commodore and the command of the New York Navy Yard in 1840, and fighting in the Mexican-American War of 1846-8.

Woodcut of Perry's fleet in Japan in 1854

Woodcut of Perry's second fleet on his return to Japan in 1854. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Commodore Perry led an extremely significant diplomatic mission to Japan in 1852-4, opening up the country to American trade.

When Perry returned to America from Japan in 1855, he was advanced to the rank of rear-admiral, and retired soon afterwards. He died in New York on March 4th 1858.

Perry was also an avid coin collector, acquiring a wide variety of Greek, Roman, medieval, Islamic, American and modern World pieces. A number of Perry's coins can be associated with his famous trip to the Far East in the early 1850s. The Perry Collection therefore provides a tangible link with this important event in Japanese and American history, as well as a valuable insight into the scope and techniques of early American coin collecting. The Fitzwilliam Museum has been lent a substantial element of the Perry Collection by a private collector.

Follow the link below to discover more about Commodore Perry, his trip to Japan and his coin collection.


Fitzwilliam Museum online exhibition:
Commodore Perry - Naval Diplomat and Collector

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Japanese coin

Japanese 4 mon sen brass coin
The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge