Editorial note: These are the treasures of the Nguyen dynasty (1802-1945). The story of its founder Nguyen Anh who was enthroned under the name of Gia Long (1802-1820) can be found in Nghia Vo. Saigon. A History (2011), of which an excerpt is attached.
Imperial Treasures

"Nguyễn Ánh took a quarter of a century to recover the throne of his ancestors. His early battle losses in 1778-1788 may have rendered him extremely careful and risk averse. His strategy was relentless and methodical. He reorganized his army, expanded his navy, and introduced western technology in the art of war making in Indochina. He had a huge citadel built in Saigon, which made any Asian country proud of. Other citadels were also built around the country as well as bridges and roads. He promoted shipbuilding and transformed the town into one of the best shipyards in Southeast Asia. Had he pursued this route, Vietnam would have had the best naval fleet in Southeast Asia and, perhaps, would have improved its commerce, technology, and the well-being of its citizens and would be too strong and modern a country to be defeated by any western invasion...

...Nguyễn Ánh ventured into the land of the future--where trade, technology, freedom reigned--and then decided to turn his back on it and to retreat to the past. He chose to follow tradition instead of modernization and in doing so, led his nation and successors to a downhill course. He closed his eyes to the future, which was right there in front of him. Maybe he did not like what he saw. Maybe he was scarred of what modernity could bring to his reign and his successors. Maybe he yearned for stability within an autocratic regime, after two decades of daily fighting, instead of political instability and challenge. One cannot blame him for returning to his roots, the crown, and the land of his forebears he had spent decades to recover, even though it was a poor region with a gilded past. Saigon, the siren with all its economic power, the new land with all its mirages, did not entice him...."


Nguyen Imperial hat (19th century; 700 grams)

Nguyen imperial hat (19th century; 660 grams)

Front of hat decorated with pearls and dragons

Back of hat

Imperial Imprints Minh Mang (1827; 8.5 kg gold) on left and Gia Long (5 kg) on right

Gia Long Imperial Imprint

Minh Mang Imperial Imprint

Nguyen swords 19th century (top) and 20th century (bottom)