Historic gold book returns to Vietnam

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Cao Xuan Truong, an antique collector in Hanoi, and the gold book he bought from a French auction at US$97,200

A century-old book made of silver gilded with gold is now in Vietnam after decades thanks to the efforts of a Vietnamese Canadian antique collector, the VnExpress newswire reported Friday.

Cao Xuan Truong said the book, which he bought at a French auction for 72,750 euros (US$97,200), was a gift that King Thieu Tri King, the third emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945), gave to one of his concubines, Vu Thi Vien, in 1846.

It weighed nearly two kilograms and had ten pages filled with 186 Chinese characters that describe Vien's biography and compliments about the concubine's beauty and personality. Its cover is embossed with dragons, the newswire reported.

Truong first heard about the book from a Vietnamese French friend in 2002.

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"Upon knowing about it, I felt very excited and hoped to see it with my eyes and touch its pages," he said.

However, it was not until 2004 that he started searching for it, and two years later, Truong learned that the antique was being kept by the family of a French general who used to work in Vietnam during the French occupation.

To his disappointment, the French family kept refusing his offers to buy it, VnExpress said.

In October 2010, the collector, who is currently living and working in Hanoi, learned that the book would be auctioned by the Sotheby's in France. He had to compete with three foreigners, but finally won it with money raised by selling his house in Canada.

"I still think the cost is cheap because we can buy another house next time. But we may not get the same chance with the gold book."

Truong said he will not sell the book, which was brought to Vietnam last March and is currently on display at his house on No.31 Ba Trieu Street.

But there is a chance that he will give it to a museum in Vietnam so that the precious item will stay in Vietnam forever, VnExpress quoted Truong as saying.

"Many Vietnamese antiques are now lost overseas due to many reasons, so we collectors want to acquire them and bring them home," he said.

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