The Umlauff Family The Umlauff FamilyProminent Ethnographica Traders Based in Hamburg By Rainer F. Buschmann The J. F. G Umlauff Company spanned over a century and supplied museums worldwide with ethnographic objects. It exploited colonial connections to obtain and trade artifacts from German New Guinea and Samoa. Ethnographers generally looked down upon what they considered a commercial endeavor, but they frequently enlisted Umlauff's assistance to obtain expensive collections and secure artifacts from ethnographic hotspots. The company's founder Johann Friedrich Gustav Umlauff (1833-1889) spent several years overseas as a ship's carpenter. When he returned to his native Hamburg, Umlauff purchased a bathhouse located in the notorious Reeperbahn (Hamburg's red-light district) to store and sell ethnographic and natural science objects he acquired from sailors and other shipping personnel frequenting the city's port. In addition, a strategic marriage to Caroline Hagenbeck, sister of famed wild animal trader Carl Hagenbeck, gave Umlauff access to exotic animal carcasses, which he would mount and prepare to sell to his customers. Likewise, Hagenbeck's interest in bringing non-European peoples to tour Germany secured Umlauff a steady stream of ethnographic objects. By the late 1860s, the trader had outgrown his bathhouse, and he purchased a larger establishment to house his collection. This time also signaled the official registration of his business with Hamburg authorities. Although Umlauff continued trading in natural science specimens, the 1870s witnessed his venture's specialization in ethnography and physical anthropology. Similarly, rather than purchasing occasional artifacts from passing ship personnel, the entrepreneur now informed sailors and captains before departure about the objects he desired to purchase The Umlauff preparation room in the old facilities located on the Reeperbahn, the younger brothers Johann and Heinrich are marked on the photograph, Inv. Nr. 99.115:8, Photographic Collection Bührmann, Museum am Rothenbaum—Kulturen und Künste der Welt He increased such contacts with prominent scientists located at museums throughout Germany. In the 1880s, two events contributed to the growth of the business. First, the closing of the Godeffroy Museum in Hamburg due to the bankruptcy of its parent company took away one of Umlauff's most significant competitors. Secondly, Germany's colonial acquisition in Africa and the Pacific greatly expanded the company's acquisition possibilities. During this time, Umlauff added the word museum to his title and offered free guided tours through his facilities. When Johann Umlauff passed away in 1889, his widow and her sons continued the business. In particular, Heinrich Umlauff (1869-1925) took over the company's growing ethnographic branch. His brothers Theodor and Johannes would administer the shell and zoological departments respectively. It was under Heinrich’s guidance that the famous letterhead, ubiquitous in museum archives around the world, of the J.F.G Umlauff Company was introduced. Invoice from JFG Umlauff dating to year 1900, Umlauff: 101-1-1195_8, Museum am Rothenbaum—Kulturen und Künste der Welt Heinrich Umlauff would also issue regular catalogs dedicated to particular ethnographic regions worldwide to increase his market. Supporting such efforts was also the creation of life-size models depicting indigenous peoples employed to display the artifacts. These models were marketed to ethnographic institutions in an attempt to enliven supposedly static displays. A poster advertising the Umlauff Museum, noticeable are the Malagan mask and the composite of a South Sea warrior, Inv. Nr. 99.115:6, Photographic Collection Bührmann, Museum am Rothenbaum—Kulturen und Künste der Welt Heinrich Umlauff also steered the company's ethnographic collections through difficult times emerging from the outbreak of the First World War. Shrinking markets and supplies forced Umlauff to rethink his business. For instance, he would support Germany's booming silent movie industry with artifacts and props following the conflict. Heinrich's death in 1925 signaled the company's decline, although his widow Berta and her daughters would continue running the business. Umlauff faced increasing competition and financial ruin throughout the 1920s and 1930s. Then, during the Second World War, most of the ethnographic inventory fell victim to a bombing raid on Hamburg in 1943. The Umlauff Company limped on with reduced inventory, celebrating its 100th anniversary in 1968. Only a few years later, in 1974, shortly after the death of Heinrich's daughter Käthe Umlauff, the company was officially disbanded. A noteworthy fact of the JFG Umlauff Company is that female leadership ensured the business’s longevity. Heinrich and Berta Umlauff together with their daughters, ca. 1903. Käthe Umlauff, identified as the oldest daughter of the couple, is probably seated on the chair. Jacobsen Papers, Museum am Rothenbaum—Kulturen und Künste der Welt The Umlauff Company’s supply lines, emerging mostly through ship personnel and European residents in the colonies, were far from stable. Suppliers complained that promised monetary rewards for their ethnographic or zoological collections proved illusionary when they returned with their troves to Hamburg. For instance, when Wilhelm Bröcker, a merchant who operated widely in the Pacific, arrived in the northern German city in the 1880s, he was informed by several Hamburg traders, one of them presumably Umlauff, that the companies were merely willing to pay for Bröcker’s expenses and not the high prices supposedly promised before the merchant traveled to the Pacific. Upset by what he regarded as a breach of contract, Bröcker decided to offer his collections directly to ethnographic museums, especially the one located in Munich. The Umlauff Company enjoyed an ambiguous status in the developing ethnographic community. Ethnographic museum directors, for instance, looked down upon Umlauff's attempt to walk the tightrope between culture and commercialism. In other words, they derided the company's attempt to mask a commercial enterprise as a science museum. Outwardly ethnographic officials attempted to portray that theirs was a scientific endeavor free of commercial tainting. However, most museum officials knew that their institutions were very much embroiled in the marketplace and had to pay top dollar for desired ethnographic specimens. A closer look at the museum correspondence in Germany and other European and American institutions illustrates that curators took no issue with employing Umlauff to plug ethnographic acquisition holes. While German museum officials used Umlauff for selective individual ethnographic purchases, others, especially at institutions in the United States, purchased large-scale collections from the Hamburg trader. The Penn Museum, for instance, purchased several hundred artifacts from German New Guinea through Umlauff in 1913. Similarly, the Field Museum in Chicago purchased two significant collections numbering several thousand artifacts hailing from German New Guinea in 1905 and 1913. A New Ireland display in the 1930s, all artifacts purchased from Umlauff, Penn Museum A Tatanua Mask purchased from Umlauff, Penn Museum, P 4554 A Shield from New Britain purchased from Umlauff, Penn Museum, P 4405 A lower Sepik neck rest purchased from Umlauff, Penn Museum, P 3594 A Some museum officials skillfully employed Umlauff to rid themselves of artifacts considered duplicates of existing collections, share in the expensive ethnographic acquisition, and let the ethnographica trader do most of the heavy lifting when negotiating purchases and sales. Georg Thilenius, since 1904 director of the Hamburg Ethnographic Museum, had frequent dealings with the Umlauff family residing in the same city. Thilenius, for instance, funneled duplicate artifacts resulting from the costly Hamburg South Sea Expedition (1908-1910) through the ethnographica trader. Umlauff company books reflect that in 1912, Thilenius sold 60 artifacts from the Admiralty Islands and well over 400 artifacts hailing from the Caroline Islands to the business. Thilenius's interactions with Umlauff prior to the First World War were even more lucrative. Max Thiel (see provenance biography), the head of the Hernsheim Company operations in German New Guinea until 1910, contacted the Hamburg museum director with a tempting proposition. Through his replacement, Emil Timm, Thiel promised Thilenius a rich harvest of ethnographic collections through the traders and affiliated personnel residing in the German colony. Thilenius was to have the first choice of artifacts while selling duplicates to other museums. Unwilling to do the "dirty" work with negotiating prices about said duplicate objects, Thilenius engaged the Umlauff Company for this purpose. Umlauff managed to sell most artifacts to museums in America, although some objects ended up at other German institutions. Among the most notable artifacts marketed by Umlauff through Thilenius’s intervention were the famed Baining masks. Baining Mask purchased from Umlauff, VI 38033, photo by Anika Niemek, Ethnologisches Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Preuβischer Kulturbesitz The Umlauff Company was an influential trader in ethnographic objects that benefitted greatly from Germany’s colonial connections. However, even the loss of colonial territories did not destroy the business that found new ways of marketing its commodities. Female leadership proved crucial in navigating the company through unstable times. Although ethnographic officials frequently maligned its commercial purpose, the Umlauff Company was crucial in supplying many institutions worldwide. The recently digitalized Umlauff business books at the Hamburg State Library provide a valuable research tool for provenance histories.