Thanks to their initial universal concept, the Altonaer Museum has valuable art and cultural history exhibits covering a wide range of artefact categories. You can search through a selection of the museum’s collection via the “Museen Nord” portal.
This collection, which goes back to the 16th century and reaches right into the 21st century, includes: craftsmen’s documents (e.g. privileges, articles of office, journeymen and master’s diplomas, journey books etc.), identity cards/service books, food stamps, menus, company document collections (e.g. from the companies Zeise and Mench & Hambrock), business documents from Altona and Northern Germany, documents on the history of Altona’s societies and clubs, family records, diaries, emergency money and bonds, diplomas, documents on theatre history and about traffic and transport in Altona and the region.
Ever since it was founded, the museum has collected stone decorations and monuments as testimony to the history of the town of Altona and Schleswig-Holstein. They have been retrieved after buildings were demolished or from those destroyed during the war and from urban planning development sites, or they were collected by the museum’s founder, Otto Lehmann, as part of his original concept.
The library in the Altonaer Museum boasts around 78,000 volumes, including atlases, encyclopaedias, standard and specialized works of reference, Altona address books, shipping registers and dictionaries. The topics covered here include the history of Altona with regional studies of the North German coastal areas as well as shipping and fishing, popular prints, artists’ monographs, general cultural history, folklore, folk art and arts and crafts.
With its more than 1.5 million picture postcards, the collection at the Altonaer Museum is one of the largest in Europe. The pictures range from views of towns and the countryside in Germany and abroad to special historical topics such as war (field post), shipping, transport, art, sport, politics, erotica, advertising and greetings cards.
The large Altonaer Museum collection about shipping and fishing not only deals with Altona and Hamburg, but also with the coasts of Holland, England and Denmark. It contains exhibits such as fishing dioramas, navigation instruments, ship portraits, captain’s souvenirs, ship plans and technical drawings and sea charts. There is also a special focus on artefacts related to the topic of whaling.
Above all, the photographic collection of the Altonaer Museum includes
works from the time between the end of the 19th century and the middle
of the 20th century and by well-known photographers like Christian
Friedrich Brandt, Anton Bruhn, Minya Diez-Dührkoop, Walter Hollnagel,
Charles Junod, Henry Koehn, Heinrich Georg Nothnagel, Emil Puls and Carl
One particular highlight is the collection of more than 120 early daguerreotypes, ambrotypes and ferrotypes.
Paintings and graphics have been an important part of the Altonaer Museum ever since the museum began collecting in 1863. The museum has collected portraits of notable North German persons, as well as paintings, graphics and topographical representations with Northern German themes (main topics include: the suburbs of Altona and along the Elbe, landscapes, ship paintings, traditional costumes, the German-Danish conflict etc.) and by Northern German artists. The aim is to display artistic representations of the Northern German landscape from the beginning of the 18th century to the present day.
The ship-building collection is mainly from the 19th century documenting the significant role Altona played in overseas trade and coastal shipping along the Elbe. The exhibits come from various shipyards and companies connected with shipping (rope-makers, sail-makers, blacksmiths, block-makers, pump-makers, rigging and tackle makers etc.). A large proportion of the collection comprises articles from the Ernst Dreyer shipyard which built wooden sailing ships in Neuhof from 1840 to 1896.
The Altonaer Museum has an excellent collection of artefacts from Jewish cultural and everyday life. In 1914 the significant role played by Ashkenazi and Sephardic communities in both the spiritual and business worlds of the independent town of Altona were honoured with their own exhibition room. The collection was specifically added to in the 1990s with a bequest from the German-Jewish couple Max and Frieda Salzberg.
Artefacts made of these materials have found their way into many parts of the Altonaer Museum collection. In the North German and Baltic areas and in the Netherlands there were many potteries and faience manufacturers at work from the 17th to the 20th century producing crockery, tiled stoves, tiles and decorative objects. In the past, both town and country households used earthenware, stoneware, porcelain and glass objects for everyday use or as ornamental decoration.
The Altonaer Museum began building up its collection of coins and medals from Schleswig-Holstein at an early stage. But it was under the numismatist Bruno Dorfmann, who is well-known for his publications about Lauenburg coins, that the collection really came into its own. Since the 1930s the collection has been displayed as part of exhibitions on the history of the town for more than 50 years. The collection comprises around 1000 coins ranging from around the year 800 until the modern period, about 600 medals, numerous Schleswig-Holstein badges and emblems as well as coin weights minted in Altona.
Metal articles from Northern German manufacturing centres and from the places where they were used form another aspect of the many collections in the Altonaer Museum. In addition to the collection of silver, there are also artefacts made of tin, bronze, brass, copper, iron and aluminium. The long life metal objects have, means these are some of the oldest pieces in the collection. It is possible to look at how craftsmanship developed and also to take a look at how such items were used in farmers’ and townspeople’s households.
Ever since it was founded, the Altonaer Museum has been collecting toys to display as a source of real-life cultural-history as well as for research purposes. In addition to the dolls houses with all their furniture and furnishings, there is a focus on Northern German aspects with many toys from the town of Altona and the region.
The textiles collection at the Altonaer Museum comprises around 20,000 artefacts: the focus of the collection is on special rural clothing from Schleswig-Holstein and the Lower Elbe together with the traditional jewellery and decorations that go with it. Other focuses are on rural embroidery and cushions from the 19th century, samplers and children’s clothing. The collection also includes Altona and Schleswig-Holstein uniforms, ships flags and guild banners, town fashion from the 19th century as well as textiles from the Jewish and Turkish communities here.
The Altonaer Museum has a large collection of rural furniture from Northern Germany, above all from the area around Hamburg and the so-called Altes Land region. For the most part the collection is made up of chests, cupboards, chairs, tables, cradles and clocks from the 18th to 19th centuries. Highlights of the collection include a complete weaver’s workshop from Schleswig-Holstein, a slipper-maker’s from Altona and a marquetry and inlay cabinetmaker’s from Vierlanden. The Museum also has a large collection of townspeople’s furniture from the 18th and 19th century.