Medaille der zoologischen Gesellschaft zu Hamburg

Medal of the Zoological Society of Hamburg

Medal of the Zoological Society of Hamburg introduced in bronze, silver and gold was presented to those who distinguished themselves in creation of the Zoological Garden of Hamburg (Zoologischer Garten zu Hamburg) and made valuable contribution to its further development.

The Zoological Society of Hamburg (Zoologischen Gesellschaft) was established on July 10, 1860 as a joint-stock company on initiative of a number of wealthy Hamburg citizens under the guidance of a local merchant and former member of parliament in the German government at Frankfurt am Main, holder of the Commander cross of the Austrian Leopold Orden, Ernst Freiherr von Merck (20.11.1811-06.07.1863). Other notable co-founders were zoologist Karl August Möbius (07.02.1825-26.04.1908), lawyer Heinrich Föhring (1832-31.03.1907) and oceanologist Heinrich Adolph Meyer (11.09.1822-01.05.1889). Selling of shares secured enough funds to purchase a 13-hectare plot of land outside the city walls, next to Hamburg gates (Dammthor) that separated Old City (Altstadt) from the New City (Neustadt). Previously that territory housed pasture, military training ground and potato field. The Zoological Garden of Hamburg opened on May 17, 1863, was the fifth German zoo, following Berlin, Frankfurt, Cologne and Dresden. Alfred Edmund Brehm (02.02.1829-11.11.1884), German traveler, naturalist and author of the world-famous illustrated encyclopedia “Brehm’s Life of Animals” (Illustrirtes Thierleben. Eine allgemeine Kunde des Thierreichs), was made its first director. He held that post until November 23, 1866, when he was fired out following a conflict with the administration of the zoo.

Back in 1863, population of Hamburg numbered 300,000 citizens only. However, 54,000 people approximately visited Zoologischer Garten during the first week of its operation. The zoo faced its popularity peak in 1863-1873 with annual attendance between 225,000 and 355,000 visitors.

The Zoological Garden of Hamburg fell into decay during the Great War and its final days concurred with the depression faced by the short-lived Weimar Republic. The Zoological Society of Hamburg was liquidated on December 30, 1920 and the zoo itself was closed soon after the Christmas holidays, on January 21, 1921. Subsequent attempts of enthusiastic investors to keep the local landmark afloat were doomed to failure because of the general collapse of the German economy following the 1929 stock market crash. Come 1929, the Zoological Garden of Hamburg was declared bankrupt. The final effort to save the zoo by turning it into half-amusement and half-bird park (Vogel- und Volkspark) failed in 1931, and the once famous Zoologischer Garten zu Hamburg that housed one of the world’s best aquariums, was closed forever. 

Having completed that necessary historical digression let’s return to the main subject of an article. Design of the medal was elaborated by the Austrian painter Edward Jakob von Steinle (02.07.1810-19.09.1886), and die was created by the German medalist Carl Heinrich Lorenz (24.08.1810-06.01.1888).

Centre of an obverse with raised border showed intricate composition made of six semi-circles bearing images of numerous animals, birds and insects: butterfly, centipede, grasshopper, bee, beetle, scorpion, starfish, crab, serpent, fish, eel, crocodile, dolphin, owl, eagle, hawk, flamingo, horse, goat and fox. A full-face image of a lion was placed in the very centre. Names of designer and medalist executed in capital letters were situated at the bottom of the two lower semi-circles: “Steinle  Inv.[enit]”, i.e. “Created by Steinle” on the left, and “Lorenz F.[ecit]”, i.e. “Executed by Lorenz” on the right. Ornamental protruding trigons, three in total, were placed between two upper semi-circles and on each side of the two lower semi-circles. The whole composition encircled with raised border was placed against a grid made of crossed rods that symbolized zoo cages.

An inscription in capital Gothic letters “Zoological Society of Hamburg 1863” (“Die Zoologische Gesellschaft zu Hamburg 1863”) was running in circle inside a ribbon. Miniature equilateral crosses made up of five separate elements were placed between each word. Non intersecting edges of the ribbon were folded at the very top.

Incidentally design of an obverse was reduplicated on the obverse of another medal, viz. “Preis-Medaille der zoologischen Gesellschaft für die Tauben-Ausstellung” introduced four years later, in 1867.

Centre of a reverse with raised border showed winding ribbon against stylized floral background. Name and home city of an awardee (some sources also cite dedication) were engraved on a ribbon. An inscription in capital Gothic letters “Dedicated to friends and patrons of science” (“Der Freunden und Beförderern der Wissenschaft gewidmet”) was running in circle inside a belt. Like on obverse, miniature equilateral crosses made up of five separate elements were placed between each word. The belt was fastened at the very top.

Round medal measuring 56 mm was struck of silver and bronze. The former weighed 73 g while the latter 82 g. However, depending on the year of manufacture those dimensions may differ. Thus, silver medal with engraving from 1882 weighed 80 g. Exclusive gold medal was minted especially for Ernst Freiherr von Merck, but the founder of the Zoologischen Gesellschaft unfortunately passed away before the decoration ceremony.

The medal was presented in square wooden box measuring 72x72 mm with its outer shell covered with red-brown cloth. Interior of the lid was covered with lilac silk, while lower portion of the case was filled with velvet of the same color. 

Medal of Zoological Society of Hamburg 1