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Bronze Ace of Trajanus: a fascinating, but also frightening pedigree

Prieure de Sion

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When I bought the coin, I was still full of anticipation, thinking what an interesting old pedigree from a certainly time-honoured German coin dealer. And as I did more and more research, the fascination remained, but also the goose bumps caused by the fates of the people during this period of the Nazi regime. But one thing at a time. 



Exemplar der Sammlung Bißinger und der Auktion Lanz 141, München 2008, Nr. 387 (dort mit Provenienz "Erworben aus dem Lager L. Hamburger, 27. März 1936.")


This bronze ace of Trajanus comes from a Künker auction in 2023, i.e. this year. Before that, it was from the Lanz Munich auction in 2008 - so far, so good. With the pedigree "Bißinger Collection" I am not yet sure whether it is the Karl Bissinger Collection - there is an archive catalogue - but I still have to check whether all 14,000 or so coins are listed here. And of course - whether the pedigree is the Karl Bissinger Collection at all.

Karl Bissinger





Karl Bissinger was the son of the Karlsruhe teacher of the same name. He attended Karlsruhe grammar school and studied in Bonn, Göttingen and Heidelberg. After graduating, he began his teaching career at the Karlsruhe grammar school, where he was appointed professor in 1871. In 1885, he moved to Donaueschingen, where he was headmaster of the Progymnasium. In 1895, Karl Bissinger took over the directorship of the Reuchlin-Gymnasium. The town's archive commission enjoyed his active co-operation for 15 years. Numerous publications by him and about him testify to his proven expertise and professional competence, especially in the field of numismatics. In his will, he bequeathed his exclusive and extremely valuable collection of 14,000 coins to the city. The collection covers antiquity with mainly Greek and Roman coins, the Middle Ages and modern times with German coinage, especially from Baden. However, the collection also contains numerous coins from Europe and overseas.

On 23 February 1945, many coins as well as the order of the collection and the associated catalogues were lost. After the Second World War, with the support of the Badisches Landesmuseum Karlsruhe, work began to re-identify the recovered items. Today, the approximately 5,000 coins that have survived are kept in the Pforzheim city archives.


But whether the pedigree is actually a coin from the Bissinger collection is completely uncertain and I will have to do more research first. It could very probably be another modern collector - the name Bißinger / Bissinger is not uncommon in Germany.


So I first turned to the tangible things, the pedigree L. & L. Hamburger from Frankfurt. And I quickly found what I was looking for.

The history of the company is covered in a detailed PDF publication by Künker, which is available for free download. The background is the Salton Collection, which was also auctioned by Künker. You can find the PDF publication of the Künker company here:


I "know" the Salton Collection - I have studied and read extensively about the Salton couple because I acquired some Caligula and Augustus coins from the collection at the beginning of the year. However, I had probably overlooked the connections between the Salton family, the Schlesinger family and the Hamburger family - or at least no longer remembered them.

Be that as it may, at the end of the day, behind the story of the Schlessinger and Hamburger families is a tragedy full of fates that many Jewish people had to suffer under the Nazi regime. And so does the coin trade of the Hamburger family from Frankfurt. Künker summarizes the publication well with the following words:

"The origin of the German coin trade: The fate of the Hamburger and Schlessinger families; a German-Jewish story of the happy rise and tragic end of the most important coin-dealing dynasty before the Second World War"


Eager to find out more about the origins of the coin from 1936, I stumbled upon the following chart and timeline in the Künker publication on pages 68/69:



As with so many Jewish businesses during this time under the Nazi regime, the shops were forcibly liquidated. Of course not voluntarily. Often actually almost always significantly below price, i.e. always to the (financial) disadvantage of the former Jewish owners. If they had received any kind of compensation at all. Most people had to be happy if there was still enough money left after the expropriation to be able (or allowed) to flee the country.

The date on the pedigree and the year on the display board shocked me and made me think. As it appears - according to the Künker publication - the last auction of the house L. & L. Hamburger took place in 1934. Then in 1936 the business was liquidated under pressure from the Nazi regime.

The expropriation appears to have begun in 1936.
The coin is said to have been sold on March 27, 1936.
Was the coin already part of the liquidation?

I'm very interested in it - but it's also frightening to think about.

In the German forum, the user "andechser" gave me a tip about another publication (thanks again for that). The PDF publication can be downloaded here: https://depositonce.tu-berlin.de/items/610dfbb0-5b2e-4c2c-b094-2008cd5c6107 

Reading the PDF dissertation is not easy for me either. Some of the files shown are original from the time of the Nazi regime. On the one hand the Nazi officials, on the other hand the dispossessed - it puts a strain on you when you put yourself in this situation.

In this dissertation (at the end), the L. & L. Hamburger business is listed as being in business until 1937. However, it is not clear whether the Jewish owners were still in business or whether a Nazi official had taken over the business by 1937.

There is further information from sources in the dissertation, so I will continue to search here. If by chance any of you know anything about the story behind L. & L. Hamburger, I would be very happy to receive further information.


And now here is the coin that we are talking about here. Which I've been seeing with slightly different eyes since lunchtime today. Interested in the story behind it - but also in awe of the fate of the people who held this coin in their hands and perhaps didn't hand it in voluntarily.


Imperator Caesar Nerva Traianus Augustus; Reign: Trajanus; Mint: Rome; Date: 99/100 AD; Nominal: As; Material: AE Bronze; Diameter: 26mm; Weight: 11.77g; Reference: BMC 740; Reference: Woytek 82a; Reference: Cohen 628; Reference: RIC II Trajan 417; Pedigree: Künker Numismatik Osnabrück, Germany (Auction 79, Lot 7253, from 16. October 2023); Pedigree: Lanz Numismatik Munich, Germany (Auction 141, Lot 387, from 26. May 2008); Pedigree: From Münzhandlung L. & L. Hamburger Frankfurt am Main, Germany (Warehouse sale on 27. March 1936); Obverse: Head of Trajan, laureate, right; Inscription: IMP CAES NERVA TRAIAN AVG GERM P M; Translation: Imperator Caesar Nerva Traianus Augustus, Germanicus, Pontifex Maximus; Translation: Imperator, Caesar, Nerva Trajan, Augustus, conqueror of the Germans, high priest; Reverse: Victory, draped, advancing left, holding shield inscribed SPQR in right hand and palm in left; Inscription: TR POT COS III P P S C; Translation: Tribunicia Potestate, Consul Tertium, Pater Patriae, Senatus Consultum; Translation: Holder of tribunician power, consul for the third time, father of the nation, decree of the senate. 




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Thank you for a fascinating post, @Prieure de Sion!

I always think about the ancient history of the coins in my collection and rarely about their recent history. Your post gives more to think about. The wars, plagues, famines, and human suffering these coins have witnessed is extraordinary.



Edited by LONGINUS
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2 hours ago, JayAg47 said:

but my concern is the coin looks to be tooled?!

I assume that the coin is a very old found coin and was perhaps traded around the 19th century. Back then, people sometimes had different views and standards on the subject of “tooled” or “smoothing”.

I looked at comparative coins and couldn't find any major changes that would make the coin differ significantly from the original. The other auction houses such as Künker or the KMK also see this - not "tooled". At least not in such a way that the current condition of the coin no longer has anything to do with the original. However, the fields are smoothed. But all auction houses and dealers have stated this.


43 minutes ago, LONGINUS said:

Thank you for a fascinating post, @Prieure de Sion!

I always think about the ancient history of the coins in my collection and rarely about their recent history. Your post gives more to think about. The wars, plagues, famines, and human suffering these coins have witnessed is extraordinary.

Fascinating - and sometimes frightening.

Yes, if our coins could tell even more. What would they tell us? Certainly a lot of cheerfulness - but I'm afraid they also experienced a lot of suffering and horror.

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I have now found something interesting - although I have not yet been able to verify the content:



From January 1, 1904-1933 the firm of Leo Hamburger thrived at Scheffelstrasse 24, Frankfurt a. M.


In January 1912, Leo Hamburger took on three partners who were all relatives : Felix Joel Schlessinger (1879-1944), son-in-law David Nussbaum (1871-1941), and Moses Schnerb (1863-1937). The partnership of L. & L. Hamburger ended on January 26, 1929 upon the death of Joseph Hamburger and by that of Leo Hamburger on February 16, 1929. Leo's relatives Felix J. Schlessinger and son-in-law David Nussbaum and later on by his grandson Hans Nussbaum (1902-1939) took over the establishment. Schlessinger soon left opening his own office at Berlin. In 1933, Hans Nussbaum fled Germany during the Nazi pogrom and worked from an office in the renown Bank Leu in Zurich, Switzerland. His final coin auction at Leo Hamburger was on April 3, 1933, selling Greek coins and coins of Sicily. After that sale the firm of Leo Hamburger came to an end.


However, the text is somewhat "confusing" and may confuse one thing or another. Apparently there were several shops - also in Frankfurt ("The Hamburgerhaus sold coins at Uhlandstrasse 56 from 1864 to 1929"). There is often talk here of the Leo Hamburger business, then again of the L. & L. Hamburger business. 

However, one thing seems "certain" - both Leo Hamburger and Joseph Hamburger died in 1929, so it appears that three relatives took over the business. So it seems that no direct "Hamburger" ran the business after 1929 - but "only" the business partners from the family. 

I now have to find out who actually ran the L. & L. Hamburger business from 1929 - and whether the Jewish owners were already completely out by 1933. Perhaps the business was (initially) taken over by other coin dealers and then later dissolved. Or whether Nazi officials had a hand in it after all.

The first thing to find out is whether there were (simultaneously) two shops (Uhlandstraße - Scheffelstraße) and therefore two trade names? And which house at which address was L&L Hamburger? The display board at Künker contains a small error - the business premises were at Scheffelstraße 24 and not 54. 

I'll ask Busso Peus Frankfurt now - maybe they still have some old knowledge and write to the city of Frankfurt.

It's all very interesting.

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This sort of unsavory origin story for German (and Austrian) coin dealerships is not exactly an unusual situation to encounter. See my and @Curtisimo's old Coin Talk threads about the German dealer Karl Kreß (who was originally a printer, and not a numismatist at all), acquiring the old Otto Helbing Nachfolger business circa 1938 through the process of Aryanization -- and then continuing to use the Helbing name, as part of his own business name, up to at least the 1960s. (As far as I can tell, though, he was not the same Karl Kreß as the well-known photographer "who had worked with the Nazi art looting unit, the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR), photographing looted art works" before going to work for the Americans after his capture as a POW. See https://text-message.blogs.archives.gov/2014/08/21/karl-kress/. )



Interestingly, the owner of the Otto Helbing firm at the time it was transferred to Kreß was the Hirsch family, specifically Gerhard Hirsch. See https://coinsweekly.com/germanys-oldest-coin-dealerships/



Edited by DonnaML
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