The origins of our collection


[Translate to English:] In der Schatzkammer des Naturhistorischen Museums werden besonders seltene und historisch bedeutende Objekte präsentiert.

Hidden in the vault for many decades, some of the most valuable objects of the Naturhistorisches Museum have now found a place in the permanent exhibition. The Treasury offers a glimpse into the Duke’s antique collection and displays the oldest and most valuable pieces of the museum. Neither gold nor silver can be found here, but the shimmering nacre of venus clams, a hand painted turtle shell and the world’s only pair of sea silk stockings.

The so-called cabinets of curiosities that emerged in the 16th century were the predecessors of today’s museums. All kinds of objects were collected to amaze and astonish the visitor with their rarity. The collections included scientific tools, works of art, natural history objects and other treasures. The pieces most important feature was their rarity.

In the 17th century the foundation for the collection of the Staatliches Naturhistorisches Museum was laid. In 1666 Duke Ferdinand Albrecht I of Brunswick-Lüneburg started collecting artworks and natural history objects for his cabinet of curiosities in the Bevern Castle. Around 20 years later his brother Duke Anton Ulrich opened another one at the palace in Salzdahlum. Some objects from this original collection are still in the possession of the museum: the Caspian turtle with a coat of arms on its shell, the skeleton of a European pond turtle, a sawfish and a pair of painted and gold-plated venus clams can all be traced back to the collection from the 17th century and amaze visitors to this day.

Duke Carl I of Brunswick-Lüneburg – enlightener and museum founder

Carl I was the great-grandson of Duke Anton Ulrich and ruled the Principality of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel for almost 45 years starting in 1735. He inherited a majority of objects from Bevern and Salzdahlum castles and combined the two collections of his ancestors. Influenced by the enlightenment movement the collection was made accessible to the public in 1753/54. With that the first public museum in Germany was founded, which was later separated into the Staatliches Naturhistorisches Museum and the Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum. Carl’s greatest concern was the education of his people. The museum was created with the goal to foster the knowledge of culture and natural history.

Being an innovative duke with progressive ideas he founded other important institutions as well, including one of the first state banks (nowadays Norddeutsche Landesbank), an institution for fire insurance (nowadays Öffentliche Versicherung) and the Collegium Carolinum (nowadays TU Braunschweig). Furthermore he tried to boost the economy by supporting the construction of state-owned and private factories. To start the silk industry in Germany Carl I planted mulberry trees for silkworms in Brunswick, Wolfenbüttel and Königslutter. The business failed because the German climate wasn’t suitable for the sensitive silkworms. 

The precious objects of the Treasury

Because of the eventful history of the museum only a few objects from the original collection have survived. This makes the preservation of the pied raven, an extinct color morph of the common raven, all the more important. This animal specimen was acquired in 1755 from the Duke of Orléans to be displayed at the newly opened “Kunst- und Naturalienkabinett”. Today only very few other museum specimens of this rare bird exist worldwide.

The objects of the Treasury have exciting stories to tell: an ammonite that allegedly fell from the sky, a toad whose offspring hatch from its back, snails that produce a purple pigment, and an elephant embryo that caught the interest of the writer and poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.