1790 Hamburg DE – Hamburg Crafts Exhibition

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1790 Hamburg

Name:The Hamburg Crafts Exhibition
Venue:Great Hall of the Ratskeller (the city hall cellar)
Theme:To exhibit raw materials for trade manufacturers
Visitors:No data
Hamburg coat of arms

Hamburg had been granted the right to hold a trade fair by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV back on 29 January 1365. Charles was also the King Wenceslaus of Bohemia, though not the one in the Christmas carol. The grant permitted the city to hold a trade fair from two weeks before Whitsun (aka Pentecost) until eight days after it.

Hamburg in 1320

This traditional fair was held for three weeks around the date of Pentecost. It featured traders and craftsmen, wines, oils, spices, jewellery and fabrics. Later, this approved fair split into three annual fairs, one still held close to Pentecost.

The Emperor’s motivation for this grant was that he planned to establish new trading routes in his realm from the central point of Prague, the seat of his rule, spreading out in four principal directions of the compass. Hamburg was to become the end of this route in the North.

Trading goods from the whole of the Empire were brought together in Prague and shipped from there down the Elbe to Hamburg, and then distributed onwards. Imports from Bruges, from England, fish from the North, and exports from the Peterhof trading outpost in Novgorod were to be collected in Hamburg, then shipped up the Elbe to Prague, and from there to the East and South.

The Hamburg Trade Fair was thus to become one of the central trading points in Europe. At the same time, the trade fair privilege granted special protection to the traders, that the goods carried between Hamburg and Prague did not have to be offered for sale along the route.

In 1383, five years after the death of the emperor, the City Council of Hamburg discontinued the fairs ‘for the benefit of the citizens of Hamburg’, to protect them from imports. Of course this also benefitted other cities.

In 1790 the Patriotic Society in Hamburg re-created the Hamburg Crafts Exhibition to exhibit raw materials for trade manufacturers. It was held at the Great Hall of the Ratskeller (the city hall cellar).

Hamburg’s modern Rathaus, the old one
destroyed by fire in 1842

The exhibition was founded, in part, on Enlightenment principles by seeking to replace the motivation of competition with the notion of cooperation for the greater good of the city.

This first event (1790) had sixty exhibitors on the theme of improving the quality of handicraft products. The first event proved most successful with painters, draughtsmen and architects. This focus on artistic exhibits later led to the establishment of the Hamburg Art Society in 1817.

The exhibition evolved into a fair selling goods and exhibiting samples which attracted more and more manufacturers to take part as exhibitors, alongside the craft workers still present in large numbers.

The fair was held every few years each attracting a different set of trades.

Three commercial exhibitions of Hamburg Craft and Industry Production were held in 1832, 1834, and 1838, the venue was the Concert Hall of the City Theatre. These achieved a great success, all of them earned substantial profits thanks to the great interest of the people of Hamburg. But further development was prevented at that time by disputes about future trade fair organisation and by the Hamburg Fire of 1842.

Hamburg Council did not become directly involved until 1863 when an International Agricultural Exhibition co-located with the Hamburg Trade Exhibition. The success of both events plus the growth of railways opened new trade routes (beyond its port) and prompted the city to establish itself as a centre for trade exhibitions.

Heiligengeistfeld - Alchetron, The Free Social Encyclopedia
Hamburg’s Heiligengeistfeld

The International Agricultural Exhibition at Heiligengeistfeld (literally meaning ‘ghost field’), an area of Hamburg in the St Pauli quarter. The site was made available by the City of Hamburg. [The Hamburger Dom funfair has been held there since 1893. When the area is not used for exhibitions, circuses or the Dom it operates as a car park.]

The International Agricultural Exhibition was initiated by the Hamburg merchant Ernst Freiherr von Merck, whose trading house had made a name for itself in cloth and cereals trading and as a bank, it also recieved financial support from the Hamburg Senate. The exhibition site was made available by the City of Hamburg, the ten-day fair attracting some 200,000 visitors and exhibitors from a total of 14 countries. The writer Theodor Fontane, reporting for the Neue Preussische Zeitung, praised the wide variety of exhibits, animal shows and presentation of steam driven tractors, including opportunities for test drives on site.

It took until 1897 for the city to establish a permanent site that consisted of an 8,000 sq m main building set in parkland. The General Horticultural Show was the first to be held there in 1897.

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