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Adolph Schaefer collection

Identifier: ubl276

Scope and Contents

The collection of the German photographer Adolph Schaefer contains 66 daguerreotypes of Hindu statues and 58 daguerreotypes of the Borobudur. Schaefer's daguerreotypes are the largest coherent group of daguerreotypes in The Netherlands.

Aside from the large number of items, the group is distinguished for its atypical application of the daguerreotype technique for fieldwork; most daguerreotypes were used for the production of portraits in studios.


  • Creation: 1845

Conditions Governing Use

Photographs, especially daguerreotypes, are very vulnerable for light, warmth and humidity. They are kept in specially climatized storage. Therefore, photographs from our collection can only be consulted by users after an acclimatization period of 24 hours. Other regulations that apply during the use of materials in the Special Collections Reading Room can be found on the website of Leiden University Library.

Biographical / Historical

Little is known about the life of Adolph Schaefer, beside his activities in collaboration with the Dutch Ministry of Colonies. Among the few things known, is that he was a photographer who arrived in The Hague from Dresden, Germany in 1843. His photographic work for the Dutch Ministry of Colonies was the first state photography commission of the Netherlands.

The ministry lent Schaefer money, to buy daguerreotype equipment in Paris (where nobody less than the French inventor of photography Jacques-Louis Mandé Daguerre himself instructed him about new photographic techniques), to travel to Batavia by boat and as first month salary. In return, Schaefer would photograph objects of art historical and archaeological value in the Dutch East-Indies, accompanied by the Royal Batavian Society of Arts and Sciences (Bataviaasch Genootschap van Kunsten en Wetenschappen) and Dutch archaeologist W.A. van der Ham specifically. Schaefer would pay back his financial loan from the income of private commissions for photographic portraits. Schaefer made 66 daguerreotypes of Hindu statues and 58 daguerreotypes of the Borobudur. When at the end of 1845, Van der Ham reported back to The Netherlands less than positively about the usefulness of daguerreotypes for scientific research, and moreover died shortly thereafter, the scientific context for the photographic project fell away and Schaefer's daguerreotype commission was terminated. From 1846 through 1848, he works as a photographer in Semarang, and in 1848 and 1849 in Surabaja, Madura and Sumanep. Subsequently, he is called back to Batavia because of his highly run up debts. His photographic equipment is sold publicly. Since then, nothing was heard of Schaefer anymore.


124 photos (daguerreotypes)

Language of Materials


Abstract in Dutch

De collectie van de Duitse fotograaf Adolph Schaefer omvat 124 daguerreotypieën van archeologische oudheden op Java. Schaefer maakte deze foto’s in 1845 in opdracht van het Nederlandse Ministerie van Koloniën. Het is de grootste samenhangende collectie daguerreotypieën in Nederland.

Abstract in English

The collection of the German photographer Adolph Schaefer contains 124 daguerreotypes of archeological antiquities on Java. Schaefer made these photographs in 1845 commissioned by the Dutch Ministry of Colonies. It is the largest coherent collection of daguerreotypes in the Netherlands.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

The daguerreotypes are housed in cassettes, a number of them with more plates in one frame.

Physical Location

Leiden University Libraries, Special Collections

Other Finding Aids

The collection can be accessed through the online catalogue.

Custodial History

The daguerreotypes by Adolph Schaefer were commissioned and owned by the Dutch Ministry of Colonies. The collection moved from the Leiden Museum of Ethnology to the Leiden University’s Print Room as a result of two gifts: in 1953 and 1960.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

In 2002, the collections of the Print Room moved to the Special Collections of Leiden University Library.


No future additions are expected.

Existence and Location of Copies

The collection is digitized. Images are available via the online catalogue.

Related Materials

For photography before 1860 in Dutch public collections see the Dutch image base Early Photography.

For daguerreotypes in European collections see: Daguerreobase. Collectieve catalogus voor daguerrotypieën.

Correspondence between Adolph Schaefer and the Ministry of Colonies is kept in the archive of that ministry, currently in the National Archives in The Hague is online beschikbaar.


  • Moeshart, H., Adolph Schaefer’, in: Geschiedenis van de fotografie in monografieën en thema-artikelen, 3 (september 1986) 5


The materials can be requested in the catalogue and can be consulted in the Special Collections Reading Room. See Alternative form available and Restrictions on use.

Processing Information

The items of the Schaefer Collection have been described and can be searched using the online catalogue. The shelfmark start with PK-F- (photocollection of the Print Room), followed by the year of acquisition (53 or 60) and a serial number within the inventory of the Print Room of that year: PK-F-53.... of PK-F-60....

Collection guide of the Adolph Schaefer collection (1845)
Collectie Adolph Schaefer
Maartje van den Heuvel, 2018
Language of description
Script of description
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Language of description note
Beschrijving is in het English.

Revision Statements

  • 29 January 2020: latest update

Repository Details

Part of the Leiden University Libraries Archives & Collections Repository

Witte Singel 27
Leiden 2311 BG Netherlands
+31 71 527 2857