Friday, September 6, 2019

The Benzon family and the Copenhagen Zoo

One of the most appealing items in scripophily are share and bond certificates from zoological gardens. Mostly these prints show naturalistic scenes plentiful with exotic animals. Only a handful of  these "zoo" certificates are available on the collector market.

In fact, using biological terms, zoo shares, with a few exceptions, are among the rarest species in scripophily world. In May 2019, a spectacular example surfaced at an auction organized by the Østlandets Aksjebrev Forening, the Oslo-based branch of the Norwegian scripophily society. The item was the star of the sale and attracted several bidders from Norway and abroad.

This 200 Danish rigsdaler share from Den Zoologiske Have Ved Kjöbenhavn , the Copenhagen Zoo, was issued in 1873. In that year Denmark and Sweden formed the Scandinavian Monetary Union. The Danish krone replaced the rigsdaler in 1875 at the rate of 1 krone = 1/2 rigsdaler.
image source : Østlandets Aksjebrev Forening, Norsk Selskap for Scripofili

Østlandets Aksjebrev Forening, held its fourth auction at Oslo on 4 May 2019. Over 600 lots were at stake and one of these was a 1873 share in Den Zoologiske Have Ved Kjöbenhavn, the Copenhagen Zoo. Reportedly, only one other share from this company is known.

The Danish ornithologist Niels Kjærbølling (1806–1871) founded the zoo in 1859. The city of Copenhagen gave him a part of the Frederiksberg Palace Park as recognition for his work. His books, illustrated with lithographed drawings of birds, became very popular and spread public interest in birds and bird spotting. 

The design of the Copenhagen Zoo share includes not less than eighteen different animal species! Click the image of the share certificate on top to enlarge. We have monkeys, parrots, a snake, a lizard, an emu, kangaroos, a leopard and a lion, a camel walking away, a zebra, a deer, running gazelles, a bear, a curious wild boar, an owl, a lynx taking it easy, a squirrel and a vulture in the sky.

Unfortunately Kjærbølling lacked the experience to run a zoo business. The place was not well maintained and animals died. His son Fritz Hugo Kjærbølling inherited the zoo. He had acquired the knowledge and skills to keep and breed animals at zoos like the one in Cologne. However he could not reverse the zoo's poor financial situation.

Fritz Hugo Kjærbølling discussed the situation with three ornithologists : J. C. H. Fischer, who would become Kultus Minister of Denmark, H. C. Erichsen, head of the Ministry of Finance, and Alfred Nicolai Benzon.

A pharmacist, Benzon (1823-1884) founded his own pharmaceutical manufacturing and distribution business, Alfred Benzon A/S. He was also a well-known and published botanist and ornithologist.

In 1872 these four men decided to set up a new company that would become the owner of the zoo: Den Zoologiske Have Ved Kjöbenhavn. Fischer, Erichsen and Benzon were appointed directors with powers to meddle with the zoo's daily operations. Kjærbølling became the zoo inspector. The arrangement didn't work out and, after being paid for his shares in the company, Kjærbølling, the only one with real zoo keeping experience, had to leave the company.

Two small shield vignettes in its upper corners adorn the share of the Copenhagen Zoo. These are the lesser version of the coat of arms of Denmark (left) and of the city of Copenhagen (right). 

The zoo's first years were difficult but it survived till today. After Alfred Benzon's death in 1884, his pharmaceutical business was passed on to his sons Alfred Benzon Jr. and Otto Benzon. The Benzon family continued to support the zoo.

Alfred Benzon Jr. (1855-1932) was besides an entrepreneur also a painter. He became a pupil of the famous Danish painter Peder Severin Krøyer (1851-1909). The latter painted several works featuring the Benzon's, see here and there. P. S. Krøyer was adopted by his uncle Henrik Nikolai Krøyer, who in turn was ... a Danish zoologist and head of Copenhagen's Natural Museum. It's a small world, they say.

Benzon Jr. produced several marine paintings, like the one here. He was also a good observer and drawer of animals and birds, like many ornithologists. It was he who made also the drawing for the Copenhagen Zoo share.

The Copenhagen Zoo share was printed by I. W. Tegner & Kittendorffs Lith. Inst. The design was made by Alfred Benzon junior.

Alfred Benzon Jr's son, Bøge, undertook several nature expeditions related to nature conservation,  animal protection and the collecting and study of species. In 1952, Bøge Benzon (1891-1976) founded the Alfred Benzon Foundation. He donated his shares in the family business to the foundation.

The Alfred Benzon Foundation supports medical researchers and pharmacists, but also gives the Copenhagen Zoo donations for its research laboratory. Bøge Benzon was the zoo's Director from 1954-1956 and in 1967 its Vice-President.

I have not discussed the coat of arms located at the center of the share certificate. It depicts a shield with the words "Utile Dulci". The shield supports a stag head and is flanked by a bear and a lion. It seems to me that Alfred Benzon Jr., the artist, repeated the stag-lion-bear theme in the large scene at the bottom, be it in a different order. My research was fruitless. Who knows more about this coat of arms ?

This historic share in the Copenhagen Zoo represents the important ties between the zoo and the Benzon family. It was auctioned on 4 May 2019 in Oslo by the Østlandets Aksjebrev Forening. Hammered over three times its start price it was purchased at NOK46000, nearly USD5300, excluding a 15% buyer's premium.


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