Thilly Weissenborn (1889-1964) became known as the first female professional photographer of the colonial Dutch East Indies, She photographed mainly in Western-Java (Garoet) working for and later owning Photo Studio ,,Lux”.
Original period (1917-1941) prints made by her are getting hard to find and are very collectable. In my collection I have an album with several of her photo’s. Some with the trademark of Lux and some unmarked but known photo’s by her.
It seems to be an album of a mother and daughter covering a world trip in the 1920s visiting many countries including the East Indies. The album starts in the UK, going to Shanghai, Japan and Indonesia but ending again in Europe (Germany). Photo’s like these were bought and added to the privately made pictures. There are many professional pictures from Indonesia from which only some are confirmed by Lux.
Two pictures in Japan with the same mother and daughter combination and a photo of a large group in Indonesia, none of these by Lux of course.
All pictures from my own collection. Several original Lux pictures from the album went to a friend. The album had several loose pictures and many empty pages were the photo’s were already removed before the album came into my collection.
Source: Vastgelegd voor later, Indische foto’s van Thilly Weissenborn – Verzameld door Ernst Drissen, 1983
Most etnographical items in Dutch collections do not have a historical background story, provenance. These stories are often lost over time so that is an extra reason for writing down these blogs.
These items were collected during the career of Major A. Picard of the Dutch East Indies Army. He was born in 1850, between the early 1870s and 1898, his pension date, he rose throught the ranks to the status of Major. After his pension he returned to the Netherlands and passed away in 1905. For one of his actions he received an Honorable Mention (Mention is Despatches) which was the 2nd highest acknowledgement for gallantry after the Military Order of William. He spent his entire career in Norhtern Sumatra (Atjeh region during the long lasting wars there).
The collecting of etnographical items was popular amongst officers and even promoted by higher ranking officers. Looting was not accepted (which does not mean it did not happen) but collecting/buying was seen as an investment in a better understanding of the local population as was the learning of the local language.
His complete collection was handed down in the family several times until the last family member deceased in the early 2000s. An antiques dealer bought the entire contents of the house and sold them off.
A friend was able to buy the medals and paperwork and I bought several etnographical items. You can match them with the photo above!
Despite the handkerchiefs these are all items for Atjehnese men, for tobacco, sirih and chalk or toiletries (tool sets with items like ear wax spoons, nose hair clippers and tooth picks) for the men of that region.
Next to the very distinctive Sikin and Rencong from Aceh there is another weapon that is directly linked to Aceh but only for those of noble status and in the status variation (so with gold and diamonds) only for those closely connected to the Sultan of Aceh.
Longer weapons of all kinds were named pedang in Indonesia. On Sumatra in the Aceh region the local name was Peudeuëng which was used only for an extra long type of sabre in the Indian Tulwar style.
The noble (status) variation has a few very distinctive differences, The steel handle has a woven (teurhat) silver cover (kabat). The style of weaving can help determine the age but they are basically all 19th century or earlier. The top of the handle has a gold cover (crown) which in this case has also rough diamonds (inten) and enamel work as often seen on status rencong and sikins.
One of the most famous versions of this weapon is the version of Teukeu Umar that is currently in the Bronbeek collection. That version also has a golden cover of the entire handle which signifies an even higher status!
The blades are often longer than 80cms (total length around 100 cms) and always flexible in a high quality damascus steel. Probably most often if not always the blades are imported.
This example came from the collection of Karsten Sjer Jensen (writer of the famous Krisdisk). If the number 8 which can be seen both on the handle and the sheath was put there by him is unknown.
The entire quality of blade, handle and goldwork make these weapons very rare and collectable today!
Sources: Catalogus Museum Bronbeek, Het verhaal van Indie, deel 1
In this blog I want to show some detailed photo’s of the quality of workmanship in these status weapons! Remember the golden crowns are rare, maybe only 1 in a 100 examples have these….
Aceh rencong with golden crowns
An overview of 4 rencong, probably all 19th century pieces with the original sheaths on three of them. Short description from left to right and top to bottom:
Handle is made of “white” buffalo horn as opposed to the more common dark horn. Enamel of the crowns is of very high quality.
Handle made of Akar Bahar, root of the sea, which is very brittle and probably the rarest handle material. The back part therefore also of gold with a diamond (inten) on top. A very high status item.
Handle of dark horn and smooth as opposed to the first and last handle. Top of the metal also has very nice gold inlays.
Dark buffalo handle and the biggest size rencong of these four with some old battle damage and likely the oldest of these.
Note that the bottom two crowns have a very high quality of enamel and the top two ones hardly have any enamel.
Gayo status rencong with silver and (marine) ivory
In the Gayo region the use of silver was more common on status pieces. Also the use of marine ivory (dandan) was quite common. Also the first metal part often has an overlay in copper or suassa.
The first has an unusual size, the longest of all seven rencong in this blog. Also the combination of ivory, silver crowns and suassa overlay is remarkable. Probably of ritual meaning or very high status.
The second is a more standard Gayo status rencong with brass overlay and only ivory on the handle. Both have the typical blood groove that is more or less standard on Gayo made pieces.
The third seems to be a Aceh made piece for the Gayo region. The use of a full silver handle with suassa details and the sheath hint at Gayo use but the quality of workmanship hint at Aceh. An interesting cross cultural rencong.
Input and help in determining age and details of these rencong is more than welcome, please contact me with additional info!