Anyone standing in front of the Stoertebeker House understands that it represents the personal commitment of the one who built it: a commitment to the centuries-old tradition of Hamburg merchants. The impressive, large building made of red brick and decorated with many elaborate, charming details is reminiscent of the great past of the enterprising Hamburg merchants who used to send their ships across the seven seas. For centuries, Hamburg was the epitome of the international trade, of the import and export of precious and vital goods. Numismatists know the city as the initiator of the splendid private issues, bullion and gift coins called “bankportugalöser”. If you delve a little into the history of Hamburg, you will repeatedly encounter enterprising personalities that loved to sail close to the wind: in a professional manner, but also not opposed to taking risks, honestly but focused on their own profit, visionary and down-to-earth at the same time. We met one of these Hanseatic merchants in his office, Achim Becker, founder of Emporium Hamburg and builder of the Stoertebeker House.
All Forms of Coin Trade Under a Single Roof
Usually, coin dealerships can be divided into different groups according to what they specialize in. There are small stores, auction houses that focus exclusively on pre-World War II numismatics, companies that ship modern commemorative coins, wholesalers that supply coin dealers and mail-order houses of all sizes, and finally there are companies that specialize in the gold trade and in the sale of bullion coins. Emporium Hamburg combines all these concepts under a single roof, and there is even more. A tour of the premises illustrates how versatile the coin trade can be. At the beginning of December, shortly before the lockdown that is now coming to an end, CoinsWeekly had the opportunity to visit Emporium Hamburg at the Stoertebeker House.
A Well-Established Hanseatic Building for the Coin Trade
The Stoertebeker House is not located in the centre of Hamburg but in Hamm, the former villa district that was almost completely destroyed during the bombings of the Second World War. That’s why there was enough space for Achim Becker to make his vision a reality. He wanted a house for his company that picked up the tradition of the large buildings of Hanseatic merchants of the 19th century. And, indeed, the Stoertebeker House is more similar to these works of art of historicism than to the modern, functional buildings that have conquered German cities since the Bauhaus movement. And the people of Hamburg liked that, as Achim Becker found in a survey that was already carried out before the house was built: 98.5 percent of the 1,600 people asked liked the traditional façade which can be seen at Süderstraße 288 today.
Anyone who enters the house is overwhelmed by all the details, the small and large ornaments. The founder of the company, Achim Becker, designed them all himself. If he hadn’t become a coin dealer, he would have probably made a name of himself as an architect, he tells us. That’s why building the Stoertebeker House was a matter close to his heart. At the insistence of the craftsmen and architects involved in the construction, Achim Becker has even published an entire book on the subject of the Stoertebeker House in German called “Das Störtebeker Haus. Ein Haus für Hamm. Eine Vision für Hamburg”. The work is not only limited to wonderful pictures and drafts but also provides insight into how this new Hamm landmark came to be.
But that’s enough for now regarding architecture. Let’s take a look behind the scenes. Let’s see what happens in one of the largest, if not the largest coin dealership of Germany.
In the Eye of the Storm: Achim Becker’s Office
If you visit the Stoertebeker House, you will first see the Kontor Hameko (= the Hanseatic coin and precious metal office), a store that offers both bullion and commemorative coins as well as safe deposit boxes directly inside the Stoertebeker House that are independent of any bank.
To the left there is the entrance to the headquarters of Emporium Hamburg. You enter a magnificent hallway, take a lift that is reminiscent of the great hotels of the Art Deco era and almost get to the top of the building. That’s where you’ll find the reception, where guests are first taken to a meeting room before the person they set up their appointment with comes to pick them up.
We’re lucky: Achim Becker himself gives us a tour of his company. Achim Becker was born on 29 December 1947 in the small town of Schwei in the Wesermarsch district. He completed a banking apprenticeship at the Commerzbank after having trained to become an industrial manager at the internationally operating company Kellog’s in Bremen. After extended stays in the USA, he founded his “Emporium Hamburg” in 1972, i.e. at the time when 5 mark commemorative coins were booming the Federal Republic of Germany.
The name of his company already shows the vision of Achim Becker: Historians use the term “emporium” to describe a market and trading place for a variety of goods. The word makes you think of international trading partners and different forms of trade – and that’s exactly what Emporium Hamburg has been all about for almost half a century. There are few coin shops that operate on such a global scale and still serve all market segments at the same time.
Directly under the round office on the 5th floor, you can find the wholesale and gold trade departments. At Emporium Hamburg, you can buy individual 2 Euro commemorative coins just as you can buy a thousand Krugerrands, whether you are looking for a Roman denarius, Hamburg talers, golden DM pieces or American commemorative quarter dollars – Emporium Hamburg has most of the common coin types in stock – everything from antiquity to this day. To this end, Emporium Hamburg collaborates with many state mints including the US Mint, the Monnaie de Paris, the Austrian Mint, the China Gold Coin Corporation, the South African Mint and the Royal Australian Mint as well as the Perth Mint, to name but a few. Moreover, the company can be found at all important coin shows of the world and has an international reputation as a solvent buyer of large series of coins.
Emporium Hamburg also develops special programmes for collectors and investors in cooperation with central banks and mints. The most popular example is probably the bullion coin “Elephant” of the African Wildlife programme. The coins of this programme, whether it be silver, gold or platinum issues, are minted by the Bayerisches Hauptmünzamt. “Elephant” is available in many different versions in terms of weight and material – and it can not only be purchased at Emporium Hamburg, but many other coin dealers that are specialized in bullion products offer this coin too.
“Somalia Elephant” has been minted since 2004. It is both a bullion and collector coin because its motif changes every year. It is available in silver, gold and platinum. The different versions range between a weight of 0.5g and one kilogram.
Currently, Emporium Hamburg has initiated a medal series in cooperation with the main pastor of Hamburg’s St Michael’s Church issued in support of Hamburg’s most famous landmark, the “Hamburger Michel”. The tourist attraction lost two-thirds of its income during the year of the pandemic – even though it organises numerous social projects.
In order to continue its social commitment, St. Michael’s is asking for help. Emporium Hamburg makes use of its possibilities to throw a numismatic lifebelt to the Hamburg institution.
Although Emporium Hamburg will probably not make any money from this medal series, it is a good example for another line of business. Emporium Hamburg has a department that is specialized in organising medal issues in cooperation with institutions, associations and private persons. This means you can order a commemorative coin from Emporium Hamburg according to your own wishes, whether it be for private or professional purposes.
The largest department of the Stoertebeker House is home to the mail order business. Emporium Hamburg’s branch Emporium Merkator provides thousands of clients around the world with historical and contemporary coins. Emporium Merkator follows the exact wishes of its clients, no matter what they are. There is still the print version of the “Muenzkurier”, which is sent by mail on a monthly basis, and traditional clients can order the offered items by phone and even by mail. If you feel more comfortable online, you can choose whatever your heart desires at https://www.muenzkurier.de and complete the entire purchase by means of a digital shopping cart and your credit card.
On its website and in the “Muenzkurier” publication, Emporium Hamburg offers everything that belongs to numismatics: from Roman denarii to talers of the German States and emergency paper money of the Weimar Republic, with the focus being on modern issues such as Euro coins and contemporary commemorative issues.
For clients who like to purchase an entire collection at once, there are the so-called “collections”. They comprise several pieces that are related to a specific subject and are delivered as a complete package including historical information and elaborate packaging – and it is also possible to pay the bill by means of monthly instalments.
The importance of this part of the business is illustrated by the fact that there is a department that deals exclusively with the graphic design of the “Muenzkurier” and other print publications, and another department uploads new coins onto the website. And this is one of the crucial differences between Emporium Hamburg and many other coin shops: Emporium Hamburg is simply larger and employs specialized staff to ensure smooth workflows in all departments.
Thus, several employees in the numismatic department identify coins under the lead of Dr Josef Fischer, which are then offered on the website and at in-house auctions taking place twice a year. In spring and fall, Emporium Hamburg invites its customers to an auction, a social event – at least when there’s no lockdown – attended by collectors and dealers from around the globe.
In addition, an online auction is held every two months, ending at 5 p.m. of the first Friday of the respective month.
With all the profit and service departments, a clear and well-structured liquidity, profit and cost management is of vital importance.
And we shouldn’t forget that the thousands of purchases made by customers every month also need to be dispatched. This is the task of the logistics department, its employees and their quick and competent hands.
Pay attention to their clothes! In this high-security wing, the colour of the clothing tells you which rooms an employee is allowed to enter.
The Pride of Emporium Hamburg: The Warehouse
Just a few steps away from the logistics department, behind heavy armoured doors, secured by a triple alarm system, we find the pride of Emporium Hamburg: the warehouse.
Look at all the boxes in the background: they are full of coins that wait for someone to buy them. Whereas other coin dealers only have one specimen of a specific coin type in stock, this vault holds many pieces. Achim Becker comments: “The philosophy and strength of Emporium Hamburg is our permanent ability to deliver bullion and contemporary issues as well as coins of the 19th and 20th centuries. We must never run out of these. We always have a certain amount of coins in stock to be always able to deliver.”
In fact, any visitor would probably be struck by the sheer quantity of coins that can be found in the vaults of the high-security wing. The head of the finance department, Mrs. Sobotzki, quantifies the value of the stock on the day of our visit at €30 million.
The permanent ability to deliver requires sufficient liquidity as well as the personal commitment of the dealers that monitor the stock and a timely procurement of coins: “When most dealers ran out of bullion coins at the beginning of the year, thanks to our extensive stock, Emporium was in a good position to still be able to supply collectors and dealers. Our customers rely on Emporium to get their coins quickly. Of course, Emporium also cares a lot about the quality of the coins it offers and sells to its customers. Our team of experts ensures that the quality standards are met.”
Achim Becker is a true businessman and this means that the Stoertebeker House was not only his personal dream but also an investment. He considered the building to be a point of crystallization around which a new neighbourhood of auction houses, antique dealers and luxury stores will eventually emerge. And he obviously knows that it’s very difficult for employees of these industries to find attractive and affordable apartments in Hamburg. That’s why a large residential building is currently being constructed next to the Stoertebeker House, and most of the apartments have already been promised to the company’s own employees who appreciate the short commute and the low rent.
Achim Becker is simply a person who sees the connection between different areas, and he does so on a large scale. That’s why Emporium Hamburg has become a reflection of the global coin trade under a single roof, and nothing is left out that promises “a moderate profit as long as you calculate wisely”, as Achim Becker puts it. Just as Hanseatic merchants did for centuries.
This website shows you the services that can be found under the roof of the Stoertebeker House.
You can also read more about it in the image brochure of Emporium Hamburg.
And here you can access the online store.
You can watch an image film about the Stoertebeker House on YouTube.