Heavy Chests and Conspicuous Consumption: Contextualizing the Decoration Craze in German New Guinea Heavy Chests and Conspicuous Consumption:Contextualizing the Decoration Craze in German New Guinea By Rainer Buschmann Readers of the Provenance section may have noticed that many colonial residents in German New Guinea proudly displayed state decorations in their pictures. This section will explore this decoration craze and how ethnographic collection activity was complicit in this fad. To understand this craze, one has to turn to German history. This country saw unification late in 1871. However, most states that made up this union--kingdoms, duchies, and principalities--retained a limited degree of autonomy, including the ability to bestow orders and decorations. There remained, for instance, four kingdoms within Germany: Bavaria, Prussia—the Prussian King, Wilhelm I, became Emperor of all Germans--Saxony, and Wurttemberg. The royal houses of these kingdoms remained intact, as did the ability to award decorations for significant service to the ruler. Services could include military campaigns and major contributions to the arts and sciences of a particular German state. Donations in money or artifacts to local state museums also fell under this category. Thus, in theory, the decoration was a physical manifestation of a contract between a collector and a particular state's ruling house. In practice, however, the late nineteenth century saw such inflation in German decoration bestowal that state rulers were rarely involved in the process. In most cases, a growing bureaucracy oversaw this operation. Historians estimated that before the Great War, no less than 100,000 Germans spotted at least one medal. In many cases, they bore multiple awards, sometimes from a variety of states. Following the conflict with the newly founded Weimar Republic, old aristocratic privileges saw abolition, including state decorations. Decorations were not only aristocratic playthings. With the eighteenth-century French Revolution, medals experienced transformation. Especially Napoleon prided himself in bestowing orders to worthy soldiers regardless of birth or rank during his protracted European military campaigns. States fighting Napoleonic troops copied this practice. Prussian officials, for instance, minted the famous Iron Cross from captured French artillery pieces and made it universally available to soldiers. Awards came in multiple classes. Individuals wore higher ranks of a particular decoration around the neck, such as the infamous Knight's Cross bestowed during the Second World War. Others displayed lower varieties attached to their overcoat's pockets or buttonholes. A decorated Otto Finsch following his voyages of annexation in German New Guinea Symbolic diseases became associated with decoration cravings. For instance, during the Second World War, German soldiers became worried when their commanding officer displayed a "sore throat"--a euphemism characterizing the desire for Knight's Cross--which meant that this officer was willing to put his soldiers in dangerous situations to obtain the medal. Those lusting after a lower-class decoration suffered from "chest pains," "buttonhole ailments," "heavy chest," or were simply “stuffing their buttonhole.” Others regarded this obsession as “collecting dead birds,” an allusion to the birds of prey associated with many state decorations, such as the Prussian Order of the Red Eagle, the Order of the Mecklenburg Griffon, or Saxe-Weimar's Order of the White Falcon. An excessive display of decorations during festive occasions landed the carrier the nickname of “Christmas Tree.” Despite the negative monikers associated with openly displaying medals, decorations became an essential element of self-fashioning. Moreover, the practice was also heavily gendered as almost exclusively men carried orders. Officials overseeing ethnographic collections in Germany realized their chance by enticing colonial residents with a state decoration. For instance, Stuttgart ethnographic collection manager, Karl von Linden, revealed to his Leipzig colleague Karl Weule: "Obviously, my blue eyes alone won't incite any potential donor to relinquish his collection to our museum; alas, I soon discovered the proper cure for buttonhole illnesses, and even if I cannot assume, much like the blessed Aesculapius, a guarantee for my treatment, it is safe to say that as far as I remember most of the patients have left my clinic in good health." Linden also skillfully enticed ethnographic collectors away from other institutions, especially the Royal Ethnographic Museum in Berlin. His former high-ranking connections to the Royal Württemberg house allowed Linden to obtain decorations with relative ease by encouraging his collectors to gift their ethnographic troves to the King. His competitors in Berlin, especially Felix von Luschan overseeing the African and Oceanic collections in the German capital, had to engage a cumbersome process with the Prussian bureaucracy to obtain a decoration for a potential donor. To convert an ethnographic collection into a category commensurable to the bureaucrats, Luschan had to monetize the artifacts. Interestingly enough, donated ethnographic acquisitions fetched a much higher price than those sold directly to the museum. As a result, museum officials tended to lower the value of ethnographica when purchasing them. On the other hand, when collectors offered their cluster as a donation in exchange for a state decoration, the same officials, once they found the collection worthwhile, would significantly inflate the value of the artifacts to ensure the bestowal of the medal. Colonial residents offered multiple reasons for craving "something in their buttonhole." Albert Memmi in his classic The Colonizer and The Colonized, emphasized the need for pageantry among residents: "He loves the most flashy symbols, the most striking demonstrations of the power of his country. He attends all military parades and he desires and obtains frequent and elaborate ones; he contributes his part by dressing up carefully and ostentatiously. He admires the army and its strength, revers uniforms and covets decorations. Here we overlap what is customarily called power politics, which does not stem only from an economic principle (show your strength if you want to avoid having to use it), but corresponds to a deep necessity of colonial life; to impress the colonized is just as important as to reassure oneself." Looking at German New Guinea more concretely, one can also appreciate subtle differences surrounding the motives for displaying medals. Commercial company agents, for instance, displayed decorations to underscore their status during prominent celebrations, such as the Kaiser’s Birthday or the anniversary associated with colonial annexation. Captains and other ship personnel claimed that the display of state medals landed them a privileged spot when greeting dignitaries or celebrities. For German colonial officers stationed in New Guinea, the reasons for decorations were a great deal more complex. Colonial civil servant Franz Boluminski, who was stationed in northern New Ireland, bitterly complained that the, today considered genocidal, reprisal campaigns against Nama and Herero, amongst others in German Southwest and East Africa, provided ‘every lieutenant of the Protective Forces [Schutztruppe] who fights a little with the [Prussian Order of the] Red Eagle.’ On the other hand, for those based in New Guinea, ethnographic collecting became a means to earn one of the coveted state decorations or, through a careful division of the acquired ethnographic trove into duplicates, more than just one medal. The reader will also note the asymmetry between the killing fields of South Africa and the petty jealousies of colonial officials stationed in German New Guinea highlighted by this quote. Arno Senfft, German Colonial Official stationed on Yap, proudly displaying his heavy chest. This table highlights the flood of decoration from German museums to secure the colonial officials' collection favors. Noticeable in the relatively low number of their donated objects, roughly 6,000, compared to an estimated 200,000 artifacts extracted from the colony during its German colonial period. Extensive collections, numbering in the thousands of objects, generally were sold, while smaller assemblies, hundreds of artifacts, were often donated for state decorations. Such smaller ethnographic collections usually contained rare, showier pieces such as Malagan or Uli carvings from New Ireland. For colonial civil servants, the nature of decoration mattered greatly. For instance, the Prussian state generally reserved two decorations for significant ethnographic donations: The Order of the Crown, established during the second half of the nineteenth century, and the Order of the Red Eagle, which had deeper historical roots dating to the knightly and aristocratic origins of medals. Technically, both decorations were of equal worth, yet individuals craving an order displayed a clear preference for the Red Eagle. Franz Boluminski, whose biography is featured in this Provenance section, serves as a prominent example. When this colonial officer found out that Prussian officials had approved the Order of the Crown rather than the Red Eagle for his ethnographic donations, he stopped collecting for the Royal Ethnographic Museum and ignored any letters from this institution. Only when the coveted Eagle landed on his, by now, heavy chest did he resume sending ethnographica to Berlin. Boluminski employed a similar strategy to obtain a higher Württemberg decoration. Boluminski’s heavy chest accentuating his worth among other colonial officials, ca. 1913, Baumann collection Bestowing the wrong decoration could also restrict a colonial officer's collection activity. Such was the case with Georg Zwanzger, who acted as Boluminski's deputy. Zwanzger fully expected the Order of the Crown for his logistical support of the Berlin-sponsored Naval Expedition (1907-1909) to New Ireland. However, he was greatly disappointed when "the entirely bureaucratic Berlin thought that I was still too young for [Order of the Crown] and bestowed on me, after years, the Honor Badge in Silver." Consequently, when Zwanzger assumed the Manus colonial station in the Admiralty Islands in 1911, he became a reluctant ethnographic collector providing only a handful of artifacts along with some human remains for German institutions. Decorations played a significant part in enticing colonial residents to collecting artifacts from German New Guinea. As a rule, donors would receive state orders for ethnographic collections made up of unique artifacts rather than large quantities of objects. Occasionally, assigning a lower-ranking medal would hamper rather than expedite colonial residents' acquisition activity.