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Collector's Portrait

Harald Sommer


The successful Hamburg shipowner Harald Sommer entrusted his extraordinary stamp collection featuring numerous rarities and one-of-a-kind stamps to Rapp Auctions for the best possible sale in 2011. We would like to tell you a little more about the collector, his remarkable knowledge of the field and his outstanding stamp collection.


The Sommers are one of the Hamburg families who have helped to establish the Hanseatic City’s special reputation as Germany’s Gateway to the World. Harald Sommer, who compiled the unparalleled collection «Elbe», is only one in a long line of shipowners whose ships have sailed all the oceans of the world.

His grandfather, known as the «King of the Baltic», came to Hamburg in 1903 for the purpose of establishing a branch location of the Gdansk shipping company Johannes Ick. Before long, Arthur Sommer had acquired holdings in other companies such as Mathies Reederei KG (together with the shipping company Rob. M. Sloman Jr.) and was operating his own shipping company under his name. This was the family who gave birth to the collector Harald Sommer. He began sailing on the family’s own ships when he was still a small boy. He learned his craft from the ground up: first he completed a shipbroker's vocational training programme in Hamburg and additional training in Newcastle, England; from 1963, he worked as a clerk at the Hamburg shipping «Fisser und von Doornum» before joining his father’s company in the department for scheduled service to Poland in 1966. In 1972, he assumed a management position alongside his father and uncle in the company, and from 1981, he had sole responsibility for Mathies Reederei GmbH and the shipping companies Johannes Ick and Arthur Sommer, which were active above all in the Baltic Sea trade. From the time of its establishment in 1991, he was the largest shareholder in TEAM-LINES GmbH & Co. KG, a newly founded shipping company specialising with great success in the container feeder business from Hamburg to the Baltic Sea.

Harald Sommer is one of the best-known figures in his profession. Between 2000 and 2006, he was chairperson of the association Hamburger Rheder, one of the oldest associations in the transport business – as is still apparent today in the old-fashioned spelling of the name. Since 1995, he has been a banking brother* of the «Heilige-Drei-Könige-Bank» and the «St. Reinholds-Bank der Bankenbrüderschaften des Artushofes zu Danzig in Lübeck». The brotherhoods have existed since 1481.

Until 2008, Harald Sommer managed his family’s businesses from his office in the listed Slomanhaus on Baumwall in Hamburg. At that time, this was the largest complex of business buildings on the periphery of the port and is located at the confluence of Alster and Elbe.

Harald Sommer discovered an interest in history as a way to balance out the stress of his exhaustive work. His interest was not limited to his own family, however – in 2008, he donated the historically valuable company archives to the «Stiftung Hanseatisches Wirtschaftsarchiv in Hamburg», which used the materials to prepare an exhibition.

The shipowner’s special love was given to stamps, which he collected for more than half a century. The results of his lifetime of knowledgeable collecting activities is a unique collection which stands out above all for its great quality. Born in 1940, the 7-year-old Harald Sommer experienced the destruction of large parts of Helgoland by British bombs. The island in the North Sea was not returned to Germany until 1952. Perhaps it was this formative experience in his childhood that led the collector to his interest in the history of Helgoland in his later life. A 20-volume special collection of Helgoland stamps is testimony to his engagement.

Yet this is only one of the many attractions found in the «Elbe» collection that contains a plethora of rarities and one-of-a-kind items. Auctioneer Peter Rapp notes: «I have rarely seen a collection with so many German rarities and unique items in the last four decades!»


* A bank: a compatriotic community of merchants


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