Tallinn City merchant archives added to UNESCO heritage list

Hildebrand Veckinchusen's account books from 1398-1428 kept in the Tallinn City Archives.
Hildebrand Veckinchusen's account books from 1398-1428 kept in the Tallinn City Archives. Source: ERR

Last week, historical documents of the Hanseatic League, including a merchant's archive from the early 15th century from the Tallinn City Archives, were added to the UNESCO documentary heritage register.

The Tallinn City Archives hold the medieval correspondence and business journals of the merchant Hildebrand Veckinchusen from 1398 to 1428.

Historian Jüri Kivimägi said that Veckinghusen's archive is a rare find and that nothing analogous exists north of the Alps. It is unknown how and why the archive wound up in Tallinn. Presumably, the Tallinn Town Council took them into custody during the inheritance process of some of Hildebrand's relatives who were active in Livonia.

The archive was discovered in the 1870s, he said. "During the summer of 1879, a professor from the University of Tartu visited Tallinn Town Hall for his research and stumbled upon a forgotten file. There was a thick layer of peppercorns on top of the documents, which turned out to be Veckinchusen's business communication. The letters were underneath the peppercorns to prevent mice from chewing them," he explained.

The archive contains 12 account books and over 600 letters addressed to Veckinchusen, which provide a remarkable representation of trade between the West, East, North, and South during the time period.

The documents reflect the operation of Hanseatic trade based on personal contacts and trade partnerships, but they also demonstrate how Veckinchusen's expanding business approach was accompanied by risks that eventually led to his bankruptcy.

The selection for the Memory of the World (MoW) Register is a great honor, Kivimägi said; nevertheless, the archives require additional research.

Kivimägi suggested that an endowment or scholarship associated with Veckinchousen could be established, for instance "under the auspices of the Tallinn City Archives, if Tallinn were to support this."

The listing of Hanseatic documents in the UNESCO documentary heritage register was initiated in 2016 under the supervision of the Lübeck City Archives. 


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Editor: Karmen Rebane, Kristina Kersa

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