Friday, 11 January 2013


This last week I have had staying with me some descendants of the Insinger family who were eager to learn more about their famous ancestor. This is the information we have gathered so far but I would love to hear from anyone with anything they could add to the story.

In 1864 Jan Herman Insinger (Dutch) was born and in 1895 the photographer and antique dealer who worked with Maspero, he purchased a papyrus 
1918 Insinger died in Luxor and is buried at  family home which still in the hands of male descendents. After his death his wife Mariam Mansour Hanna (Lebanese) and her son Edmond Herman Deodatus and three daughters  left Luxor and apparently went to Switzerland and then America. (ASTENE   pg  9).

However the Danish family say that one daughter had married  Carl Albrecht Wolsgaard-Inverson, a Dane prior to her father’s death. They had met in Berlin the family are not sure why she was there but possibly she was studying.  After marriage they moved to Cairo and Carl worked in the Insinger bank(or Insinger business) in Cairo. The family have a postcard  sent by the Danish mother in law on a visit to them speaking of a visit to Luxor. They had two sons Herman  the older and Pierre  the younger. When these boys were in their mid teens they were sent to Denmark to boarding school . It is Herman’s two sons Heinz and Herman who have been visiting in Luxor.

Their family home was bombed by the Germans and many belongings were destroyed but they do have a scarab set in gold and a pair of earrings . These were authenticated by the Glyptotek, Copenhagen about 50 years ago but they do not know what was actually said. They also have a box with some negatives which they are going to get scanned  and on the internet.

Insinger in books
Insinger is mentioned in TGH James book on Howard Carter Pages 88-90 as being critical of Carter and accuse him of being negligent in his duties and responsible for less than scrupulous methods of object acquisition.
There is biographical information on Insinger in ‘Who was Who in Egyptology’, 4th revised edition 2012, edited by M.L. Bierbrier. p. 214 3rd edition
INSINGER, Jan Herman (1854-1918) Dutch dealer; he was born Amsterdam. 12 May
1854, son of Herman I., member of the Dutch Parliament, and Johanna Jacoba Wilheimena
Insinger and was from 1879 resident in Luxor on account of his suffering from tuberculosis; he carried on a private money-lending business and also dealt in antiquities; he was closely associated with Maspero (q.v.) c. 1880-6, and took many photographs for him; he often acted as intermediary for the purchase of antiquities for the Dutch museums notably Leiden where many of his photographs and much correspondence is preserved; the famous Demotic papyrus that bears his name was obtained from the French Consular Agent at
Akhmim in 1895 for 4,000 francs; he died in Cairo, 27 Oct. 1918.

ASAE2 (1902),148 (Maspero); Budge, N & T i. 364; Dutch Consular Records, Pleyte and Boeser, Le Livre Royal: Le Papyrus Demotique Insinger; 3; Sayce, 453, 457; Wilbour, passim (portr. facing p. 240); Nedeland's Patriciaat 72 (1988) 27:1; M. Raaven, OMRO 71 (1991),

Insinger was obviously a great collector and this museum object is mentioned as being in the Insinger collection. There is also this reference Insinger in el-Kab, in:W. Claes,H. DeMeulenaereen S. Hendrickx (red.), Elkab and beyond, Studies in honour of Luc Limme (Leuven), 195-212.

The Insinger House in Luxor
Dr Rob Demarée of the Leiden Museum has a video of the house. He sent the following information : " - Jan Herman Insinger. Born in 1854 of well to do banking family. He was sent by his parents to Egypt in 1879 for health reasons (some of his brothers had died from tuberculosis). He became fascinated by the country and almost immediately undertook expeditions by boat southwards, first in 1880 to Aswan and in 1883 even beyond the second cataract in what is now Sudan, on the eve of the Mahdist uprising and the heroic deeds of General Gordon later. About this last journey he wrote a diary which was published finally some years ago (in Dutch) by my colleague Maarten Raven of the Museum of Antiquities Leiden. Since 1884 Insinger first lived mainly in Luxor on his own dahabiyah, the "Meermin" ("Mermaid"). He was a great friend of the French community in Egypt and especially Maspero, assisted him as a photographer (e.g. he made the first pictures ever of the finds of the royal mummies in the Cachette at Deir el-Bahari, a friend also of Charles Wilbour. He had his own means, but also made a living as a local money lender and middlemen in antique dealings.
In the 1890s he had bought a plot of land where he began building his own home, called "Palmenburg" ("Palm Castle") a play on words of his ancestral home in the Netherlands which is called "Pijnenburg" ("Pine Castle"). It took several years to complete this gigantic building which he designed himself. It was south of the present-day Iberotel. During these years he was in regular contact with a curator of the Museum  in Leiden and these contacts resulted in the accession of a number of objects by the museum. The famous Papyrus Insinger, but also pottery and ostraca etc., and an extremely valuable set of early photographs of monuments (he was an excellent photographer). On his journeys southwards he also collected ethnographical objects, many of which are now in the Tropics Museum Amsterdam.
After his death in 1918, indeed his wife and children soon left Egypt. The house was thereupon taken (I still do not know whether it was bought or just 'taken') by the royal family and became the second home of the second wife of Khedive/Sultan Hussein Kamel, known as Sultana Melek. Since then the house bore the name "Sultana Melek Palace". After the 1952 revolution it was briefly used as a girl's school and in the final years it was a store for watermelons (sic transit gloria mundi). The house was finally demolished in the 1960s. I think that even in 1967 there was still a part standing (because I made an aerial photo of Luxor myself in September 1967, which seems to show part of a building between trees).
We are planning an exhibition here in our Leiden Museum, but no time has been fixed. My documentation material covers photographs of family, boat and house; images from an amateur movie in colour (1937) and one in black-and-white (1942); texts written by Insinger e.g. long articles on situation in Egypt for a Dutch newspaper, etc.; a 3d-reconstruction of the house in colour; lists of objects in our museum and in the Amsterdam Museum; copies of Insinger's photos of monuments.
Here are some photos of the Insinger House

Big thanks to everyone that assisted in the research. Patricia Usick, Rob Demaree, Isabella Farrope Soliman, the Iverson brothers, Tine Baugh, John Yardy, Ken Griffin, Cees van Sparrentak

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