The Workers’ Museum is both an art museum and a cultural history museum. From the early days in 1982 when the collections did not contain a single exhibit and until today, the Workers’ Museum has generated holdings of 63,000 museum exhibits and 12,000 works of art. Below you can read more about our collection and its history. If you have something that you would like to hand over to the museum, please click in the right-hand menu to find out how this can be done. The Workers’ Museum currently reports its registrations to the databases of The Heritage Agency of Denmark: The Museums' Collections and Art in Danish Museums. In the menu to the left you can click into the two databases and search for exhibits or works of art in the collection.
The Assembly HallThe house at Rømersgade
The building now housing the Workers’ Museum at Rømersgade is itself in many ways a cultural and art history ‘exhibit’. As the Workers’ Assembly Hall, the building is intimately linked to the Labour Movement and its struggle for better lives for workers and their families. When the museum moved into the building it was soon recommended that the house be scheduled as a historic monument, and in 1983 the building was in fact scheduled.
The glass ceiling in the Banqueting Hall of the Workers’ Museum dates back to 1907. Its style is the so-called ‘art nouveau’ or Jugendstil, and is executed in a special German technique known as ‘Hinterglas painting’. In 1982 when the museum moved in, the Banqueting Hall was lit by fluorescent tubes, which did nothing for the beautiful ceiling. As part of the general restoration original HP-lamps from 1928 were substituted for the fluorescent tubes.
Since then, restoration and maintenance of the old building have continued. The chief attraction of the Assembly Hall is undoubtedly the great Banqueting Hall. When the museum moved in, the Banqueting Hall had suffered much wear and tear and was marred by misguided efforts to modernize it. The museum’s first major initiative was to restore the Banqueting Hall to the way it had looked in the early years of the 20th century. Today we consider the Banqueting Hall to be the most important and largest ‘exhibit’ of the museum.
Culture HistoryCulture-historical collection
The initial large-scale collection activities began in 1983 when the Workers’ Museum advertised for objects for an exhibition on the 1950s. As a result of this campaign the Workers’ Museum is probably the Danish museum that has the most extensive collection of objects dating back to the 1950s.
The collection of objects from the 1950s enabled the Workers’ Museum to furnish a flat that is so realistic that you get a feeling that the tenant must have just left a minute ago.
In some cases the Workers’ Museum has received donations of whole interiors. For instance in 1989 the museum was made the sole heir of a fully furnished one-family house in the Copenhagen suburb Rødovre. In 1990 an offer was made to the museum for a fully furnished flat at Kalkbrænderivej in Copenhagen. I became clear that the elderly lady who had been living in the flat since she moved in with her parents and siblings in 1915 had literally made no changes to the flat’s interior. Therefore, the flat was a vivid illustration of housing conditions in the early years of the 20th century. The many everyday objects which have been donated to the museum in this way enable us to narrate the history of daily life then in an absorbing and vivid way.
Working life is another focal point of our collection activities. The museum acquired a lot of artefacts when the Copenhagen Naval Dockyard and the Holmen Naval Station were closed down in the early 1990s; similar collection activities were made from the Smithy and Machine Shop of the Copenhagen Harbour in the 1990s. When the department store Daells closed its doors in 1999, the Workers’ Museum together with the National Museum and The Museum of Copenhagen made an in-depth examination of this old department store and collected everything from counters to packaging so as to be able document the department store as a place of work.
The trade unions are a natural collection field for the Workers’ Museum. When the Workers’ Museum moved into the old Assembly Hall, some of the flats were still used as trade union offices, and in 1985 the museum took over the almost completely intact offices of the Precious Metal Workers’ Union when it moved out of the Assembly Hall. In connection with the merger between the Workers’ Museum and the Library and Archive of the Labour Movement (ABA) in 2004, a number of the exhibits which the ABA had received over the years in connection with collecting the archives of trade unions were transferred to the museum. For this reason the Workers’ Museum is now the proud owner of a number of ‘chairman’s bells’, commemorative cups, ashtrays and lots of other objects produced on the occasion of various jubilees celebrated by different trade unions. In connection with the merger, the Workers’ Museum acquired a large collection of objects belonging to Thorvald Stauning (1873-1942), Denmark’s first and longest serving social-democratic prime minister. The collection encompasses many personal effects. Stauning was, however, also an avid collector of such ‘souvenirs’ as bottle-openers and nutcrackers produced with him as the subject.
The Workers’ Museum has also collected a number of items that derive from the o-operative Movement, the Society of enterprises established by the trade union movement. Most of these enterprises no longer exist and in connection with their closure the museum received exhibits from the brewery ‘Stjernen’ and the dairy plant ‘Enigheden’.
Med tiden har Arbejdermuseet fået opbygget en betydelig samling af såvel malerier som grafik og tegninger, og i dag er Arbejdermuseet ikke bare et statsanerkendt kulturhistorisk museum, men også et statsanerkendt kunstmuseum. Blandt de mange kunstnere, der er repræsenteret i samlingen kan nævnes Hjalmar Kragh Pedersen (1883-1962), Hans Scherfig (1905-1979), Henry Heerup (1907-1993), Erling Frederiksen (1910-1994) og Victor Brockdorff (1911-1992).
The museum also posses a large number of satiric cartoons by such artists as Anton Hansen (1891-1960); Martinus Hougaard (1897-1956); Herluf Bidstrup (1912-1988); and Klaus Albrectsen (born 1932). In 2002, the Workers’ Art Association donated its collection of paintings and prints to the Workers’ Museum. Originally the collection had been created with a view to producing exhibitions in Danish enterprises all over the country and to allot works of art to workers in order to refine their taste and education. The collection represents a broad selection of Danish art from the time after the Second World War.
Preservation and conservation
The Workers’ Museum is in duty bound to store its exhibits and works in a manner that will prevent loss or damage. In the early years the museum stored its exhibits in the loft above the Banqueting Hall, but fire hazard and the growth of collections soon necessitated new stores. The Workers’ Museum had its first remote storehouse at St. Valby near Roskilde, but the distance from Rømersgade made it unsuitable in the long run. For a time the collections were stored in a disused hospital before they were moved into the old engine boiler shop at Guldbergsgade on Nørrebro where the Empire Cinema is now located. When the boiler shop was to be transformed into a cinema, the museum had to move its collections once again, and today the Museum stores its unused collections partly at Nørrebro together with ABA, partly at Buddinge in northern Copenhagen. Today the museum employs a conservator whose work it is to keep the collection in good order.