Anton Fackelmann: Conservator and Seller of Antiquities

In researching the supposed first-century papyrus of Mark’s gospel associated with Anton Fackelmann, I found that there wasn’t a lot of information about Fackelmann available either online or elsewhere. So, I thought I would take a moment to write up a quick summary of what I have learned of the work of the long-time conservator of papyrus and parchment at Vienna over the last few years.

Anton Fackelmann (1916-1985) began working with antiquities at the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek in Vienna after the conclusion of World War II. Over time, he became recognized as an innovator in the care and restoration of papyrus and parchment, especially those pieces that appeared to be beyond hope. He is perhaps best known for his work on some of the most spectacular finds of the middle of the twentieth century.

In 1962, a burial dating to the late fourth or early third century BCE was uncovered near Thessaloniki. Among the finds was a carbonized papyrus roll that had apparently been burned on the funeral pyre. Authorities at the museum invited Fackelmann to attempt to separate the blackened layers of this roll, now usually called “the Derveni Papyrus.”

Derveni Papyrus

The Derveni Papyrus (© Photographic Archive of the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki)

He was able to to unroll the burnt, brittle papyrus by using the heat and static electricity generated by a light bulb, a technique he would later use in working with the carbonized papyrus rolls of Herculaneum.

Fackelmann retired early from work at the Nationalbibliothek after suffering a heart attack. He was replaced by his nephew Michael Fackelmann, who had been working as his assistant. Anton Fackelmann did, however, continue to work on manuscripts.

In June of 1969, Albert Henrichs came to Fackelmann’s home in Vienna and presented him with four small clumps of desiccated parchment leaves about the size of a match box. He had recently bought the leaves in Egypt. Although some Greek writing was visible, it was not clear how much of the text on the parchment could be recovered. Through the application of a chemical solvent, Fackelmann was able to moisten and separate the leaves, rendering them legible. As Fackelmann removed leaves from the clumps, Henrichs transcribed the text, which turned out to be an extensive biographical account of the self-styled prophet Mani.

CMC comparison

Cologne Mani Codex before and after restoration (Kölner Papyrussammlung)

With letters measuring just 1 millimeter in height, the Cologne Mani Codex is a marvel of ancient book making.

In 1974, Fackelmann was again called upon to work on an especially difficult case. This time it involved the Nag Hammadi codices in Cairo. Although the books had been disassembled shortly after their discovery in the 1940s, the leather covers of some of the books had been left intact. Some of these leather covers had been given structure and stiffness through reinforcement with scrap papyrus, some of which was inscribed.


Fackelmann at work Nag Hammadi

Anton Fackelmann at work on the Nag Hammadi covers in Cairo (Claremont Colleges Digital Library)

These papyrus pieces needed to be carefully extracted from the leather covers and deciphered. Fackelmann was able to recover a substantial amount of material that has proven very helpful in interpreting the context in which the Nag Hammadi books were produced.

So, this is one part of Fackelmann’s legacy—the great conservator of papyrus and parchment. The other part of his legacy is as an antiquities dealer. During and after his time as the conservator at Vienna, Anton Fackelmann seems to have amassed a considerable private collection of papyrus and parchment documents. He is said to have extracted a number of them from cartonnage that he bought in Egypt. The “Fackelmann Collection,” to the extent that it is recorded, does not at first appear very large. In the Trismegistos database of collections, the entry for Fackelmann’s collection lists only 12 items. Some of these were sold to Martin Schøyen in 1998. Others were sold through Sotheby’s auction house in 2008, 2009, and 2014 and through Dreweatts auctions in 2015 and 2016. At one point in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the elder Fackelmann’s collection must have been considerably larger. Records of the papyrus collection at Duke indicate that in 1970, Anton Fackelmann gave 28 pieces to Duke (records for the same year indicate that Duke purchased several more pieces said to be extracted from mummy cartonnage; one wonders if these were purchases from Fackelmann). Also in the early 1970s, he sold numerous pieces to Macquarie University in Australia. These form the core of the Macquarie collection (some of the manuscripts subsequently acquired for the Macquarie collection were purchased from Anton Fackelmann’s nephew, Michael Fackelmann, who also sold papyri to Princeton University and Fordham University). A full listing of the pieces that Anton Fackelmann sold is a definite desideratum.

Anton Fackelmann does not seem to have published a great deal over the course of his career (which is understandable, as he was not a typical academic). The pieces that I have been able to track down are listed below in chronological order (if anyone has items to add, please let me know in the comments):

Anton Fackelmann, “Der Werdegang der Papyrusrestaurierung,” Biblos 2 (1953), 77-83.

Anton Fackelmann, “Das Pergament: Seine Herstellung und seine Betreuung in den Bibliotheken,” Biblos 10 (1961), 118-131.

Anton Fackelmann and Herbert Hunger, “Grundsteuerliste aus Arsinoe in einem Papyrus-Kodex des 7. Jh. Ein neuartiger Restaurierungsversuch an Pap. Graec. Vindob. 39739,” Forschungen und Fortschritte 35 (1961) 23-28.

Anton Fackelmann, [Report to the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki on the Derveni Papyrus, 1962], in Theokritos Kouremenos et al. (eds.), The Derveni Papyrus (Florence: Olschki, 2006), 4-5.

Anton Fackelmnn, “The Restoration of the Herculaneum Papyri and Other Recent Finds,” Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies 17 (1970), 144-147 + plate V.

The article on the papyrus fragments containing an alleged “first century” draft of the Gospel according to Mark that are sometimes attributed to the conservator Anton Fackelmann, was actually written by his son, as I discussed in earlier posts here and here.

Literature about Anton Fackelmann and his career is also pretty scarce. There was a popular article on his work published in 1965: Der Spiegel 42 (13 October 1965), 164-165. I only know of one obituary notice, of which I have not been able to get a copy: Johannes Diethart, “Anton Fackelmann †,” Biblos 34 (1985), 338-339. There is also the biographical work written by his son in 2015 that I discuss here. Some of Anton Fackelmann’s working methods are briefly described in W.E.H. Cockle, “Restoring and Conserving Papyri,” Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies 30 (1983), 147-165.


This entry was posted in Antiquities Market, Anton Fackelmann, Cologne Mani Codex, Derveni Papyrus, First Century Mark, Herculaneum Papyri, Mummy cartonnage. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Anton Fackelmann: Conservator and Seller of Antiquities

  1. Pingback: Anton Fackelmann and Cartonnage | Variant Readings

  2. Pingback: Radiocarbon Dating of the Cologne Mani Codex | Variant Readings

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