The counterfeiter’s ceiling

In the exhibition Timescape 1600-1914, several ceilings will provide introductions to thrilling stories about people and views of the world. One of these ceilings originates from the bedchamber of Mintmaster Henrik Christoffer Meyers (1689-1729) at Kongsberg.

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    Two weeks’ work boiled down to a film of less than a minute! Fine art conservator Niels Gerhard Johansen and exhibition producer Mette Opsal have been responsible for the challenging work of assembling the mintmaster’s ceiling – ably assisted by Mari Grønlund, Julie Kviteberg Eriksen and Sofie Fallmyr. Niels Gerhard Johansen ensured the camera captured the whole process.

The ceiling has been exhibited at Norsk Folkemuseum since 1919, and will now be part of the new, permanent exhibition. Following considerable preparation and two weeks of installation it is now in place.

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    Ceiling from Meyer’s Kongsberg townhouse, painted ca. 1725. Haakon Harriss / Norsk Folkemuseum Haakon Harriss / Norsk Folkemuseum

The story communicated by this ceiling vault is a dramatic one involving greed, weakness and justice. The Kongsberg silver mines were a source of great riches. The town was where most of the nation’s silver coinage was produced. In 1719, Meyer was appointed Master of the Royal Mint. Shortly afterwards he had a large private residence constructed at Kongsberg, a mansion of 640 square metres, which at the time was one of the most splendid buildings in Norway.  

The painter Asmus Boyesen from Flensburg was commissioned to decorate the walls and ceilings. The ceiling of Mintmaster Meyer’s bedchamber has painted flowers and acanthus leaves along the mouldings and his initials – HCM – in each corner.

The building soon generated suspicion. Meyer’s salary was hardly sufficient to pay for such splendour. Where did the money come from?  A detailed investigation uncovered debasement of the coinage. Meyer was charged with misappropriation of the silver and sentenced to death and the sequestration of all his property.

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    Coin from 1725 with the monogram of King Frederick IV. This is an example of the coins that Henrik Christoffer Meyer was charged with debasing during the years from 1723 until he was suspended in the Autumn of 1727. Stian Nybru / Norsk Folkemuseum Stian Nybru / Norsk Folkemuseum

In the end, Meyer’s death penalty was commuted. In February 1729 he was whipped and branded in a public square at Kongsberg and transferred to forced labour at Akershus Castle, where he died a few months later.

The Meyer townhouse was seized by the State, and later used among other things as a grain store. From 1913 it was used as a military storage facility at Gardermoen. Before it was moved to Gardermoen, parts of the interior was secured by Norsk Folkemuseum. Architraves, breast panels and a staircase with balusters were also saved in this process. Several wall panels are thought to have been incorporated into a private residence at Kongsberg. Meyer’s splendid town house was subsequently moved to Børter farm in Enebakk.

See also the article by Ulf Andenæs in Aftenposten Historie: (Norwegian only)