The front of this calfskin portfolio is richly decorated with silver, gilt bronze and enamel. At the centre is a silver plaquette in the shape of an Italian Renaissance tabernacle frame. In the centre of the frame is the coat of arms of the Ullmann von Erény family. Above this, on the pediment, is the imperial escutcheon of the Donau monarchy, and below the round shield is the coat of arms of the DDSG. The central plaquette is entirely surrounded with green and red enamelled laurel branches with berries. In each of the four corners, these branches are interrupted by a ship’s wheel divided into quarters, each quarter wheel featuring two intertwined dolphins. Around this are two gilt bronze decorative frames with beaded edges, between which is a meandering pattern in blue and white enamel, broken by square plaquettes with gilt anchors against a blue background.
On the inner side, the portfolio is stamped August Klein Wien Graben Nr 20. This refers to the leatherworker August Klein, originally from Nuremberg, who opened a shop selling luxury leatherware in Vienna in 1847. His products won awards at countless fairs; he was the first in Austria to produce such luxury goods in a manner that exceeded small-scale trade. August Klein became a household name in the area of fashion, and his creations were traded and coveted internationally. For his services, Emperor Franz Joseph I elevated him to the peerage in 1881, granting him the title of “Ridder van Ehrenwalten”. He was also appointed Kaiserliche und Königliche Hoflieferanten for leather, wood and bronzeware.
This exceptionally richly decorated portfolio was likely gifted to Ludwig “Lajos” Ullmann von Erény (1848-1903), then director of the DDSG, i.e. the Erste Donau-Dampschiffahrts-Gesellschaft, by Emperor Franz Jospeh I of Austria in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Under Lajos Ullmann von Erény’s directorship, the DDSG became the world’s largest inland shipping company. Lajos Ullmann von Erény was the scion of a well-known family and son of Karóly Erényi Ullmann, who achieved success as the founder of a large insurance company and became a well-known economic leader during his time. Lajos’s brother Sándor was a successful lawyer and politician; his second brother, Mayer, started out in their father’s business and later co-founded the Hungarian stock exchange. The family was elevated to the peerage on 19 September 1880, adding “Erény” to their family name.
After several failed attempts to establish a shipping industry on the Donau and its tributaries – attempts that had been encouraged by the state, among others – the first Royal and Imperial privileged Donau-Dampfschiffahrts-Gesellschaft (First-Danube-Steamboat-Shipping Company) was founded. The driving force behind this association’s founding were two Englishmen, John Andrews and Joseph Pritchard. Among the company’s shareholders were crown prince Ferdinand, the Hungarian archduke Joseph of the Palatine, prince Metternich, members of the aristocracy and the major Viennese banks, and the Hungarian entrepreneur count Istvan Szechenyi. In 1813, Emperor Franz I already issued an imperial decree awarding exclusive privilege to anyone who succeeded in transporting goods upstream on the Donau river without using draft animals, which essentially marked the start of steam-powered shipping in Austria. Twenty years later, steam shipping on the Donau was a fact. After overcoming tremendous nautical challenges, the DDSG grew rapidly in the following decades, becoming the world’s largest inland shipping company by 1880. Even after the exclusive privilege lapsed in 1858, the company allowed none to challenge its supremacy, systematically taking over any inconvenient competitors.