New Additions to the Inventory - Völkerkundemuseum der Universität Zürich

Beginning with 17 of the almost 300 19th c. Philippine objects stored at  the Ethnographic museum in Zurich, the Mapping Project is excited to introduce this newest addition to its inventory.  The captivation in these newly disclosed objects lies in its ability to spark an interest in the understudied social and economic presence of Swiss men, women (and children) in the Philippines from the mid-19th century onwards. Apparently, trade relations between the Spanish Colonial Philippines and Switzerland were important enough that a Swiss consulate was established in Manila by Glarus manufacturer and national councilor Peter Jenny 1862.

It is from finely-crafted buri hats to piña fabric samples, that we  for example, are introduced to Emil Sprüngli (1851–1910) one of the earliest and biggest contributors of Philippine objects to the Zurich ethnographic museum. Sprüngli was the honorary consul at the Swiss consulate in Manila from 1882-1910 and wrote several consulate reports, three of which (for the years 1899, 1902 and 1904) are available online at the Dodis research centre site.

Emil Sprüngli (1851–1910)

From Sprüngli's consular reports, we have standard statistics on import/export numbers, types of manufactures and from where they were sourced, and yearly numbers of how many Swiss citizens were in Manila.

For the year 1899 for example,

"there are 79 Swiss citizens registered in the consular registers in the archipelago, which number increases to 100 with the inclusion of women and children. They are distributed by cantons as follows: Zurich men 16, in total 19, St. Gallen 13 (15), Glarus 11 (23), Aargau 11 (13), Bern 9 (10), Neuchâtel 6 17), Appenzell 6 (6), Thurgau 3 (3), Basel 3 (3), Geneva 1 (1) total men 79, in total 100.

Of these, according to profession, merchants 56, factory workers 8, farmers 7, watchmakers and jewellers 6, mechanics 2, total 79.

13 independent businesses are operated by Swiss in the following industries: Import 4 companies, export 2 companies, cigar factories 2 companies, straw hat factories 2 companies, watches and costume jewellry 3 companies, total 13 companies. There are also Swiss in leading positions in some non-Swiss companies."

One wonders what types of jewellery would have been made by these Swiss artisans, and whether these had any effect on the local ways of handling precious metals in the Philippines. In the same way, was there any commissioning done by Swedish designers for the two straw hat factories?

Port of Manila, ca 1899. Photo courtesy of

More incidental parts of the 1899 annual report are a Swiss diplomat's almost austere take on the ongoing political and economic turmoil in the islands right in the middle of the Philippine revolts against Spain. There is a wealth of material on the local responses to the collapse of Spanish-owned capital  followed by comments on the consequent sliding in of neo-imperialist America into the political picture and how the Europeans were reacting to these developments. It is interesting to note that the Zurich Ethnographic museum acquired Sprungli's Philippine collection at the same time his consular report was published. 

To read of other interesting interconnections between Switzerland and the Philippines from that period, read the full Sprungli reports (now translated into English by Stephanie Willi):

A few more interesting wormholes are opening up as we continue to research the provenance of the Philippine materials in Zurich - tracing the ownership of objects  and coming up with archival references to personal letters, donations from the widows and other reports from the Swiss Consulate which remained open during the Philippine American War and  throughout the Japanese occupation in World War II  (it is considered the longest serving consular representation in the Philippines).

Photo from the Symposium on the Philippines in the World, May 2022 in Zurich Switzerland.

A Happy Collaboration

This ongoing work on the  Zurich materials began when  studiyo filipino, a dynamic  Swiss-based cultural studies networking platform reached out to the Mapping project and asked how they could be involved. The collaboration was kickstarted with a symposium on the Philippines in the World followed by a  workshop with Dr. Andreas Isler, the curator of the Ethnographic Museum of the University of Zurich, and Dr Cristina Juan who introduced the Mapping project and trained interested parties in back-end data input. What followed was a true synchronisation of good will and technical skill as the data for Philippine objects was for the first time ever, made accessible online on the Mapping project's digital platform. 

The work began with data permissions and photographs from Dr Isler, and volunteer work from  studiyo filipino members : Patrick Wirz for data input,  Lenny Bugayong for translating the catalogue descriptions from German, Annette Hug for the introduction to the Philippine materials at the Zurich Ethnographic Museum and an upcoming full translation into English of Sprungli's consular reports from Stephanie Willi. We hope to continue with the data input and further provenance research on the Philippine material objects in Zurich and then expand to other museums in Switzerland.

View the Zurich collection here.

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