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History of the house at Hobusepea 2

Katarina Kotselainen in the book “A-galerii. Eesti autoriehte galerii 20 aastat” (2014)*

* “A-Gallery. Estonian art jewellery gallery for 20 years”

The house located at Hobusepea 2 was built by goldsmith Joseph Kopf (1867–1930). His family originated from Germany, but his own life and work was related to Estonia. 1881–1885 he studied jewellery in Tartu with Johan Julius Stamm and visited also St Petersburg during his apprenticeship. Already in 1891 he was successful enough to open a workshop in the Old Town of Tallinn, which produced silverware as well as ordered unique items and was especially well known before World War II. Now the name of Kopf has unfortunately been forgotten, because in result of nationalisation of the company in the Soviet period it became an integrated art production company.

The facade of the building completed in 1891 was initially generously decorated, but later it was simplified. An interesting fact is known of the construction period – the wall facing the street was left unbuilt in the beginning, in order to lift the heavy die and roll into the basement, and only then the facade was constructed. The building included manufacturing plant and shop, as well as office, production spaces, rooms for making packages and glasswork, sales area and living rooms of Kopf family. Kopf lived on the second floor, where also his office was located, in the rooms to the right from the corridor. In the period of the art production company there was the so-called gold room, where gold jewellery was made.

A major incident was robbery of the shop window in winter 1925, when the window facing Hobusepea Street was broken. Jewellery were stolen for one million Marks. This was the biggest robbery case in the first independence period of Estonia. The time that followed should have been hard for the company, because the criminals were not found and the jewellery disappeared without any trace. However, the company still continued to operate and after the robbery Joseph Kopf put more valuable jewellery into the safe for night.

Initially the safe located on the ground floor could be accessed through the second floor of the house (through Kopf’s office, where one could reach via spiral staircase from the shop below). Two keys were needed to open the large iron door, one of which was held by the head of the shop and the other by Kopf. After nationalisation the safe was used as a material store, where precious metals and stones were kept. Another smaller safe was located in the floor of the safe, which has unfortunately not been preserved. We can only speculate, what was it used for in the period of Kopf, but a former employee told me that in the period of the art production company a gun was kept there. We do not know, if it was ever used for security.

Nationalisation of Kopf’s company did not terminate activities in Hobusepea house. Many former employees remained at work and the die in the basement weighing several tons continued the production of jewellery and commodities. This machine, now already more than a hundred years old, is still in use, and although hidden from the public, it is a pride of the building. The house itself is now belonging to the Artists’ Association.