Ernst August Altmann was a jeweller, die-maker and engraver with businesses in Swan Street, Richmond and the city. He made dies for Stokes and the Royal Mint, Melbourne. Altmann's career as a medallist focussed on commissions from Agricultural Societies throughout the eastern states. He engraved the dies for the 1879 Melbourne Exhibition Building Foundation Stone laying, and won the commission to make a medal for the 1880 Melbourne Exhibition. His design was rejected, however, because it was considered too difficult to strike, as was another design entered for the 1888 Centennial International Exhibition, Melbourne. Museum Victoria holds examples of medals he designed from 1878 to 1900.
Altmann's parents arrived in Melbourne in 1849. He is supposed to have been born in Melbourne, but there is no record of his birth and no record of a baptism at Trinity Lutheran Church, where his siblings were all baptised. He was later organist at that church.
Sands and MacDougall directories indicate that in 1879 Altmann was working as a die-sinker at 80 Elizabeth Street, the same year that he married 25-year-old Maria Matilda Selen Scherell. The following year his address was first listed in Gipps Street, Richmond, later described as a boarding house at Number 16 Gipps Street, under the management of Mrs Matilda Scherell (it is unclear why she was using this name). He continued to be listed at this address until 1896.
In 1884 Altmann had a second business listed at 83 Swan Street, Richmond. Until 1889 he also retained his premises at 80 Elizabeth Street, by then describing himself as a medallist. Around this time he suffered a protracted illness, mentioned in the official record of the 1888 Centennial International Exhibition, Melbourne, which prohibited him from modifiying a medal design he entered in a competition for the Exhibition medal. In 1890 he moved the city business to the 'Central Chambers' at 108 Elizabeth Street (a site later purchased by A.H. Wittenbach & Co), where he was advertised as a 'medallist, die-sinker and engraver'. The city business was not listed between 1892 and 1893, but in 1894 Altmann was based at Royal Lane, off Collins Street, then in 1896 at 117 Elizabeth Street. The business was not listed after that date.
Altmann went bankrupt about 1896, and moved to Perth. He only remained until about 1900, then appeared in Goulburn in 1907 and in Parramatta in 1910. His death has not been traced, but his wife died in Melbourne in 1932. They may have been separated in the later years of their lives.
Sands and Macdougall directories.
Register of Births, Deaths and Marriages.
Carlisle, L.J. (1983). Australian Commemorative Medals and Medalets from 1788. Brian Kench / B & C Press Limited. New South Wales.
Sharples, John P. (1990). Medals as Art: Australia and the Meszaros tradition, p.16.
Tom Darragh, Museum Victoria.