Anton Kippenberg, who was born in 1874 in Bremen and died in 1950 in Lucerne, achieved an international reputation as director and owner of the Insel Publishing House in Leipzig. Even as a young bookseller he laid the foundation for his second lifetime achievement, namely the Goethe collection, which he accumulated over the course of half a century. His daughters incorporated the collection into an independent foundation with legal capacity, registered in Düsseldorf, in the names of their father and mother. The regional capital city of Düsseldorf committed to equip, maintain and develop the Museum in the Foundation contract, signed on 13th February 1953.

The principle on which Kippenberg built his collection, and which the Foundation has continued to honour, corresponds to Goethe’s concept of the symbol: Only accommodated are items that are, in Goethe’s phrase in a letter to Schiller on 16th August 1797, “outstanding examples”, which “stand in characteristic diversity as representations of many things”, in other words, which are characteristic of the spirit of Goethe and his age, over and above their own individual status.