October 11, 1874|
|Died||September 13, 1934
|Institutions||American Museum of Natural History
Laufer was born in Cologne in Germany to Max and Eugenie Laufer (née Schlesinger). His paternal grandparents Salomon and Johanna Laufer were adherents of the Jewish faith. Laufer had a brother Heinrich (died 10 July 1935) who worked as a physician in Cairo.
Laufer attended the Friedrich Wilhelms Gymnasium from 1884-1893. He continued his studies in Berlin (1893–1895) and completed his doctorate degree at the University of Leipzig in 1897. The following year he emigrated to the United States where he remained until his death. He carried out ethnographic fieldwork on the Amur River and Sakhalin Island during 1898-1899 as part of the Jesup North Pacific Expedition. He worked as assistant in Ethnology at the American Museum of Natural History (1904–1906), became a lecturer in Anthropology and East-Asiatic Languages at Columbia University (1905–1907). The rest of his career he spent at the Field Museum in Chicago. He served as the president of the History of Science Society in 1932.
Laufer died on September 13, 1934 after falling from the 8th floor fire escape of the Chicago Beach Hotel in Chicago, where he lived. He had been recovering from the removal of a tumor at the time, but his widow claimed he was in good spirits, and the Coroner's jury returned an undetermined verdict.
From "Lasting Impressions: Chinese Rubbings from the Field Museum" Brochure (The Field Museum of Chicago):
- When Berhold Laufer came to The Field Museum in 1908, he was one of the few scholars in America who could speak and write the Chinese language fluently. He made the study of the Chinese language and culture his life's work. "I have come to love the land and the people," he once wrote. "I feel myself to be better and healthier as a Chinese than as a European." As Curator of Asian Ethnology in the Department of Anthropology at the Field, he made two major expeditions to China in 1908 and 1923, and his acquisitions form the core of the Museum's Chinese collections.
In addition to his studies in Chinese culture as such, Laufer used his knowledge of ancient Chinese writings to shed light on ancient Iran. Very little writings have survived from ancient Iran. Surviving ancient Chinese writings contain valuable information about ancient Iran, which Laufer was the first to study systematically, and which he published as Sino-Iranica: Chinese contributions to the history of civilization in ancient Iran, with special reference to the history of cultivated plants and products (1919).
- 1899 Petroglyphs on the Amoor, Oct. 1899
- 1902 The decorative art of the Amur tribes, Volume 7, Part 1
- 1908 Skizze der manjurischen Literatur
- 1909 Chinese pottery of the Han-dynasty, 1909
- 1911 Chinese grave-sculptures of the Han period
- 1911 Jade, 1911  - https://archive.org/details/fieldiana10chicuoft
- 1912 Chinese pottery in the Philippines, Volume 12
- 1912 Catalogue of a selection of art objects from the Freer collection exhibited in the new building of the National museum, April 15 to June 15, 1912
- 1913 Descriptive account of the collection of Chinese, Tibetan, Mongol, and Japanese books in the Newberry Library 
- 1913 Notes on Turquois In The East
- 1914 Chinese clay figures, 1914
- 1915 The diamond, 1915 https://archive.org/details/fieldiana15chicuoft
- 1917 The Beginnings of Porcelain in China, 1917 https://archive.org/details/fieldiana15chicuoft
- 1919 Sino-Iranica: Chinese contributions to the history of civilization in ancient Iran, with special reference to the history of cultivated plants and products, 450 pages    - https://archive.org/details/sinoiranicachine153lauf
- 1922 Archaic Chinese bronzes: of the Shang, Chou and Han periods, in the collections of Mr. Parish-Watson
- 1928 The Giraffe in History and Art, 120 page booklet - https://archive.org/details/giraffeinhistory27lauf
- 1976 Kleinere Schriften: Publikationen aus der Zeit von 1911 bis 1925. 2 v
Works in Tibetan Studies
- Laufer, Berthold (1898/1899). “Ueber das va zur. Ein Beitrag zur Phonetik der tibtischen Sprache.” Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde des Morgenlandes 12: 289-307; 13: 95-109, 199-226; reprinted in Kleinere Schriften von Berthold Laufer. Ed. Hartmut Walravens. Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1976: 61-122.
- 1914. “Bird divination among the Tibetans (notes on document Pelliot no 3530, with a study of Tibetan phonology of the ninth century)” T’oung Pao 15. (1914): 1-110; Hartmut Walravens and Lokesh Chandra, eds. Sino-Tibetan Studies, vol 2. New Delhi: Rakesh Goel, 1987: 354-463.
- 1916–18. “Loan Words in Tibetan,” T’oung Pao 17, 404-552; Hartmut Walravens and Lokesh Chandra, eds. Sino-Tibetan Studies. Vol 2. New Delhi: Rakesh Goel, 1987: 483-632.
- 1916. “The Si-hia language: A Study in Indo-Chinese Philology”, T'oung Pao 17, 1-126.
- Kleinere Schriften von Berthold Laufer. Hartmut Walravens, editor, Sinologica Coloniensia; Ostasiatische Beiträge der Universität zu Köln, Bde. 2, 7, 13. Franz Steiner, Wiesbaden, 1976-1992 (3 Volumes). A collection of many of his essays and many relevant documents.
- Sino-Tibetan Studies. Hartmut Walravens and Lokesh Chandra, eds., 2 Vols., Rakesh Goel, New Delhi, 1987.
- Hartmut Walraevens, Popular Chinese Music a Century Ago: Berthold Laufer's Legacy, Fontes Artis Musicae, Vol. 47, 2000, p. 345-352.
- obituary Journal of the American Oriental Society 55.4 (1934): 349-362
- The History of Science Society "The Society: Past Presidents of the History of Science Society", accessed 4 December 2013
- Walravens, Hartmut (1976). Kleinere Schriften von Berthold Laufer: 1 Publikationen aus der Zeit von 1911 bis 1925. Otto Harrassowitz Verlag. pp. XVIII–XIX. ISBN 9783515026512.
- Division of Anthropology, American Museum of Natural History - Objects from Laufer China Expedition 1901-1904 (section Collections Online, option Collections Highlights).
- Field Museum press release Berthold Laufer, Father of the Collection
- Field Museum Library Special Collections Laufer Materials The Library of the Field Museum contains many of the print materials from Laufer's personal collections. Search the Library Card Catalog
- A mixture of Laufer essays, biodiversity bibliography
- National Academy of Sciences Biographical Memoir