Early twentiethe century
Jewish book-plates in the Netherlands
THE FIRST ARTICLE about Jewish book-plates in the Netherlands was written
by the bibliographer and collector Sigmund Seeligmann (1873-1941) and appeared
in the 8 August 1924 edition of the weekly De Vrijdagavond. At the
time only a few book-plates by Jewish-Dutch artists were known. One of
these was a book-plate by Seeligmann himself, showing a lion and a deer
supporting a Star of David (Maurits de Groot, 1901).
The first extant Jewish book-plates date from the end of the eighteenth century. The book-plate of Isaac de Pinto (1718-1787), a wealthy banker and author of several books about economics, dates from this period. Only a few book-plates have surfaced from the nineteenth century. Among them is the heraldic book-plate of David Henriques de Castro (1826 - 1898), author of the standard work on the gravestones in the Portuguese-Jewish cemetery in Ouderkerk. During the course of the twentieth century, the number of Jewish book-plates in the Netherlands has increased, but the total probably does not exceed a few hundred.
The themes of the images depicted can be classified into several groups. Religion and ritual appear frequently, for example in the book-plate of the circumciser E. de Vries (Samuel E. Manukowski, 1900 -1943).
The menorah, the candelabra with seven branches, was frequently used and could also be combined with the serpent of Aesclepius, as in the book-plate of Meyer J. Perath (Meyer Jacob Premsela, 1904-1971). Perath, who emigrated to what was then Palestine in 1939, was also a physician in Israel. He recorded a great deal of the prewar history of the Jews in Amsterdam in his articles in the Nieuw Israelietisch Weekblad. This book-plate was made by his youngest son, Amram Perath (born 1938).
Another theme is Zionism and the longing for Israel, as shown in the book-plate of lzaak van Esso Bzn (1880 1966), made by Uriel Birnbaum (1939), in which Mount Zion rises at the end of a street made of books. The owner of this book-plate was a physician, a Zionist and the secretary of the 'Genootschap voor de Joodsche Wetenschap in Nederland'.
A number of book-plates reveal a cultural duality, one example of this
being the book-plate of M.H. Gans, the author of the renowned Memorbook
(English translation 1977). His book-plate, engraved in 1941 by Alice
Horodisch-Garmann (1905 - 1984), has Roman script and the heraldic Dutch
lion on one side, and Hebrew script and grape-bearers on the other (Numbers
Many motifs were borrowed from history - from biblical data and svmbols to anti-Semitism and the events of the Second World War, such as the burning of the books in the book-plate of J. H. Coppenhagen (Lea Cohen, 1957), with a text from the Talmud (bAvodah Zarah 18a): 'Parchments are burned, but the letters fly'. That is to say, the spirit and the contents of the Torah cannot be destroyed.
A significant group consists of the book-plates of and with rabbis, although in terms of the images depicted, these fall into the same categories as others. The book-plate that E. M. Lilien (1874 -1925) made in 1900 for the mathematician Reuben Brainin (1862-1939) contains portraits of famous rabbis. It should be mentioned that it is the first book-plate in which the term mi-sifre (from the library of .. ) appears.
That one can adhere to Judaism (judea tenacitas) and be open to other cultures at the same time appears in the book-plate of Justus Tal (1881 - 1954), chief rabbi of Utrecht and Rotterdam and, after the war, of Amsterdam (Wilm Klijn). This book-plate depicts on the left an open Torah scroll and on the right a shelf of books including: Mathematics, Virgil, Nat. Hist., Faust, Philosophy, Homer (in Greek), Art History; and in the foreground: a globe, a retort, a compass and a set square. At the lower right is a quotation from the Sayings of the Fathers: 'It is well to combine Torah study with worldly occupation' (2:2).
The text of the book-plate of Joseph Gompers (1899 1945) is also borrowed from the Sayings of the Fathers. It reads: 'The day is short and there is much to do'(2:15). This book-plate, made by Fré Cohen (1903 -1943) shows the symbol of a farmer ploughing a field with his horse. Dark clouds suggest the approach of evening. Gompers himself found this an austere and starkly depicted carving, which expressed the quotation he had chosen quite well.
Book-plates of Jewish owners with the usual subjects such as profession, hobby, landscape, general symbols, etc. are not classified as Jewish book-plates. They may well have value and significance, for ultimately a book-plate is an image of the period and can contribute to the knowledge of a person's character.
PHILIP VAN PRAAG
Sigmund Seeligmann, 'Joodsche Boekmerken', De Vrijdagavond,
joodsch Weekblad I/I (1924) p. 309 - 311.
M. Habermann, Jewish Bookplates (Exlibris) (Safed 1956) (in Hebrew).
Philip Goodman, 'Jewish Bookplates of Dutch Interest' in: his Illustrated Essays on Jewish Bookplates (New York 1971) p. 157-169.
H. Boas, Amsterdams-joodse ex-libris' in: her Herlevend Bewaard. Aren lezen in joods Amsterdam (Amsterdam 1987) p. 20 - 30.
Ph. van Praag, Joodse symboliek op Nederlandse exlibris (Zutphen 1988).