Historic Prayer Items From Oldest Synagogue In The English-Speaking World for Auction By Bonhams

. October 6, 2009

A rare early collection of silver religious ornaments from the Plymouth Hebrew Congregation’s synagogue built in 1762, the oldest built by Ashkenazi Jews in the English-speaking world will be sold by Bonhams on 25th November. This earliest and rarest set of silver prayer instruments is estimated to sell for £50,000 to £60,000.

JUDAICA SILVERNicholas Shaw, Head of Silver at Bonhams in London says: “A Jewish community was present in Plymouth by the mid 18th century, and were known to have been meeting regularly for services by 1745. Plans to build a synagogue had begun by 1759. The members were immigrants, primarily from the German lands and the Netherlands.”

The scrolls used in the Ashkenazi communities are usually about three feet (one metre) long and about a foot (30cm) wide across both rolls of parchment. The scroll is carefully hung when not in use, with a number of ornaments. First come the elaborate finials or rimmonims ‘pomegranates’ which are fitted over the projecting rollers on top. These are usually a pair of tiered towers hung with bells and the bases are in the form of sockets which pass over the ends of the rollers.

One of the highlights of this interesting collection are the magnificent pair of silver rimmonims of pure English style made in London in 1783, probably by John Robins, who was known to have made a pair in 1803, which now reside at the Central synagogue, London.

From a design point of view these are one of the most original pairs of rimmonim known to exist, the other pair were made by Robert Herrell and dated 1796 and can be found in the Central Synagogue. The pair reminds one of objects found in livery companies in the City of London in the style of bulbous bell-shaped bodies just like the staves carried by beadles and sheriffs during the late Charles II period.

The rimmonim are surmounted by crowns with a red velvet cushion, an unusual feature found on just one other pair made in Exeter in 1821 by Sammuel Levi. These can be seen at the Central synagogue in London. Silver bells are hung from projecting brackets instead of arch-like openings of the turret models, a design first used on a pair dating from 1719 by Gabriel Sleath of London at the Bevis Marks synagogue. The rimmonim from Plymouth synagogue are very attractive and each measures 37 cm in length.

Nicholas Shaw adds: “The Torah pointer is another ritual ornament used in Jewish prayer and Bonhams is fortunate to be able to offer a matching Torah pointer made at the same time as the pair of silver rimmanim, making this the earliest and rarest set of English ritual Torah furnishings to have come up for auction.”

The Torah pointer has a plain shaft and an octagonal handle, divided by a round knop with a matching finial. It bears Hebrew names on the panelled stem and measures 27cm in length. The pointer is used by the person who recites from the Torah in the synagogue so that the lettering is not damaged by being touched. This rare group is estimated to fetch £50,000 to £60,000.

The Torah breastplate or ‘Tass’ is another ritual ornament and usually hung by chains from the rollers on the top of the Torah prayer scrolls. It covers perhaps half of the front of the Torah scrolls and is embossed and engraved and often applied with appliqué ornaments. There is a very nice example of a Polish Torah shield in this collection which dates from about circa 1820-1830, probably made in Warsaw with a later inscription relating to the celebration of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. It measures some 36 cm in height. This ornament is estimated to make £1,500 to £2,000 in the sale.

A superb provincial Torah shield made in Exeter c 1750 by William Parry and Jason Holt add greatly to the significance of this Collection. The estimate is £4,000 to £6,000.

There are other examples of Torah pointers, namely an example from Exeter 1802 by Samuel Levi and a 19th Century example by Simon Harris made in London in 1813.

Both examples are estimated to fetch between £3,000 to £5,000. A good example of an 18th Century Torah pointer made in Berlin In 1765 by Jurst & Cois estimated to fetch £1,500 to £2,000.

In the collection there are many other examples of silver rimmonim made in London between 1913-1931 with interesting inscriptions relating to the Plymouth Hebrew Congregation. A good 20th Century Torah shield made in London in 1918 and other 19th and 20th Century Torah pointers are also being sold.

Finally an exquisite 19th Century silver spice box with filigree decoration with an inscription dated 1844 is estimated to fetch £500 to £700. This usually contained scented herbs, possibly myrtle, eucalyptus or any sweet-smelling leaf.

The sale of Judaica is just part of a larger collection of silver coming up for sale in Bonhams Fine Silver sale at 11am on November 25th. www.bonhams.com/silver

Category: Auction News

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