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123. Seal of Abraham

Dimensions: approximately 20 × 13 mm. Impression.

Location: Frankfort City Archives, Rachtungen No. 129.

In the City Archives of Frankfort on the Main is a document dated December 21, 1506, involving an Abraham of Cronberg, resident of Frankfort. The document shows three seals, the Jewish one being the seal of Abraham. The parchment document is of unusual size, over 36 cm. long and 19 cm. wide, with twenty-four long lines, impossible to reproduce here.

The seal of Abraham is in very damaged condition. It is a transitional type of seal, neither medieval nor Renaissance in style, and therefore has some interest as an example of the seal’s evolution at the end of the Middle Ages. Most medieval seals are circular; some are vesical; a few are shield-shaped. Abraham’s seal is an oval. Though the top has splintered away, we can still see that a shield fills almost the entire space of the lower part of the seal, tilted slightly to the left. It is difficult to ascertain the device on the shield. A. Reichel of the Frankfort archives, who has seen the original impression, suggests that the representation may be of two crossed arrows. The upper part of the seal is largely obliterated, but this archivist has also informed the writer that two letters can be made out to some extent, and indeed it does seem that a Latin A can be perceived to the upper left, presumably standing for Abraham. The separation of letters from device in this fashion would not be seen on a medieval seal.

No. 123, (double size).

Seal of Samuel (double size).

Seal of Simon of Günzburg (double size).

It is amazing to what extent this impression, which still requires a matrix to press its imprint on wax, anticipates the seals of the later sixteenth century, those thin paper stampings which are such aesthetic inferiors to the earlier types. The archival authorities at Frankfort kindly sent the writer photographs of several Jewish seals from the next century, three of which are illustrated here to show their obvious derivation from the type which Abraham used, all reproduced approximately double size. They were imprinted on small squares of paper, which were then attached to the body of a document. Being easily removable, they could have had no legal value. The most “traditional” of the three examples is the circular seal of Samuel, depicting an ox head on an ornamental shield with what seems to be his name in Hebrew letters above. This seal is attached to documents from 1572 and 1579. An oval seal which shows an ornamental shield belongs to Simon of Gunzburg, and the two Latin letters above are S.I., almost surely standing for Simon Ivd. This is attached to a document from 1582. The third seal, also oval, shows more of the evolution from Gothic style. Two figures in the foreground, and what seems a third figure approaching from the rear, are grouped, possibly engaged in a conversation about a business deal. They seem to be holding objects. On the sides are two initials, G.I. This seal belonged to Gottschalk of Deutz and thus the initials must stand for “Gottschalk Ivd.” The seal is attached to a document from 1597 and, being smaller than the other two, may be an impression from a signet ring, which, however, would require the sealer to use unusual force to make the sharp imprint. With paper stamps, a press of some type was probably used.

Seal of Gottschalk of Deutz (double size).

What adds interest to these impressions, especially the last, is their similarity to the only medieval Jewish seals we know from Italy, though they are dated a century earlier. Indeed, it took at least a hundred years for the Renaissance to cross the Apennines and move up the Rhine Valley.

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