German Mezuzahs late 19th/early 20th Century

Mezuzah made by Adolf Mayer, Germany

Introduction

With German unification and the industrial revolution, prosperity abounded for Germans.  That included the Jews of Germany. This affluence created new market demand for ritual Judaica items.

 

Historically, mezuzahs were modest, crafted from simple and inexpensive materials like wood or tin. However, the affluence of German Jews during this period created a new market. Mezuzahs of silver, intricately adorned and luxurious, became sought-after items among the prosperous Jewish households of Germany. Jewish silversmiths emerged as artisans, crafting exquisite mezuzahs that reflected both modern German design and tradition.

 

Among the prominent silversmiths of the time, names like Adolf Mayer, Lazarus Posen, and Felix Horovitz shine brightly. Based in Frankfurt au Main, these craftsmen left an indelible mark on the world of Judaica artistry, their creations standing as testaments to both skill and cultural richness.

 

Despite the scarcity of reference material dedicated specifically to German-made mezuzah cases from this period, glimpses of their splendor can be found in works like Belle Rosenbaum’s “Upon Thy Doorposts.” While Rosenbaum’s focus may not lie solely on these masterpieces, she does present a few examples.

 

Presented here is a curated collection of German mezuzah cases, offering a window into the opulent world of late 19th and early 20th century Judaica artistry. Each piece is a testament to the fusion of tradition and innovation, reflecting the spirit of a community that thrived amidst a backdrop of change and prosperity.

 

In exploring these mezuzahs, we embark on a journey through time, delving into a period of cultural renaissance and artistic brilliance. Through these artifacts, we not only glimpse the craftsmanship of a bygone era but also uncover the stories of a vibrant and prosperous Jewish community that left an indelible mark on the tapestry of German history.

Jugendstil

Many of the German mezuzah cases don’t look like traditional mezuzahs or even ornate ones made in other countries. The five mezuzahs shown below were clearly influenced by the German Jugendstil (art nouveau) movement. Who before had put an image of the sun or of nature in a mezuzah? Interestingly, these mezuzah cases were made by Posen and Horovitz who were both Jewish silversmiths.

Ornate Design

The German mezuzahs were ornate in design.  Some had designs on both front and back. The mezuzah shown below is in our collection and is shown in Belle Rosenbaum’s book “Upon Thy Doorposts” page 262

Hallmarks

Most of the German mezuzah cases we show are clearly hallmarked. Shown below are hallmarks of Mayer Wolf, Ludwig Posen and Felix Horovitz silversmiths.

Mezuzah Cases from other countries circa 1900

You may be wondering if the mezuzah cases made in Germany during this period were unique. Here are some mezuzah cases made in Poland and Russia around 1900 that you can compare to the German mezuzah cases.

Where can you buy a German Mezuzah like these?

Several New York auction houses specialize in Judaica items including mezuzahs. Check out the Sotheby’s Judaica sale as well as Jonathan Greenstein and Appel Auction. You can also find these mezuzahs for sale from time to time at Kedem and Ishtar auction houses in Israel. Menorah Galleries in New York has several of the mezuzahs we show here for sale.