Old Curiosity Shop in South Tel Aviv Puts the Bounce in Rubber Stamps

The current owner of a rubber- and metal-stamp business is using detritus from the store's past to create her quirky brand of jewelry, mirrors and more.

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When you first step into Gottesgenade, a small store in south Tel Aviv, you don't quite know what to make of it. From the window display of wooden-handled rubber stamps, to the long-disused equipment and the chunky rubber and metal jewelry lining a wall, you wonder: Is it a design studio? Is it a stamp workshop? Is it a jewelry store?

Located at the south end of Tel Aviv's busy Menachem Begin Street, the tiny place is a combination of all three. Gottesgenade, a third-generation stamp-maker, has been at the same location since 1929, nearly two decades before the State of Israel was established. But today the owner is doing more than producing made-to-order rubber and metal stamps. She's being creative and quirky with leftovers from the store’s history.

The jewelry, notebooks and other items that Nitza Gottesgenade sells are made with materials she found when she took over the business four years ago after her parents died. The thin rectangular metal pendants on a necklace? Those were once dividers in drawers of stamps. The wooden pendants? They used to be stamps themselves. The heavyset iron-framed mirrors? Those were trays for making stamps. And the notebooks with the thick brown covers, covered in tiny imprints of text? They're made out of bakelite plates left over from the old stamp-making process.

Gottesgenade’s grandfather, a Polish immigrant, opened the business in Jaffa in 1921,where many of his clients where local Arabs. He fled to the current location after the August 1929 riots. Gottesgenade still has her grandfather’s  business card,with details of his services in Hebrew, English and Arabic. The card advertises "brass shields, stamps, patterns, monograms, and facsimiles."

The store did its bit during the 1948 War of Independence, making signs for units like the 7th Armored Brigade. Eventually her father took over the business, specializing in typography, graphics and rubber work. Over the years, the store's clients were mainly state institutions like the army, but there were plenty of private firms, too. One client was Iranair, when there still were flights between Iran and Israel.

When Gottesgenade left a career in advertising and the media to take care of the store, she didn't set out to reuse the old material. But when she took over, "I discovered material no one used before, and from these materials the creativity called on me to make something," she says. "It was a process; I can't explain it."

The former graphic designer, who helped out at the shop throughout her childhood, notes that in the past 15 years the system of making stamps has changed: "People use computers, they don't use all the accessories from the past anymore."

Today all sorts of people come to the shop for customized stamps, which can cost between NIS 30 and NIS 1,000.  Gottesgenade flicks through a reporter-style notebook of examples. There are designers and musicians who want unusual   business cards, shops that want an edgy image for receipts, and ex libris stamps for bibliophiles. And then there are the people looking for that perfect present, like the man who ordered a stamp recalling moments shared with a friend. That went as a wedding gift.

Customized stamps are often a question of nostalgia, Gottesgenade says. Many of her orders are for rubber stamps made with wood as in the old days, not today's standard plastic. She found the old wooden handles she uses for the stamps boxed up in the workshop.

But it’s not only the gifts she sells that are recycled. Aside from one Ikea lamp, Gottesgenade found all the furniture in the store in the workshop. Even her table-cum-shop counter is made out of an old glass and iron door. Is recycled even the right word? "I reuse things," she muses.

Gottesgenade, Menachem Begin 1, Tel Aviv. 03-560 9189

Nitza Gottesgenade and some of her creations. Credit: Courtesy
Gottesgenade jewelry. Creative solutions. Credit: Courtesy
With a little thought, the possibilities are endless.Credit: Courtesy

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