Ancient Coins on Display in Jerusalem Show Two Sides of Jewish Life Through the Ages

On auction: Coins from Hasmonean rule, anti-Semitic medals from 17th-century Germany and tokens from a 20th-century Haifa coffeehouse.

Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
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Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

A 17th-century German medal that portrays the Jews as responsible for a contemporary famine is one of some 400 Judaica items, ancient coins, medals, Israel memorabilia and documents to be sold tomorrow at a Jerusalem auction sponsored by the Kedem Auction House and antiquities collector L. Alexander Wolfe.

The silver medal, issued in 1694, shows a Jew holding a stick and carrying a bag of corn on his back. Above him, Satan is emptying the bag. The inscription reads: “Du Korn Jude” ‏(“the Corn Jew”‏) and “Theure Zeit” ‏(“famine time”‏). It is one of the first anti-Semitic medals of this type, though similar ones were minted in Germany in the 18th and 19th centuries, targeting Jews as being responsible for rising food prices or a period of famine.

Along with the anti-Semitic medals, there are four medals that were minted in honor of the English-Jewish boxer Daniel Mendoza ‏(1764-1836‏), a foremost pugilist of the period; a medal commemorating the 1861 inauguration of Glockengasse Synagogue in Cologne, which was destroyed by the Nazis on Kristallnacht ‏(November 1938‏); a medal minted in honor of a Frankfurt Jewish couple’s 25th anniversary; and two medals commemorating 18th-century Jewish weddings in Germany, which are adorned with pictures of a wedding canopy, verses in Hebrew and a German text.

The coins being sold include some of the first coins minted by the Hasmonean Jewish ruler, prince and high priest John ‏(Yohanan‏) Hyrcanus ‏(127-104 B.C.E.‏), who ruled for three decades.

“Their production is evidence of the diplomatic status of the Hasmonean kingdom,” explains Shay Mendelovich of the auction house. The inscriptions on the coins say the ruler was the high priest.

The collection includes unique coins that were minted in Rome but do not bear the likeness of the caesar or other typical Roman motifs. According to Mendelovich, these are evidence that some of the early Roman rulers of Judea respected the Jewish religion and were considerate of the Jews’ feelings. Most of these coins are decorated with one of the seven species associated with the Land of Israel.

There are also coins from the Great Revolt ‏(66-70 C.E.‏) that bear symbols and inscriptions aimed at spurring the people to join the battle. These include symbols linked to the Temple and nationalist slogans like, “For the freedom of Zion,” or “To redeem Zion.” Similar coins are on offer from the Bar Kochva revolt, which took place 70 years after the destruction of the Second Temple.

There is a series of 17 medals issued to commemorate the visit of Kaiser Wilhelm II to the Holy Land in 1898. Most of the medals bear portraits of the kaiser, while some also have a portrait of his wife.

Three brass tokens bearing values of 15, 20, and 40 are offered. They were probably produced by the royal mint in Wשּׂrttemberg, Stuttgart, for use by members of the Temple Society in their communities in the Holy Land. Such tokens were in circulation from 1880 until World War I, when the Templers were expelled by the new British overseers. The tokens feature an image of a plow, a symbol closely identified with the Templers, who were farmers.

There is also a series of 11 tokens minted in 1935 by Zvi Werner, who immigrated from Vienna and opened Cafe Werner on Haifa’s Herzl Street during that year. The denominations of the tokens appear on one side and on the other the inscription, “Cafe Werner Haifa.” It is believed the tokens were used by the waiters to make calculations and that they served as currency when there were coin shortages. According to the auction house, these tokens were in circulation until the cafe closed in 1951, when the owner died.

The coins.Credit: Michal Fattal
Ancient coins auctioned at Jerusalem's Kedem Auction House.

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